Emulating Lully? Generic features and personal traits in the Passacaglia from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur (1691)
The Passacaglia from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur (1691) features some remarkable similarities with a number of works by Jean-Baptiste Lully, most notably with the Passacaille from Armide (1686) where there are clear parallels in the dramatic con- text as well as the sung text. John Dryden, author of the play text, is known to have been well-read and there is evidence that he was familiar at least with the text of Armide. However, several musical similarities point to the possibility that Purcell knew some of the music. Differences between the two works show distinct approaches to harmony and melodic writing, as well as form, although the latter is clearly guided by generic conventions. Another work that appears to have influenced some of the melodic writing in Purcell’s Passacaglia is Scocca pur, which was widely disseminat- ed amongst English musicians by the time of King Arthur’s composition. Although Scocca pur is probably an early work by Lully, several of its features such as the strict ground bass actually owe more to the Italian style than to the French, which fits well with the growing popularity of Italian music in England during the 1680s. Purcell incorporates these diverse elements into his Passacaglia in a way recalling the later idea of a gou?ts re?unis.