Henry Purcell

Sonata in D major


About this work

Purcell's Sonata for Trumpet, Z. 850, for trumpet, two violins, viola, and basso continuo, is one of two such works by Purcell, the other being absorbed into the overture to the masque, Timon of Athens. Neither of these, however, is as representative of Purcell's music for trumpet as are the obbligato trumpet parts in "Sound the Trumpet," from the Birthday Ode for the Duke of Gloucester (1695), and "Thus the gloomy world," from The Fairy Queen. For these and other works for trumpet, including the Sonata, Purcell almost certainly had in mind either John Shore or his uncle William Shore, the most renowned trumpet players in England at the time. Michael Tilmouth has suggested that the Trumpet Sonata, Z. 850, was the opening symphony for the New Year Ode for 1693, of which only the text exists. For many years after the discovery of the manuscript, there was doubt that the piece was by Purcell. Since then, scholars have become certain it is by Purcell and, on the basis of its harmonic content, believe it was composed very late, probably around 1694.

Purcell's understanding of the trumpet is clear in the fanfare-like main theme of the first movement. Graceful and ebullient, this Allegro opens with a bouncy, three-measure theme that is immediately echoed in the strings. A single motive from the theme propels the music forward until the dynamic drops to piano and the trumpet and strings exchange florid outbursts. Halfway through the movement Purcell emphasizes the dominant.

As in earlier examples of such works, the short, slow, middle movement is for the strings and continuo only and is essentially a succession of harmonies that provides a foundation for an improvised violin melody. Marked Adagio and in 4/4 time, the movement begins in B minor and closes on D major. Chromatic inflections create a circle of fifths progression from B minor through E major and on to D.

In the lilting finale, a repeated tone that is characteristic of music for the trumpet appears in the accompaniment as well. The movement is formally curious and inventive. At the beginning, instruments have staggered, imitative entries, first in the strings and lastly the trumpet, in the manner of a fugue. A passage of fragmentation follows, with a rhythmic motive stated by all the strings and continuo answered by falling triads in the trumpet. The fugal process begins again, but the theme is inverted. After another fragmentation episode the theme returns, in the trumpet and in its original form. A coda based on a string figure from earlier in the movement closes the piece.