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Purcell: Arise Ye Subterranean Winds

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: shipwrecks are in the forecast…

Until the early 1960s it was generally accepted that the music for this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was by the great English composer Henry Purcell. Now, it looks far more likely that it was actually composed by Purcell’s student, the lesser-known John Weldon.

Whoever the composer was, the “masques” (or inserted musical scenes) in The Tempest are strikingly dramatic, as in this scene, in which a group of devils summon up the mighty winds, which then cavort about the stage in a ballet.

The Tempest was Shakespeare’s final play, and several interpreters have suggested that the scene in which the magician Prospero breaks his wand and discards his magical books was intended to have a dual meaning, also serving as the Bard’s own farewell to the magic of the stage.

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