Ahead of Sydney Chamber Choir’s Dido & Aeneas, the conductor delves into the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Gesualdo.

From what we know – and we know very little – Henry Purcell must have been a lively, jolly fellow, never shy of a drink or prank yet exceedingly prolific in his short career. Everything we do know points to an increasing involvement in London’s Restoration theatre while ever occupied by his duties at Westminster under Royal command.

He died at the age of just 36 (yes, same as Mozart and one year more than Schubert). The story goes that one night Purcell arrived home late from the pub, found himself locked out and, catching a chill in the process, died a mere two weeks later.

Roland Peelman, Sydney Chamber Choir Conductor Roland Peelman. Photo © Peter Hislop

Whether from that or respiratory problems, possibly tuberculosis, Purcell’s final splutters deprived England of one its most naturally gifted composers ever, a musician with as much aptitude for grand ceremony as for the pithy human touch. How apt that the most famous moment of his best known work captures its heroine going out on...