Living History & Reenactment Music

Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson


"The Indian Queen" is an often-used country dance tune, found in Playford's 9th edition of 1695. It is named after a play by John Dryden (1631-1700) about pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico. The incidental music for Dryden's play was written by Henry Purcell, the last music he wrote before his death in 1695. Kate Keller and Genevieve Shimer, in The Playford Ball, CDSS 1994, said they were able to look at published additions to the score by Purcell's son Daniel, and were not able to find this tune in it, although in might have been used in some of the later productions. One of the opera tunes did become a country dance, the "Duke of Gloucester's March". Keller and Shimer's book also reproduces a portrait of the London actress Anne Bracegirdle (c 1674-1748) dressed for her role as Queen Zempoalla, in a typical European misconception of how natives of North and Central America dressed.

There is a new recording available now of The Indian Queen by the Purcell Simfony and the Purcell Simfony Voices, recorded as though by a chamber orchestra for a private performance (Linn Records, Honest HON CD 5053). The liner notes with this album give a picture of the theatrical ups and downs in London. The play was originally a tragedy by John Dryden and Sir Robert Howard, staged first in 1664. It was occasionally revived, but in 1694, plans were made to add music written by Henry Purcell and launch it as an opera. Purcell was the music master of Sir Robert Howard's young fourth wife Annabella, so he had personal incentive as a family friend and employee to do his best with the music. Bad timing made this difficult, as a theatrical dispute brewing for years finally erupted, and the producer and most of the actors and singers left London's Theatre Royal in a huff and formed a rival company. Purcell found himself with hastily recruited young actors and singers and had to scale back his ambitions to suit their inexperience. In later seasons as the young cast gained experience, the music was revised, grew more operatic, and acquired more and more elaborate dancing. When Purcell died in 1695, Lady Annabella paid for his memorial in Westminster Abbey.

The opera was revived in 1696, and Daniel Purcell added a rambustious finale, "after the acting script had been cut - further cut? - to make room. Though a lot of fun, and quite respectable musically, it is in dubious taste coming at the end of a sombre tragedy (only half a dozen lines after the Indian Queen's suicide).." This music was not included in the recording.

Although I am not known for my love of opera, and so you will not hear me humming "Ye twice ten hundred deities" or "By the croaking of the toad", I can now easily imagine the Playford dance tune as a rollicking addition to the dances in the opera. The Playford Indian Queen is on the alpha Music Page (You can always tell the kids that Pocahantas was the Indian Queen .... Disney's version of Indian clothing being about equal to Purcell's. )