Henry Purcell's father was himself a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and arranged for Henry to be admitted as a chorister. He studied first under Captain Henry Cooke (d. 1672), Master of the Children, and afterwards under Pelham Humfrey (d. 1674), Cooke's successor. Purcell is said to have been composing at nine years old, but the earliest work that can be certainly identified as his is an ode for the King's birthday, written in 1670. Henry was a chorister until his voice broke in 1673, when he became assistant to the organ-builder John Hingston, who held the post of keeper of wind instruments to the King. In 1682, at the age of twenty-three, Purcell was appointed organist at the Chapel Royal and by the end of the century, the organ at Hampton Court was being affectionately known as “Purcell's Pipes”.
Purcell wrote secular and sacred music - odes for chorus and orchestra, cantatas, songs, catches, anthems, Services, chamber sonatas, keyboard works and incidental music for 49 plays. The largest part of his theatre music was composed during the last years of his life. It was during this period that he composed the chamber opera Dido and Aeneas, which forms a very important landmark in the history of English dramatic music.
After his death, Purcell was honoured by many of his contemporaries, including his old friend John Blow, also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, who wrote "An Ode, on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell--'Mark how the lark and linnet sing' with text by his old collaborator, John Dryden. Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no other native-born English composer approached his fame until the 20th century's Edward Elgar.