As an introduction to ground-bass techniques, and as one of the great moments in operatic literature, Dido's Lament, from Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, has long been a favored topic in academic courses on both the history and the analysis of Western tonal music. This essay approaches an analysis of the Lament from literary and recent historical perspectives. It returns to Virgil's Aeneid in search of the Dido who served as the starting point for so many subsequent characterizations of her, including Purcell's and his librettist Nahum Tate's. The analysis considers specifically musical means through which Purcell and Tate restore to Dido the nobility and greatness of spirit she manifests when we first meet her in Virgil's tale.
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