Riveting find lands critics with a musical conundrum

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THE volume has been a riveting find on two levels - the musical value of the Purcell autographs, and the intriguing way in which they are bound in with another composer's work, writes Robert Maycock.

It contains 21 pieces written for the harpsichord, including keyboard versions of his theatre music and some previously unknown compositions. 'In general terms the importance is that it is autograph,' says Tess Knighton, editor of Early Music magazine and critic for the Independent, 'and that's incredibly rare in music of that period'. This is the only known keyboard music by Purcell in his own hand. Altogether there are only 15 Purcell manuscripts, of which about half may be of comparable significance.

The curiosity is that the volume also includes pieces by Giovanni Battista Draghi, an Italian composer in the service of the Royal Family in London. What are they doing there? The rivalry between Purcell and this 'friend' of his would have made it unlikely that Draghi might get hold of the manuscripts after Purcell's death. Curtis Price, of King's College, London, who first authenticated the manuscripts and has since reported in detail on them for the British Library, has a hypothesis. 'To have them together in one volume is astounding,' he says. 'The conclusion has to be that they were never owned by either.'

(Photograph omitted)