Purcell was born in St Ann’s Lane, Old Pye Street, Westminster. Henry Purcell Senior, whose older brother Thomas Purcell (d. 1682) was also a musician, was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and sang at the coronation of King Charles II of England. Henry the elder had three sons: Edward, Henry and Daniel. Daniel Purcell (d. 1717), the youngest of the brothers, was also a prolific composer who wrote the music for much of the final act of The Indian Queen after Henry Purcell’s death. Henry Purcell’s family lived just a few hundred yards west of Westminster Abbey from the year 1659 and onward.
After his father’s death in 1664, Purcell was placed under the guardianship of his uncle who showed him great affection and kindness. Thomas was himself a gentleman of His Majesty’s chapel, and arranged for Henry to be admitted as a chorister. Henry studied first under Captain Henry Cooke (d. 1672), Master of the Children, and afterwards under Pelham Humfrey (d. 1674), Cooke’s successor. Henry was a chorister in the Chapel Royal 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.
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. (The dates for his compositions are often uncertain, despite considerable research.) It is assumed that the three-part song “Sweet tyranness, I now resign” was written by him as a child. After Humfrey’s death, Purcell continued his studies under Dr. John Blow. He attended Westminster School and in 1676 was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey. Henry Purcell’s earliest anthem “Lord, who can tell” was composed in 1678. It is a psalm that is prescribed for Christmas Day and also to be read at morning prayer on the fourth day of the month.