Karlheinz Essl

Portrait KHE

Puzzle of Purcell

for mezzo soprano and electric guitar

Commissioned by Adrian Pereyra

Version for church organ

Version for clarinet and bass clarinet

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Puzzle of Purcell for mezzo soprano and electric guitar
Performed by Keiko Morikawa and Francesco Cuoghi
Festival Contemporaneamente - De Natura Sonorum
Rome, Chiesa di San Paolo entro le Mura, 18 Dec 2021


Puzzle of Purcell is a piece for mezzo soprano and electric guitar based on two songs of Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Music for a while (from the theater play „Oedipus”) and the famous Cold Song from his semi-opera „King Arthur”. Selected fragments of those songs form the material of my composition, where they are shuffled and re-combined in a highly intuitive manner. The electric guitar adds a new dimension to this music, which was originally rooted in the early English baroque by introducing sounds and playing techniques from rock music and heavy metal. By this, a new image has been rendered which bridges a time span of more than 300 years, telling a tale about grief and solace.


Puzzle of Purcell ist eine Komposition für Mezzosopran und E-Gitarre, die auf zwei Liedern von Henry Purcell(1659-1695) basiert: Music for a while aus dem Theaterstück „Oedipus” und dem bekannten Cold Song aus der Oper „King Arthur”. Ausgewählte Fragmente dieser beiden Lieder bilden das Material meiner Komposition, das auf intuitive Weise miteinander verwoben wird. Die E-Gitarre fügt dieser ursprünglich im englischen Frühbarock verwurzelten Musik durch Rock- und Heavy Metallsounds weitere Dimensionen hinzu. Daraus erwächst ein neues Klangbild, das 300 Jahre überspannt und eine Geschichte von Trauer und Trost erzählt. (Übersetzung: Adrian Pereyra)



An electric guitar with a humbucker pickup. The setting on the amplifier should create a warm, distorted sound with a long sustain. Playing techniques like hammer-on, pull-off, bending and right-hand tapping are used in this piece and are not explained in detail here. It is recommended to pluck with fingers instead of a plectron.

At some points, the mezzo soprano has to sing "shivering" repetitions of a note in order to evoke the impression of a freezing creature, as in ms. 21 etc.


The scores of Puzzle of Purcell can be downloaded for free. Please note that the music is protected by copyright.
Besides the original version for electric guitar and mezzo soprano there exist also two transcriptions: 1) clarinet and bass clarinet, 2) church organ (two manuals with pedal).

Karlheinz Essl: Puzzle of Purcell, p.1

Excerpt from Karlheinz Essl's Puzzle of Purcell (2017)
© 2017 by Karlheinz Essl

Karlheinz Essl: Puzzle of Purcell, p.5

Excerpt from Karlheinz Essl's Puzzle of Purcell (2017)
© 2017 by Karlheinz Essl


Organ transcription of Puzzle of Purcell, performed by Wolfgang Kogert
Hofburgkapelle Vienna (29 April 2020)

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Updated: 22 Dec 2021