Aphra Behn: International Woman of Mystery

Secret agent, prisoner, playwright and poet. Clearly there was never a dull moment in the life of this 17th century International Woman of Mystery.

While her blood-thirsty play Abdelazer attracts our attention because of the music that Purcell composed for it, the rest of her life seems equally adventurous. As a spy (codename: Astrea) for Charles II in the second Anglo-Dutch War, she was tasked with infiltrating plots against the King by Republicans exiled in the Netherlands.

Double-crossed and on the verge of bankruptcy, she returned to England only to be locked up in a debtor’s prison.

Her career as a writer, though, seems to have been more successful, especially after her 1677 play The Rover was a hit at the box office.

Her independence as a professional writer made her a celebrity of the day, particularly with her concern for equality between sexes. No doubt her poem poking fun at male sexual dysfunction The Disappointment, amongst others, raised a few 17th century eyebrows!

Equality also seems to have been on her mind with the 1688 novel Oroonoko which follows the story of an enslaved African prince (highly unusual for the period); a work which is now considered one of the foundations of the English novel.

In 1689 she was buried in Westminster Abbey, joining her colleague Henry Purcell amongst the Pantheon of other historical figures.

We'll be performing Purcell's suite from Abdelazer, plus even more fantastic music by Bach, Vivaldi and Locatelli, at Saffron Hall on 26th January 2019 Find out more>>>

Intrigued by Aphra Behn? Find out more>>>

Season Highlights
feature-grid-image
Barbican, London

Uniting some of Handel’s greatest music with all-star casts, directed by Artistic Director Harry Bicket and with our virtuosic orchestra in full flight, it is an unmissable event. With Ariodante and Rinaldo in most recent seasons, now comes the turn of Semele; a tale of adultery and revenge amongst Gods.The English ConcertHarry Bicket director/harpsichordBrenda Rae SemeleElizabeth...

View Performance
feature-grid-image
Wigmore Hall, London

All three are based on the favourite chorale of the time, Veni redemptor gentium (as translated by Luther). Despite the chorale’s medieval origins, BWV 61 shows the influence of the avant-garde French Ouverture. In BWV 62 he turns to Vivaldian concerti for inspiration, while in BWV 36 the ancient tune is knitted into the very genetic heart of the music. In each case the results are joyous in their...

View Performance
feature-grid-image
St John's Smith Square, London

His skilful crafting of the Messa per il Santíssimo Natale, with double choirs and such variety of colour and texture, is enough to leave us searching the archives for even more treasures.The English ConcertChoir of The English ConcertLaurence Cummings director/organCecilia Osmond sopranoRebecca Outram sopranoHelen Charlston altoNick Pritchard tenorMarcus Farnsworth baritoneScarlatti Messa per il...

View Performance
feature-grid-image
Wigmore Hall, London

Muffat moves his own chess pieces in his quest to unite the styles of France, Italy and Germany, while Bach offers one of his timeless masterpieces. Christian Curnyn returns to direct the orchestra with much-loved repertoire.The English ConcertChristian Curnyn director/harpsichordNadja Zwiener violinTuomo Suni violinHandel Concerto Grosso in D Op.6, No.5 HWV 323Purcell Suite from Dioclesian Z627Bach...

View Performance