Purcell came from a musical family. Both his father and elder brother were musicians under Charles II. He was a chorister at Chapel Royal until his voice broke. He then became assistant to the Keeper of Wind Instruments to the King.
He became organist at Westminster Abbey in 1679 following in the footsteps of his mentor Dr John Blow. He was later appointed organist at Chapel Royal and he fulfilled these duties in addition to his work at the Abbey.
As he was a court-appointed composer, Purcell wrote numerous works for royal occasions including the coronation of James II (I was glad and My heart is inditing) and the coronation of William and Mary.
He also wrote several pieces for the funeral of Queen Mary and these were played at Purcell’s own funeral just a few months later. Purcell is buried in the north aisle of the choir at Westminster Abbey.
The British Library staged an exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of his death in 1995. On their website is a small sample of this exhibition featuring some of Purcell’s manuscripts with sound-clips.