During Purcell's lifetime the music-publishing business in England flourished, thanks mainly to John Playford. Since intellectual property rights did not yet exist, Playford and his successors were able to select music they were confident of selling, predominantly producing multicomposer anthologies of popular tunes. Composers may have benefited little from these publications so it is significant that some took the financial risk of printing their music without an established publisher's support. Analysis suggests that musical self-publication was undertaken for several quite specific purposes. Three self-published books stand out as the only operatic scores published in seventeenth-century England: Locke's The English Opera (1675), Grabu's Albion and Albanius (1687), and Purcell's The Vocal and Instrumental Musick of the Prophetess (1691). These substantial volumes had no obvious practical use and all sold poorly; put into political context, however, they reveal how printed music in England was developing from a purely practical performance tool into a medium through which statements could be made and musical works given monumental status. Yet Purcell's own management of the printing of The Vocal and Instrumental Musick of the Prophetess suggests that he was confused about the distinct and mutually exclusive functions of music printing in the period, which led him to misunderstand the nature of the market and how he might appropriate the medium for his own benefit.

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