Dido und Aeneas is the first complete stage work by the 30-year-old Henry Purcell - and the only one to bear the genre title "An Opera". There was no independent operatic tradition in England at the time: Dido und Aeneas is an innovative, singular work in the history of European and English opera, with no direct predecessors or successors. Purcell fused influences from the Italian, French, and English stage traditions into a form all his own, condensing the narrative into just one hour. In his music, the dramatic dominates, the affects and emotions of the characters and situations of the terse plot stand in the foreground over pure vocal virtuosity.
Arnold Schoenberg also places his composition entirely in the service of the dramatic plot, albeit in a very different way: in completely free tonality, Schoenberg has the large-scale late-romantic orchestra trace the states of a woman's soul: "In the Erwartung, it is the intention to depict what takes place in a second of the highest mental excitement, as it were with slow motion, extended to half an hour." Arnold Schoenberg set Pappenheim's text to music in only 17 days between August 27 and September 12, 1909.