The Bard’s Tale: Music & Scenes from Shakespeare
April 25-26, 2015
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Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer’s Day – Nils Lindberg
– Scenes from The Tempest presented by Theater Works –
Songs of Ariel – Frank Martin
- Come Unto These Yellow Sands
- Before You Can “Come and Go”
- You Are Three Men of Sin
- Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I
- Full Fathom Five
Shakespeare Songs – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
- Come Away, Come Away, Death
- Double, Double Toil and Trouble
Three Shakespeare Songs – Ralph Vaughan Williams
- Full Fathom Five
- The Could-Capp’d Towers
- Over Hill, Over Dale
– Scenes from Twelfth Night presented by Theater Works –
Shakespeare Songs – Matthew Harris
- Hark, Hark! The Lark
- Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred
- I Shall No More To See
- – Scenes by Theater Works
- O Mistress Mine!
- It Was a Lover and His Lass
- – Scenes by Theater Works
- When Daffodils Begin to Peer
Renaissance audiences would have expected musical entertainment both before and after a theatrical production. Naturally, music also figured prominently in the productions themselves, whether in references to well- known ballads, in musical metaphors, in ‘flourishes’ that set the scene, or in songs that served to enhance the storyline. Playwrights could expect their audiences to be musically literate, as musical education for the upper classes was the norm, while the ballads were the popular music of their day. (The Elizabethan broadside ballads are a fascinating study in their own right. Many of the tunes were so all-pervasive that the folios on which texts were printed – a broadside or broadsheet – simply listed the name of the tune at the top of the page. To many of these tunes, such as ‘Packington’s Pound’ or ‘Dulcina’, numerous texts would be written, and the same tune could sometimes go by multiple names, depending on how many ballad texts had caught the public’s fancy.
Thus, ‘Stingo’, ‘Oil of barley’, and ‘Cold and raw’ all use the same tune – one that was so popular with Queen Mary that she once snubbed Purcell by requesting that the singers put aside his music and sing ‘Cold and raw’ instead, leaving Purcell sitting silently, and ‘not a little nettled’, by the harpsichord. He retaliated by using the tune as the bass line in one of the movements of the Queen’s next Birthday Ode.) It would be an unusual Elizabethan or Jacobean drama that did not contain at least one song, and Shakespeare used music very cannily in his plays.
Although Shakespeare’s sonnets are undated, most scholars assume that they were written between 1592 and 1595– 96. The 154 extant sonnets were published in 1609, apparently without Shakespeare’s overseeing the project, and indeed, no one is entirely sure how the publisher even came by the manuscripts. The order of the sonnets in the first edition may, therefore, also be the publisher’s, and they are divided into two groups, the first 126 addressed to an unidentified ‘Fair Youth’ and the next twenty- six to a similarly unidentified ‘Dark Lady’ (the final two seem to be merely unrelated exercises in the form). The published order is somewhat controversial, but even more so is the identity of the ‘youth’, the controversy fuelled by the publisher’s dedication of the volume to ‘the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets Mr. W.H.’ The leading candidates are William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, and Henry Wriothesley (initials reversed), third Earl of Southampton, and the emotions which the author feels toward this young man have been described as everything from homoerotic to quasi-parental.
The ballads, and the emotional significance of their placement, would have been instantly recognized, of course (Desdemona’s plaintive ‘Willow Song’, for example, is an anonymous ballad that survives to our day), but their melodies are often long lost (such as the snatches Ophelia sings in her delirium). The art songs (composed pieces with actual accompaniments) are more problematic.
Some of them, for example ‘O mistress mine!’, exist in instrumental arrangements in published sources that are older than the plays in which they appear. To cite another example, ‘Take, O take those lips away’, sung by a boy in Act IV, Scene 1 of Measure for Measure, has a second stanza (tentatively attributed to John Fletcher, as it appears in his Bloody Brother), and Mariana’s order to ‘Break off thy song’ certainly might imply that Shakespeare knew the entire piece. Does this mean, then, that Fletcher added a stanza to Shakespeare’s text, or rather that Shakespeare used the ideal song for his purposes, and subsequent readers have assumed that the lyrics were his? Is it someone else’s work entirely, and both authors simply borrowed it? In how many cases, if any, did Shakespeare write new lyrics to existing melodies; or did he simply know the perfect songs to fit his dramatic needs? How many of the songs were newly composed? Unfortunately, answers to questions such as these are unlikely at this remove, and very few contemporary settings of Shakespeare’s lyrics have survived. It seems likely that at least some of the songs were composed specifically for his plays, such as Robert Johnson’s ‘Full fathom five’, ‘Where the bee sucks’, and ‘Hark! hark! the lark’, and very possibly Thomas Morley’s ‘It was a lover and his lass’ as well.
The jazz roots of Nils Lindberg (b. 1933) show in his warm setting of Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?, extracted from a larger work (O, Mistress mine) which gathers together twelve poems on the delights of love by noted Elizabethan poets such as Robert Herrick, Thomas Campion, and Philip Sidney.
The Tempest contains more music than any other Shakespeare play, so it is hardly surprising that it provides a particularly strong lure for composers (indeed, it is represented on this disc by more than one third of the pieces). It certainly had a compelling fascination for the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890 –1974). He wrote the Songs of Ariel in 1950 for the Nederlands Kamerkoor, and almost immediately began working on an operatic version, Der Sturm, completed in 1955. The personality of the ‘airy spirit’ was obviously particularly intriguing for Martin. ‘Come unto these yellow sands’, with which the invisible Ariel leads Ferdinand to Prospero’s haven, is given a distant, hollow character that might well make Ferdinand wonder whether the music were ‘i’ th’ air, or th’ earth’ (I.ii.447). In ‘Full fathom five’, in which Ariel describes to Ferdinand his father’s presumed fate, the music sways hypnotically like a bed of kelp undulating in leisurely waves. Sprightly, yet sweet, ‘Before you can say, “Come,” and “Go”’ encapsulates Ariel’s quicksilver temperament, but ‘You are three men of sin’ shows the power he can assume at Prospero’s command, when, disguised as a harpy, the music aggressive and sharply pointed, he delivers a harsh rebuke to those who first usurped Prospero’s dukedom.
Finally, ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’, Ariel’s joyful anticipation of his liberation, is a remarkable display of choral buzzing!
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (b. 1963) is a quirky Finn who considers himself a ‘semi- professional’ musician. His modesty hides considerable musical experience, however, and he is currently Composer-in-Residence to the Tapiola Chamber Choir. Four Shakespeare Songs dates from 1984, after which Mäntyjärvi took a self-imposed hiatus of some seven years. ‘Come away, come away, death’ (Twelfth-Night) must surely be one of the most wistfully mournful texts ever penned, sung at Orsino’s request as he wallows in self-pity for his unrequited love of Olivia, and Mäntyjärvi captures the mood with subtly shifting rhythms and sighing figures. In A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, as Titania prepares herself for sleep, her fairy court sings the ‘Lullaby’ as a charm of protection over the sleeping Queen, and the composer uses twisting chromaticism and cross- relationships to evoke the creepy-crawlies that are forbidden to slither over her pillow. ‘Double, double toil and trouble’ is of course the famous text from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which the three Weird Sisters are celebrating the Witches’ Sabbath, just before Macbeth arrives to receive the cryptic prophecies that will ultimately betray him utterly – and one senses from this music exactly how much they are enjoying their treachery! In contrast, Ariel’s ‘Full fathom five’ is here given a warmth and richness that would perhaps offer some comfort and reassurance to poor Ferdinand.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 –1958) composed Three Shakespeare Songs for the National Competitive Festival of the British Federation of Music Festivals in June 1951; it was held barely a month after the death of his first wife, and it is tempting to imagine that working with these texts provided some consolation for him. The cross-rhythms in his setting of ‘Full fathom five’ effectively jumble the accents and blur the metre, like overlapping eddies at the turn of the tides. Prospero’s speech in Act IV of The Tempest, from which ‘The cloud-capp’d towers’ is extracted, contains some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. This text, coming as it does after Prospero’s display of his powers for Ferdinand’s edification, is given an evocative setting whose solemn, stately chords gravely sweep away the magical nuptial mass, ‘this insubstantial pageant’ (IV.i.167). ‘Over hill, over dale’ (A Midsummer-Night’s Dream) is sung by a fairy of Titania’s court, Vaughan Williams here conjuring a scene in which she dashes away to bejewel the green as the Queen’s train approaches, the hills sending the echoes back through the night to Puck’s listening ear.
Juilliard-trained though he may be, Matthew Harris (b. 1956) came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, and his distinctive voice, perceivable throughout his several books of Shakespeare Songs, is colored by the influences of rock and roll and jazz. ‘Hark! hark! the lark’ (Cymbeline) has been called ‘the finest aubade in the English language’; Harris composed this setting for his own wedding. The light-hearted ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’ is found in The Merchant of Venice, where it is sung as a backdrop to Bassanio’s (successful) deliberations over choosing the casket whose contents will win him Portia’s hand. In The Tempest, Stephano’s ‘I shall no more to sea’ is a drinking song; Harris has instead focused on the poignancy of the text, creating a piece filled with wistful sorrow. The Clown’s ‘When that I was and a little tiny boy’ closes Twelfth-Night, and in this setting the music builds slowly to a pleasant cacophony. Harris describes his ‘It was a lover and his lass’ (As You Like It) as a ‘slow, gentle idyll of young love in the spring’ and ‘O mistress mine!’ (Twelfth-Night) as a ‘slow, heavenly coda… on the lessons of youth and love’. In contrast, ‘When daffodils begin to peer’ (The Winter’s Tale) is an earthy romp, full of blue notes and country swing.
– Kathryn Parke