#13: The Shakespeare Afternoon

      At the meeting on June 2nd Lorraine Bell, emcee explained that her planned speaker, Dr. Thomas Ellis of Hampton University, had left for Bath, England the day before, leaving her his notes and best wishes for the presentation.

      In the plays we find three types of songs:

Traditional. Songs popular in Shakespeare's time and used by him in a play. Sing willow from Othello, and mad songs such as How shall I my true love know?, sung by Ophelia in Hamlet.

Songs woven into the plays. In The Tempest we have many songs and the character Ariel who represents music. Full Fathom Five, Where the bee sucks and Come unto these yellow sands are examples. There is a wonderful film by Peter Greenaway staring Sir John Gielgud in his 87th year called Prospero's Books. In this free-ranging adaptation music is given its full due.

Incantations. Here the easiest example is the song of the witches, Come away, Hecate in Macbeth.

      The Virginia Art Song Society's musical program opened with a song by Thomas Arne written for a 1738 revival of As You Like It, titled When Daisies Pied, and sung by Jay Taylor, tenor, who explained that "pied" means brightly colored.

      Didi Granger performed When icicles hung by the wall from Loves Labors Lost, composed by Ralph Vaughn Williams. This song is part of a cycle of three Shakespeare songs including Take, O take (those lips away) from Measure for Measure with its plaintive melodic ending, and Orpheus With His Lute from King Henry VIII ,which she sang later in the program. Didi read the text of each song before she sang, adding to our understanding.

      It is always exciting to hear the voice of a new singer. Kelley Poole, sang Hey, Ho, the wind and the rain by Roger Quilter from Twelfth Night. When she read the text, we found that she has a very pleasant speaking voice. When she sang she had an even nicer singing voice. The high notes in the last two lines were especially lovely.

      Jay Taylor and Carolyn Gregory, sang Wilt thou be gone love set by Stephen Foster. Foster uses key phrases from Romeo and Juliet, simplifying the language, expressing them in the American speech patterns of his day. The couple debates the arrival of morning: It is not yet day. It was the nightingale, and not the lark... Obviously she does not want this night of bliss to end.

      Lorraine Bell sang two settings of It was a lover and his lass from As You Like It. The first by Thomas Morley, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a modern setting by Betty Jackson King titled In the Springtime. The text used by Ms. King is from the play while the Morely text is many verses longer. We cannot be sure that Shakespeare wrote the extra verses but he may have done so to make his "hit" more salable as sheet music.

      The second half of the program was presented by this writer using recorded material and as promised I will give a discography with the commentary from the presentation.

      Songs texts are drawn from different parts of Shakespeare's writings. Let's begin with sonnet number XVIII set by an American woman composer Lora Aborn (b.1907), Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day, sung by Jennifer Larmore on the CD My Native Land (Teldec 0630-16069-2). Yes, you have already heard this album recommended because it has a Hundley song. This CD includes three songs by Ms. Aborn, "who is reported to be semi-retired in Oak Park, Illinois." She is 95.

      The next selection is Come Away, Death from Twelfth Night set by Erich Korngold (1897-1957). Korngold, born in Austria, came to the United States in 1934. The sad words of this poem, set in a Mahleresque fashion, reflect the composer's time and place. In the play the words are spoken by a young man frustrated in love and reflect a temporary distress at most. The CD is Sure on this Shining Night, the singer, Robert White, tenor with Samuel Sanders, piano. (Hyperion CDA66920). This CD includes two additional song on texts by Shakespeare: William Schuman's (1910-1992) Orpheus and his lute and Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) Sigh no more,ladies. All twenty-eight selections are by American composers, several of whom were naturalized citizens.

      In our original Shakespeare issue we recommended the CD (Phillips 446687-2) titled Shakespeare's Musick performed by Musicians of the Globe led by Philip Pickett. We heard three pieces from the CD. First, How should I your true love know. The name of the composer is lost in time, but most likely Shakespeare used it in his theatre production of Hamlet. It is also known as Ophelia's Song and has been set by Brahms and others.

      The other two songs come from The Tempest. Full Fathom Five is a whimsical poem on a deceased father who hears a sea nymph ring his knell hourly and the third Where the bee sucks there suck I is about the easy life. From the liner notes of this CD and from Dr. Ellis' notes we learn that in Shakespeare's time you could buy the sheet music for voice and lute, voice and keyboard or a concert arrangement on your way out of the theatre.

      To add the finishing touch on this musical tour we heard a setting of Who is Sylvia? by Richard Leveridge about 75 years after Shakespeare's death. This was from a three LP set titled Songs from the Plays of Shakespeare. My copy was bought in February 1965 and is not currently available on CD. It is a collection of over 50 songs from the plays, a Caedmon Production SRS 242-S, The Shakespeare Recording Society.

      To end on a high note we heard Bryn Terfel sing Schubert's setting of An Sylvia. Terfel sings the middle verse very softly, adding interest to this strophic three verse song. This greatly pleased the audience. The CD is An Die Musik ~ Favorite Schubert Songs DG 445 294-2. Malcolm Martineau is at the piano for the 23 selections.

Other Recommended Recordings

      Also recommended, though not played at the meeting is Schubert Leider by Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo soprano, with Bengt Forsberg at the piano. She sings eighteen songs including An Sylvia (DG 453 481-2). The standard recording of An Sylvia by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore can be found on a DG CD 415 188-2 titled Schubert: Schwanengesang, 7 Lieder.

      Another setting of Orpheus and his lute is by Maurice Green who lived in England more than one hundred years after Shakespeare. The singer is Emma Kirkby, an English specialist in early music. We had the pleasure of hearing her and her husband, the noted lutanist Antony Rooley, as part of the Hampton Great Performers Series in 1995. The CD Maurice Green Songs and Keyboard Works (The Handel Circle 070978). Green was the most naturally gifted of Handel's English comtemporaries according to the liner notes. He also sets Italian texts and six sonnets by Edmund Spenser.

      Next we have an example of a spoken text from Twelfth Night set as a song by Joseph Haydn in 1798, titled She Never Told Her Love, sung by the pioneering African-American recitalist Roland Hays, tenor with Reginald Boardman, piano in 1955. The CD is The Art of Roland Hays from the Smithsonian Collection RD041. They also do Quilter's setting of It Was a Lover and His Lass.

      There is one CD that we plan to add to our collection based on the web search for this article: Songs of Shakespeare (Hyperion CDA 66 480) with Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor and Graham Johnson, piano. The 27 selection survey is divided into Georgian and Regency, Victorians and Edwardians, the later Georgians including Vaughn Williams, Quilter and Ireland and the New Elizabethans Tippett, Britten, Horder and Bush.

      A closing note. Our CD collection is indexed by composer and singer but not by poet, except for Shakespeare, which I did last week. Volunteers for poet indexing will be gratefully accepted.

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