This oft-quoted speech is a classic illustration of the richness of musical references in the bard’s plays, and how deeply his work is informed by the music of his age. Not only the poetry of the language itself, but the inclusion of songs, the references to instruments, and instructions for musical insertions at various points in the drama, all are indications of the integral role music played in Shakespeare’s writings.
In choosing the music for this program, we have drawn on actual songs from the plays, as well as on pieces that resonate with the mood of a chosen scene, or that illustrate the variety of music that was part of Shakespeare’s world – instrumental fantasias, madrigals, ballads, songs, and dances. A most helpful source has been a recently published volume, Shakespeare’s Songbook, meticulously researched and compiled by Ross Duffin, professor of musicology at Case Western Reserve University. He has taken every song and song reference from the plays, and found or reconstructed a suitable tune for each. In some cases, there were clear references to a specific tune, but for many others, it was a matter of intelligent sleuthing and musical guesswork. At the time, song texts were printed on broadsides (those single sheets printed by the hundreds and sold for pennies on the street), as well as in manuscript or printed anthologies. Music was rarely if ever included; instead, the title of the ballad was followed by “to the tune of….” These tunes of course were popular ones of the day that everyone knew, so there was no need to waste valuable space to print the music on the broadside or in the anthology. A good tune could be used multiple times, as was the case with Greensleeves, one of the most popular in England during the later 16th and 17th centuries.
Being a music ensemble rather than a theater group, our chosen scenes do not represent a cohesive, dramatic whole, but rather set off specific songs, provide an occasion to play off of dialogues filled with musical references, and provide musical interludes, as Shakespeare often indicated in his stage directions (but with no references to specific pieces). Where no music is available for the songs in some of our scenes, those words are spoken, underscored by music.
Merely to play and sing our pieces without an accompanying dramatic element would not do justice to the rich interplay of music and theater so prevalent during this time period. Thus it is our honor to pay tribute to the Bard on the 450th anniversary of his birth with this potpourri of songs, dances, fantasies, and memorable short scenes from a selection of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories.
Scene I: If Music be the Food of Love
Twelfth Night: Act I, Scene I
Pavan: Augustino Bassano (1559-1631)
Allemande: Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543-1588)
Allemande: Anonymous (late 16th c.)
It seems fitting to begin our evening’s entertainment with this speech of Count Orsino from the opening of Twelfth Night, which certainly begs the inclusion of music. These three dances are taken from the so-called Fitzwilliam ‘Wind Band’ manuscript, currently housed in the Fitzwilliam Library in London, which purports to contain repertoire specifically for the wind band players of the day, known as waits. While many of the compositions in this volume are by anonymous composers, a few names stand out, especially those of Augustino Bassano and his brother Jerome, both members of a recorder-playing family from Italy who served in the courts of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Instrument makers as well as performers, they had a lasting impact on English instrumental performance in the second half of the 16th century. Ferrabosco, another transplanted Italian, is attributed with bringing the madrigal to England.
Scene II: Orpheus with his lute made trees
Henry VIII: Act III, Scene I
Lighten heavy heart thy sprite: Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
Come woeful Orpheus: William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
lute, voice, recorders
In this scene, Queen Catherine, Henry’s first wife, begs for music to ease her melancholy. Orpheus, the legendary musician of ancient Greece, who had the power to charm all living things is called upon to aid her.
Thomas Campion was a prolific writer of such songs, as well as of poems, masques for dancing, and theoretical treatises on music. His contemporary William Byrd was one of the most highly regarded composers of his day, with an impressive ability to transform contemporary musical forms into his own unique style, as illustrated in his large output of sacred, secular and instrumental music. His consort song Come woeful Orpheus is filled with chromaticism that reflects the words of the text:
Come woeful Orpheus with thy charming lyre and tune my voice unto thy skillful wire. Some strange chromatic notes do you devise that best with mournful accents sympathize, of sourest sharps and uncouth flats make choice, and I’ll thereto compassionate my voice.
Hexachord fantasie “Take time”: John Farmer
Rubum quem: Christopher Tye (1505-c.1572)
sackbut, dulcians, shawm
There was a burgeoning of instrumental music composed in England in the latter half of the 16th century. Much of it was intended for viols or for broken (mixed) consort, but certainly can be appropriated for winds, and most likely was at that time as well. Farmer’s fantasie is based on the hexachord, the basic scale in Renaissance music theory, consisting of 6 ascending and descending notes. You will hear the tenor voice play that scale multiple times, in varying rhythm patterns of long notes, around which the other three voices weave intricate melodic strains. Tye is credited with being the first significant English composer of instrumental chamber music, and in this piece one hears motifs passed around among the lines that are quite instrumental in character, and represent a rather distinct departure from the flowing vocal polyphony so prevalent at the time.
Scene III: Fairies, black, grey, green and white
Merry Wives of Windsor: Act V, Scene V
Antimasque – 2nd Witch’s Dance: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
Fayries daunce: Thomas Ravenscroft (c.1582 or ’92-1635)
Hackney: Clement Woodcock (fl. c.1575)
pipe & tabor, guitar, voice, douçaine, krumhorns
One of Shakespeare’s great comedians, Will Kemp, was also renowned for an escapade in which he danced the jig from London to Norwich, accompanied by a pipe and tabor player. That combination was a popular dance instrument, as it provided melody and percussion all in one, and could be had for a cheap price! The Second Witches Dance is an antimasque, a comic or grotesque dance, presented before or between the acts of a masque, a popular dramatic entertainment of the day.
The tormenting of Falstaff for his lechery in The Merry Wives of Windsor is accompanied by the song Fie on sinful fantasy! Fayries’ Daunce by Ravenscroft, a contemporary composer of popular song settings, is a fitting sequel to Shakespeare’s text. The following piece, Hackney, another example of the instrumental writing of this period, is probably based in part on the street cries of the purveyors of horses for hire.
Scene IV: The Recorder Lesson
Hamlet: Act III, Scene II
I come, sweet birds: Robert Jones (fl. 1597-1615)
Rossignol: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
The nightingale: Thomas Bateson (c.1570/75-1630)
The blackbird/In midst of woods: John Mundy (c.1555-1630)
recorders, harp, lute
Shakespeare delighted in double entrendres and puns, and those on the subject of music and instruments are sprinkled liberally throughout his plays. In this scene Hamlet tries to persuade Guildenstern to play a recorder, which the latter will have none of. While recorders and other winds were suitable instruments for the professional players, they were unseemly for the upper classes, as they distorted the mouth and the face.Thus gentlemen and ladies honed their skills on plucked and bowed strings – lutes, keyboards and viols. On the other hand, recorders were indeed popular during the Tudor period – Henry VIII’s inventory of instruments at his death included 76 recorders of all sizes from soprano to great bass, and the Bassano family with their skills on the instrument helped raise its status as well. Later in the 17th century recorders became a vehicle for easy musical instruction and entertainment, and music teachers, composers and publishers issued numerous popular tutors for the middle class amateur player.
These pieces demonstrate the full sound of the recorder family, from small to great, in a collection of madrigals with texts about birds. There was a huge vogue for madrigals in late 16th century England, and a long list of composers tried their hand at the form. Jones, Bateson and Mundy, while not as well known as their contemporaries Morley and Weelkes, were considered among the more skilled composers. It was a fashion to compose madrigals on bird themes, and in fact most of Jones’ 27 madrigals are to texts about birds – merry, sweet, shrill, crowing or melancholic.
Scene V: The Willow Song
Othello: Act IV, Scene III
Sing all a green willow: Anonymous (late 16th c.)
voice, lute, harp
Shakespeare makes extensive use of this song in Othello. The text survives in two broadsides from the early 17th century, which Shakespeare follows closely, although changing the pronoun from ‘he’ to ‘she’. There are two extant melodies, an earlier untexted version from a 16th century lute book, and a lute song from a 1614 collection. The latter is the more familiar, which we have chosen for our rendition.
Scene VI: Masters, Play Here…..
Othello: Act III, Scene I
Dance: Anonymous (16th c.)
Two galliards: Anonymous (16th c.)
shawms, dulcian, percussion
In this comic scene poking fun at wind instruments – “ha’ your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i’ th’ nose thus?” – a fitting accompaniment is music on Piffaro’s consort of double reeds, as that quote implies a reedy sound, of which the speaker is clearly not particularly fond.
The three dances are from the Lumley Books, a set of partbooks from mid-century that originally contained Anglican church music. Their name derives from the man, Lord Lumley, into whose library the books made their way in the later 16th century. At this point, dances and a few ‘occastional’ pieces had been added to the collection, most likely by household musicians.
Tan tara ran tara, cries Mars: Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Come sirrah, Jack, ho: Weelkes
Three times a day: Weelkes
shawms, sackbut, dulcian
Thomas Weelkes was known primarily for his madrigals, but in addition wrote more Anglican anthems than any other composer of his time. While lauded for his compositions, he was also frequently chastised for his drunkenness and immoderate behavior, which included, according to one source, urinating on the Dean from the organ loft during evensong. In 1619 he was reported to the Bishop of Chichester Cathedral, where he was organist and instructor of the choir:
Dyvers tymes & very often come so disguised eyther from the Taverne or Ale house into the quire as is muche to be lamented, for in these humoures he will bothe curse & sweare most dreadfully, & so profane the service of God … and though he hath bene often tymes admonished … to refrayne theis humors and reforme hym selfe, yett he daylye continuse the same, & is rather worse than better therein.
Nonetheless, he redeems himself through his music, and his madrigals are inventive and imaginative.
Scene VII: O Musicians, ‘Heart’s Ease’!
Romeo & Juliet: Act IV, Scene IV
Heart’s ease: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
Chestnut: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
Nutmeg and ginger: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
Nonesuch: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
Sellenger’s round: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
recorders, lute, harp, dulcian, bagpipes, percussion
Shakespeare is brilliant the way he combines the comic with the tragic. This scene, which occurs immediately after Juliet’s nurse discovers she is dead, is indeed a tragic moment. The servant Peter calls for the musicians to “play some merry dumpe to comfort me”, but the following interchange with the musicians is filled with humorous quips and double entrendres.
The song Peter calls for, Heart’s Ease, was a broadside ballad printed around 1628, but clearly must have been known earlier, to be referenced in the play; same for the tune, which was first published in John Playford’s Dancing Master in 1651, a collection of English country dances, many of which have their origins in the 16th century. This set includes other popular dance tunes, two of which, Nutmeg and Ginger, and Sellenger’s Round, are mentioned in the plays.
Scene VIII: Ophelia’s Mad Scene
Hamlet: Act IV, Scene I
Robin is to the greenwood gone: Anonymous (16th c.)
Ricercar on “Bonny Sweet Robin”: Thomas Simpson (1582-c.1628)
recorders, dulcian, lute, harp
The melody of this song appears in numerous sources around 1600, but the text does not survive, except for the fragments in Ophelia’s famous lines. Our first setting, in five parts, is typical of those composed on ballad tunes and dances at that time. Clearly instrumental and not meant to be sung, the melody is divided between the top two lines. The much more involved Simpson ricercar consists of four variations for four voices, with the melody migrating from part to part. Simpson, while English by birth, spent a good deal of his professional life in Germany and Denmark, only returning to England at the end of his life. He was a viol player, and the large majority of his works are instrumental.
Scene IX: Full Fathom Five
The Tempest: Act I, Scene II
Full fathom five: Robert Johnson (c.1583-c.1634)
Pavan: Anonymous (16th c.)
Fantasia à 3: Edward Blanke
Note felice: Jerome Bassano
voice, lute, dulcians, sackbut, shawm
The song survives with music and text in several sources in the later 17th century, both of which attribute it to Robert Johnson. This composer, the son of John Johnson, one of the leading Elizabethan lutenists, possibly had an association with the King’s Men, the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged for most of his career. Johnson might well have composed this song either for the original production or a revival.
“Full fathom five thy father lies”, sings Ariel: the poem with its references to the deep suggests accompanying music favoring lower sonorities. The anonymous pavan from the Lumley Books is scored for five basses. Note felice, is from the Fitzwilliam ‘Wind Band’ manuscript, written by another member of the renowned Bassano family.
Scene X: It was a Lover and his Lass
As You Like It: Act V, Scene 3
It was a lover and his lass: Thomas Morley (1557/58-1602)
Now is the month of maying: Morley
voices, lute, harp, dulcian, recorders
It was a lover and his lass was printed in Morley’s First Book of Ayres (1600), and whether it was written on commission for the play, or was a song that Shakespeare chose, is uncertain. Originally a solo song, it has been arranged here for two voices by Grant Herreid. This makes sense, as it is clear that not one, but two, characters in the scene are the singers – “And both in a tune, like two gypsies on a horse,” says one.
The song is characteristic of many of Morley’s compositions. His oeuvre tended toward the lighter style of madrigal – canzonettes and balletts with texts that invariably include a “fa la la” or a “hey nonny no”. Such is the case with the well-known Now is the month of maying, which concludes our scene, after the Clown tells the singers to “mend their voices”.
Scene XI: Farewell
Much ado about Nothing: Act V, Scene IV
At the end of Much ado about Nothing, Benedict calls for a dance “to lighten our hearts”. The stage directions simply say Dance.
We bid you farewell with two dances. Stingo was published in Playford’s Dancing Master. La Bounette, a dance that can trace its origin from France, comes from an earlier source, The Mulliner Book, compiled between 1545 and 1570. Originally it was a keyboard piece, from which we have taken the melody and arranged it for bagpipes.
Stingo: Anonymous (early 17th c.)
La Bounette: Anonymous (mid 16th. C.
bagpipes, guitar, recorder, percussionRossignol (from “Waytes”)