Notes by Nicholas McGegan
On 25th April 1616, William Shakespeare was buried in Stratford on Avon, the town where he had been born fifty-two years earlier. His monument on the north side of the chancel of Holy Trinity church is impressive and his gravestone below it curses anyone who might try to move his bones. A recent scan of the contents of his tomb seems to show that his skull is missing but we don’t know if the curse had any effect. But whatever happened to his physical remains, his plays and poetry have achieved immortality and are performed all over the world.
Many of his plays are filled with songs and in the past, at least in England, it was traditional to add extra music even if not specifically called for. This programme is a little anthology of music from and associated with Shakespeare’s plays in the first two centuries after his death.
In the years immediately following his death, his plays were printed and his reputation remained high, not least among other authors such as Ben Jonson and Milton, who refers in his poem L’Allegro to go to hear:
… sweetest Shakespear fancies childe,
Warble his native Wood-notes wilde
With the triumph of the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War, a new era of kill-joy puritanism was ushered in: theatres were closed, make-up and colourful clothes were banned, and a boy could be whipped for playing football on a Sunday. Even the celebration of Christmas was forbidden. Luckily this suffocating priggishness did not last long in England, though it was more successful in Boston. The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 saw theatres reopen and once again the plays of Shakespeare were in the repertoire. However, they were not exactly given as the author had written or performed them. One general change that caused a sensation was the introduction of actresses to play the female parts rather than boys. The diarist Pepys noted in March 1667:
‘to the Theatre, and there saw The Scornfull Lady, now done by a woman, which makes the play appear much better than ever it did to me’.
Soon the texts began to be altered to suit popular taste. The introduction of an orchestra meant that a lot of extra music was added, especially dance music, overtures and entr’actes. Additional songs were also inserted, often for characters who did not appear in the original. The plots were frequently changed too; tragedies acquired happy endings such as Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear where Cordelia and Edgar get married though they do not even meet in the original. The result is that the plays end up sometimes as semi-operas such as Purcell’s Fairy Queen, a work in which the composer manages to set not a single word of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In the 18th century, not much changed until the arrival of David Garrick in the 1740s. He was not only a brilliant actor himself, both in tragedy and comedy, but also an excellent and innovative impresario with tremendous flare. He began to perform a broader range of Shakespeare plays than before and, though he still kept some of the happy endings, he did often get a little closer to the originals. He also commissioned new music from the fashionable composers of the day. He also organized a huge Shakespearean Jubilee Festival in Stratford. A temporary theatre was erected near the river which nearly got washed away by the river which flooded because of incessant rain, thus making it a typical British outdoor festivity in the tradition of Handel’s Fireworks Music and, in our time, Glastonbury.
Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707) was the organist of the Chapel Royal. His most famous work is the so-called Trumpet Voluntary (originally The Prince of Denmark’s March) which is often played at weddings, royal and less exalted; however, he did write music for the theatre as well. It is probable that his overture to Titus Andronicus was written about 1696 for a version of the play by Edward Ravenscroft. Clarke worked closely with Purcell’s brother Daniel and so it is no surprise that the excellent overture sounds rather Purcellian. In spite of his successful career, Clarke ended his short life unhappily. He shot himself because of ‘a violent and hopeless passion for a very beautiful lady of a rank superior to his own’ He had contemplated death by hanging or drowning, which he would decide by tossing a coin. The coin landed in its side in the mud so, in despair, he drew a gun.
The Tempest was easily the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays throughout the 17th century. There are many settings of the songs as well as incidental music. We are most fortunate that for some of the songs the original settings from 1610/11 by Robert Johnson (ca. 1583–1633) have survived; indeed, these are the only original settings that exist for any Shakespeare play. Johnson worked with the King’s Men from 1610 to 1617, as well as being a lutenist for Prince Henry and later Prince Charles. He provided music for the Royal Masques until his death.
After the Restoration, The Tempest was usually done in a version by Dryden from 1667. Pepys was at the opening performance:
Thursday 7 November 1667
Up, and at the office hard all the morning, and at noon resolved with Sir W. Pen to go see “The Tempest,” an old play of Shakespeare’s, acted, I hear, the first day; and so my wife, and girl, and W. Hewer by themselves, and Sir W. Pen and I afterwards by ourselves; and forced to sit in the side balcone over against the musique-room at theDuke’s house, close by my Lady Dorset and a great many great ones. The house mighty full; the King and Court there and the most innocent play that ever I saw; and a curious piece of musique in an echo of half sentences, the echo repeating the former half, while the man goes on to the latter; which is mighty pretty. The play [has] no great wit, but yet good, above ordinary plays. Thence home with [Sir] W. Pen, and there all mightily pleased with the play; and so to supper and to bed, after having done at the office.
Dryden introduced additional characters: two women besides Miranda, who have not seen a man, and a man, Hippolito, who has not seen a woman. Caliban even acquired a sister. In 1674 Thomas Shadwell revised the play further adding more music and dance. A new version in 1704 had music by John Weldon (1676–1736), a pupil of Purcell. This selection of pieces from the music for The Tempest is from several different versions. The Curtain tune by Matthew Locke (ca. 1621–1677) could be from 1667 or 1674. ‘Dry those eyes’ is probably by Weldon (1676–1736) as is much of the music formally attributed to Purcell. The only genuine Purcell song is ‘Dear Pretty Youth’ which has a text by Shadwell and is sung by Dorinda, Miranda’s sister in Act IV. ‘Halcyon Days’ is frequently attributed to Purcell but, since it is a Da Capo aria, it is more likely to be a later composition perhaps by Weldon.
Weldon’s fine song ‘Take O take those lips away’ is from a production of Charles Gildon’s version of Measure for Measure from 1700.
Timon of Athens was given after the Restoration in a version by Shadwell called The History of Timon of Athens, the Man-Hater. The original music was by Louis Grabu, a Catalan/French composer. Purcell wrote his music for performances in the summer of 1695, the last year of his life. The Curtain Tune on a Ground is a remarkable composition which appears in Act. IV, Scene III.
Jacques (James) Paisible (ca. 1656–1721) was born in France but spent most of his life in England as an oboist and bass player. He married Moll Davies, one of Charles II’s mistresses whom Pepys described as ’the most impertinent slut in the world’. Sir George Etherege wrote of the marriage:
‘Mrs Davies has given proof of the great passion she always had for music, and Monsieur Peasible has another bass to thrum than that he played so well upon’.
The Suite from The Humours of Sir John Falstaff dates from 1700 and was produced by Thomas Betterton, who had great success in the title role.
The first Georgian kings were not great supporters of the theatre, perhaps because they did not speak English too well. Instead they preferred to attend the opera, which was not only more fashionable but more elaborately staged than most plays. It may be just a coincidence that David Garrick’s first London appearance on stage, as Richard III, occurred in the same year as Handel’s last opera, Deidamia. That year, 1741, marked a major change in the fortunes of spoken drama. Garrick’s new style of acting caused a sensation and he immediately began to mount productions of Shakespeare that were admired all over Europe. Boswell wrote of Garrick that he
–Dame Nature’s pencil stole,
Just where old Shakespeare dropt it.
Garrick was quick to commission new music for his productions from the most sought-after composers in London. Among these was Thomas Arne (1710-78), the composer of Rule Britannia. His sister, Susannah Cibber, was Garrick’s favourite leading lady until a rift in 1750. She is better known to lovers of music as one of Handel’s favourite singers, the one for whom he wrote the alto part in Messiah and the role of Micah in Samson. Thomas Arne began providing music for Drury Lane Theatre just before Garrick joined the company and between 1740 and 1746 wrote songs and incidental music for As you Like it, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. His songs have a charming simplicity and elegance that have kept them in the repertoire ever since. ‘When daisies pied’ was written to be sung by Kitty Clive who also sang for Handel, notably as Dalila in Samson.
Thomas Chilcot (ca 1707–1766) was the highly respected and respectable organist of Bath Abbey. His world was far removed from the raffish demi-monde of the London theatres. His Twelve English Songs date from 1744 and include settings of Euripides and Anacreon, as well as Shakespeare. The two songs we’ll hear in this concert were performed at Vauxhall Gardens, the Pleasure Garden on the south bank of the Thames, where the ‘ton’ and the not so glamorous would go in the summer to dine, be seen, and flirt.
John Christopher Smith (1712–95) was actually German and, like his father before him, Handel’s amanuensis. He conducted nearly all of Handel’s performances after the composer’s blindness prevented him from directing. In the 1750s he collaborated with David Garrick on all his Shakespeare productions including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and work called The Fairies.
Thomas Linley (1756–1778) was a child prodigy who was just a few months younger than Mozart. The two met as teenagers in Florence in 1770 and were, for a time, inseparable. He returned to England the following year and by 1774 he was music director of the Drury Lane Orchestra. In 1777 he wrote music for a version of The Tempest by Sheridan, who had eloped with his sister Elizabeth in 1772. She had been a very talented soprano but gave up her career on marriage. Linley’s untimely death at the age of 22 drowning in a boat accident in the lake of Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire was a real tragedy for British music. Mozart remembered his childhood friend fondly and commented to the Irish tenor Michael Kelly: “Linley was a true genius” who “had he lived, would have been one of the greatest ornaments of the musical world”. One can only imagine what wonderful music he might have composed had he lived.
Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769 was one of his most ambitious projects. None of the plays were actually performed but instead there were pageants, processions and masquerades held in Stratford and in a specially built rotunda. The wet weather caused chaos but there were things to enjoy too. The young James Boswell who was there and commented:
Taking the whole of this jubilee, said I, is like eating an artichoke entire. We have some fine mouthfuls, but also swallow the leaves and the hair, which are confoundedly difficult of digestion. After all, however, I am highly satisfied with my artichoke.
Soon after, the whole thing was revived indoors in a London theatre to great acclaim.
Much of the music was composed by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) including the dances that end this concert. These have charming titles like The Eastcheap Minuet, Mistress Quickly, and Doll Tearsheet’s Rant and were published complete with their choreography.
Shakespeare may have been laid to rest four hundred years ago but his fame lives on.
As Milton wrote:
What needs my Shakespeare for his honour’d bones,
The labour of an age in piled stones,
Or that his hallow’d relics should be hid
Under a star-y-pointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name? ….
And so sepulchered in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.