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Shakespeare and Music

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HENRY VIII

John Liptrot Hatton, born 1809 at Margate, wrote an overture and incidental music for Henry VIII., dedicated to Mrs Charles Kean, and performed at the Princess's. The overture begins with a slow introduction of a sugary type, followed by a very obvious allegro. The themes here are not of much value, and the development does not invest them with any great interest. There is no attempt at character drawing, and the only things standing out in the overture, except its dullness, are a few scale passages for the bells. The first entr'acte is called "A Maske-dance," interrupted at intervals by Henry's love-song to Anne Boleyn. The dance part has a strange likeness to a number by Edward German, but the trio episodes representing Henry's love-making are quite sad and sentimental. The number ends with the dance music. The next section is headed "Shakespeare's Favourite Tune" (Lightie Love Ladies), and old dances, and opens with a bright country dance called "Wolsey's Wild," followed by another six-eight country dance, "Sellinger's Round," very graceful, with again a dash of Edward German. This is followed by a rather contrapuntal arrangement of the well-known old morris-dance, and the whole movement finishes with "Lightie Love Ladies," said by the publishers and Hatton to be "Shakespeare's favourite tune." It is a broad, simple melody, flowing in style, and, for all I know, may have been Shakespeare's favourite tune; but I cannot trace it in any Shakespeare reference book. The next entr'acte is a prelude and air with variations. The air {43} and variations, five in number, are made after the fashion of Mendelssohn's works in the same form, though simple. There is nothing outstanding about the whole movement. The third and fourth entr'actes are both marches: the first in the minor, the second in the major key. Both are good working marches with the regular trios, and call for no comment.

The setting of "Orpheus with his lute" is interesting. It is written for soprano and contralto; it was first sung by the Misses Broughton, two celebrated artists. The composer, in the phrasing of the first two lines, actually makes sense of them—a very rare thing to happen to the musician setting these words; but afterwards he falls from grace. With only a fair number of repetitions he gets to the end of the second verse, but then goes back to the first, and finishes at the end of it, utterly failing to see how right Fletcher or Shakespeare was in concluding with the perfect lines, "Killing care and grief of heart, fall asleep or hearing die."


Sir Henry Irving showed good judgment in commissioning Edward German to write the music for his great revival of Henry VIII. The composer took full advantage of his opportunity, and the music for this play contains certainly the most popular numbers that Mr German has ever composed. I need hardly say that I mean the famous "Three Dances," well known and popular throughout the world. I once heard them in Germany, under the extraordinary title of "Three German Dances from Saint Sa�ns's Henry VIII.," but they were these three all the same—the Morris Dance, the Shepherd's Dance, and the Torch Dance. They are too familiar to call for any more attention from me, so I will pass on to the rest of the music.

The overture is a strong and vigorous work, full of striking themes and ideas. The first subject is just right for the King, bluff and overbearing in style, but full of real strength. The second theme in the relative minor {44} is very pathetic, and in strong contrast to the first. Then comes a third subject, a very decided march tune, which is used later on in the prelude to Act ii. These themes are all well and skilfully developed, and the whole overture finishes brilliantly with a coda on the "Henry VIII." motif, the music getting faster and faster until the end. The prelude to the second act is called "Intermezzo Fun�bre," and the opening is exactly in the manner of a funeral march, while the trio has a very graceful subject. This is beautifully broken in upon by the funeral theme, which finally wins a very unequal battle. For the prelude to Act iii. Mr German writes a very pretty, graceful movement, quite in his own style, full of melody and good musicianship. The prelude to Act iv. is a march in the conventional form, brilliantly scored and most effective from an orchestral point of view; but the ideas do not seem so fresh as those in the remainder of the music, and the whole gives rather a theatrical effect. Still, it is a very good march.

The prelude to Act v. is a "Thanksgiving Hymn" for the birth of Princess, afterwards Queen, Elizabeth, and is good, stirring patriotic English music; the melodies broad and flowing and the harmonies diatonic—a perfect "Thanksgiving Hymn," in fact. There is a very delightful trio for three of the Queen's ladies (words actually from the play): "Orpheus with his lute." This trio, which was dedicated to Miss Ellen Terry, who was playing the Queen in this revival, is a beautiful example of the composer's happy knack of fitting music to exquisite words, and adding melody and real vocal part-writing. This number again is very easy to sing, and deserves much greater publicity. On the whole, Edward German's music to Henry VIII. is about the most successful modern example of English incidental theatre music. There is, with him, no question of writing down to a theatre audience (generally very unmusical), but a deep knowledge of the play and a very useful knowledge of the stage and how music can help it practically. As performed at the Lyceum, {45} the music was never preponderating, but was always there and always right at the proper moment; and, of course, the "Three Dances" are rightly immortal.


Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Incidental Music to Henry VIII." in its published form is much slighter, but I have never heard it in its entirety. Much of it is still, unfortunately, in manuscript, but those portions published by Metzler are very interesting. The "Graceful Dance" is still very popular (it seems strange that dances in this piece are always winners), and is frequently played in theatres and restaurants; and the King's song, "Youth will have dalliance," is one of the composer's best songs. I really ought not to touch on it here, as Shakespeare was not the author of the words, but the song is so much associated with the play that I cannot help myself; and even though Shakespeare did not write the words, Henry VIII. did, and, anyway, he was in the period. That versatile king, poet, and theologian also wrote music, and very beautiful music, to his own lyrics. The opening music in my edition of the score consists of a long fanfare leading up to a not very dignified march, rather recalling happy old Savoy days than the Shakespeare or Shakespeare-Fletcher drama. The second theme is also rather of the cheap variety, and the third is reminiscent of Rossini; but I am certain that, judging from the high level of excellence shown in the "Graceful Dance" and "King's Song," much very beautiful music is hidden away in manuscript. Sullivan's setting of "Orpheus with his lute" is one of the most beautiful songs in the English language. It is a very early work of the composer, written long before the rest of his Henry VIII. music. The accompaniment is strangely reminiscent of Schubert's Who is Sylvia?


Macfarren's part-song to the same words is also beautiful, and gives the words their real meaning when properly sung and phrased. The lyric is difficult to set, and when set difficult to sing. Most singers give one the idea that {46} Orpheus made trees with his lute. It is not always the singer's fault, as several composers give this effect. The blame is also a little with Shakespeare or Fletcher for separating the word "trees" so far from the word "bow." Since writing the above, I hear, on the best authority, that of the late Dr F. J. Furnivall, that Fletcher undoubtedly wrote the lyric: so to him is due the blame of misleading simple composers.





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