Shakespeare and Music



Mr Barclay Squire, in his contribution to the Book of Homage to Shakespeare, 1916, entitled "Shakespearian Operas," says concerning Julius C�sar: "There are innumerable operas, mostly of the eighteenth century, on Julius C�sar, as to which Riemann and Cl�ment and Larousse may be consulted; but it is very doubtful whether any of them are founded on Shakespeare." I myself went through Handel's opera on the subject, but when I discovered that Cleopatra had an important part in the work I put it on one side: I always funk trying to connect a C�sar and Cleopatra opera with the Shakespeare play. Perhaps Handel was merely anticipating Bernard Shaw's brilliant C�sar and Cleopatra, but, any way, Handel was not dreaming of Shakespeare's work.

A List of Songs and Passages in Shakespeare which have been set to Music, compiled by Greenhill, Harrison, and F. J. Furnivall, does not give one line which has been treated musically.

Of incidental music very little remains; Schumann's overture I treat of later, and von B�low's I cannot find in the Museum library or anywhere else; but Raymond R�ze's orchestral suite, Julius C�sar, based on the music he composed for Sir Herbert Tree's revival at His Majesty's on January 22, 1898, is published and easily obtainable.

The overture commences with C�sar's "March Motive," and here is shown an absolute freedom from Wardour Street Roman music: it is quite as modern as Mr R�ze {48} could be. The next episode appears to be the Conspirators' Music; it is agitato, but of a curious Mendelssohnian simplicity, and leads to a na�ve Wagnerian theme, in which the characteristic slow turn is used with great effect. This runs into the C�sar march theme pianissimo, with harp effects, leading up to a brilliant coda on the C�sar motif, with a moving bass and full orchestral effects for the close. The prelude to Act ii. is a very emotional piece of music, sometimes dramatic, often melodramatic, but always exciting and comfortably away from any thought of the historic period. The prelude to Act iii. opens with a fine broad theme for the brass, much of which, curiously enough, might possibly have been played on trumpets of C�sar's time. After this, Mr R�ze naturally takes a rest from his museum researches, and the rest of the prelude is quite innocent of anything that would remind a Roman centurion, if he came to life now, of his past existence: it is most modern in the 1898 manner, and Professor Ebenezer Prout, had Mr R�ze shown him the score, would probably have told him to "run away and try to be a better boy." Still, there are excellent points in this music, and I wish that more of it were published.

Robert Schumann's Julius C�sar overture, Op. 128, is a fine example of the composer's sonorous and sombre style. Any musician on hearing it could guess the composer's name at first shot, but I defy anyone to guess its title. There is no attempt at ancient Roman effects, the style being much the same as that of his Manfred overture, written some years earlier.

It opens in the minor key with a strongly marked theme, rather in the nature of a fanfare; this is followed by a very beautiful Schumannesque syncopated passage. The second subject, for the horns, is again highly characteristic of the composer; the whole work finishes very brilliantly in the major.

I cannot see any connection between this work and Shakespeare's play, the overture having quite a happy {49} ending; but perhaps it represents an early phase in C�sar's life before he met too many "lean and hungry" men. The whole piece is most effective on the orchestra, in Schumann's own particular way, which I like, but most modern critics heartily dislike. It is very seldom performed, but I should much like to hear it in front of a production of the play.

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