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Shakespeare and Music

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KING RICHARD III

The play of Richard III. has not attracted musicians. I can only trace one opera founded on it—that by the French composer, Gervais Bernard Salvayre, produced 1883 at Petrograd. This work was a dead failure, its chief faults—noisiness and an amalgamation of different styles, from Meyerbeer to Verdi—being so prominent that it was only performed a few times. Concerning two other works, which I have not been able to find, a few bare data are given below.


Of incidental music, specially composed, much has been written, but most of it is unimportant. Many producers seem to have been content with a funeral march and a liberal use of fanfares; but the late Richard Mansfield, the Anglo-American actor-manager, had the good sense to commission Edward German to compose the music for his production at the Globe in 1889, and the result is a fine overture and some very effective and appropriate incidental music.

The overture is in strict form. It opens maestoso, the Richard III. theme being given out forte. It is a sinister subject, well suited to the character Shakespeare drew, if not in agreement with our modern whitewashing historians. After this short introduction the overture proper starts, with Richard's motif on the violins, allegro molto, accompanied by tremolo strings. This is worked up to a fine fortissimo, and prepares the way for the second theme, "The Princes." Here we have a tender melody, again suited to the author's picture of the characters, but not at all {116} like the horrible little prigs one generally sees in these parts in the theatre. Personally I have every sympathy with Richard for killing the Princes whenever I see them on the stage! This theme is worked up to a fine climax, and then the very clever development begins. The subjects are well mixed and blended, and the overture comes to an end in a very brilliant manner.

In the incidental music the first number is the King Henry theme, a plaintive minor melody; then the Lady Anne motif, also plaintive, but not minor. The Lord Mayor theme is a mock dignified march, marked "quaintly" in the score. The number called "On the Way to Chertsey" is in the "Old English style," and foreshadows the famous "Henry VIII. Dances" that followed. "In the Tower" is naturally sombre, very ominous and fateful. The "Entrance of the young Duke of York" is a pretty, boyish, scherzo-like little number; and "In Baynard Castle" is a serious, organ-like piece of music all on a pedal, and rather like a conventional postlude. "Richmond's March" is also serious, and is marked "religiose," an allusion to his well-known habit of praying!

The processional march, played as Queen Elizabeth and train enter the Tower, is a fine, pompous, thoroughly English march, as is fitting for the occasion; and the "Intermezzo Fun�bre," played as King Henry's funeral procession approaches, is all its name promises. The work ends with a short "Victory theme." This score, which was the first incidental music written by Edward German, then musical director at the Globe, made quite a sensation, and abundantly justified Mansfield's selection of his composer.


Frederick Smetana, born March 2, 1824, perhaps the greatest Bohemian musician, wrote a great symphonic poem on this play. It is a very elaborate work and laid out for a very large orchestra. The composer gives no definite programme, but the music throughout is very dramatic and full of tragic interest. After a few quiet introductory {117} bars the basses give out the principal theme quietly, but working quickly up to a fortissimo.

This subject, with slight changes, dominates the entire work; it is a grim, characteristic, sinister theme, and a splendid one to develop. Almost immediately it has been announced the answering motif, plaintive and melodious, follows, and for a long time these are the only subjects used. After a good working-up, a four-note figure of the theme is taken by itself and developed into a great march tune, typical of the King in his pomp. After this, one new subject is introduced—a breathless, syncopated, agitato phrase, which, worked up with the other theme, develops into a magnificent coda, marked "vittorioso" in the score—victory for Richmond, I suppose. The last few bars are again grim, the same four notes from Richard's theme broken in upon by two sharp fortissimo chords.

This is indeed a welcome addition to our scanty stock of Richard III. music. It is a symphonic poem in the grand manner, and worthy to stand with the greatest works in that class. This work was first performed in England at the first Henschel concert, St James's Hall, November 12, 1896.


All that is known of an opera bearing the impressive title of Ricardus Impius, Angli� Rex, ab Henrico Richmond� Comite vita simul et regno exitus, is that it was a drama in Latin, music by Jean d'Eberlin, and was produced by the students of the Benedictine convent at Salzburg on September 4, 1750. The composer, Johann Ernst Eberlin, was born at Jettingen, Bavaria, 1702, and died at Salzburg, Austria, in 1762. He was Court organist to the Prince Bishop of the latter town, and chief organist to the Cathedral. He composed an immense amount of church and organ music.

The other work unknown to me is Canepa's Riccardo III. (Milan, 1879).





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