Shakespeare and Music



Of all the plays The Tempest has been most popular with musicians. The earliest music to The Tempest is generally believed to be by Robert Johnson, who wrote settings of "Where the bee sucks" and "Full fathom five." The Encyclop�dia Britannica is quite definite on the subject; but as Johnson was born in 1604, and Shakespeare died in 1616, and had left off writing plays for several years before his death, Johnson must, as I said in the Introduction, have been something of a musical prodigy.

The next in order seems to be Matthew Locke's instrumental music to an operatic version of The Tempest (based on Dryden-Davenant), played in London in 1673. This work was revived and revised with additional numbers by Henry Purcell in 1695. The exquisite "Come unto these yellow sands" was one of the additional numbers. In both of these adaptations the words are very much altered, or "improved," as the theatre people of the time thought; but a very good hotch-potch version can be made by taking the best numbers mentioned, scoring them lightly, and having them sung simply and not operatically.

Arne's "Where the bee sucks" is his best work, and, I think, the most beautiful of all the settings.

John Christopher Smith, Handel's pupil and amanuensis, composed two operas on The Tempest, one of which was produced in London in 1756. The overture is the usual {135} one of the period; but Ariel's storm song, which opens the first act, beginning with a long orchestral prelude, is a very original piece of work. It is a dramatic recitative with elaborate orchestral accompaniment to the words, slightly adapted, from Ariel's speech to Prospero in Act i., Scene 2. The following numbers have no connection with Shakespeare's play, a delightful setting of "Come unto these yellow sands," for Ariel, being the next Shakespearian lyric taken—this for high soprano with strings, very florid but melodious; and the music for "Full fathom five" is also very much in keeping with the words. Caliban (baritone) sings "No more dams I'll make for fish" to a rollicking tune, and follows it with a curious song called "The owl is abroad." The words are not by Shakespeare, but it is said that it was a great favourite with audiences.

Ariel's song, "Before you can say come and go," is very gracefully set, and has a charming obbligato part for the violin; but Prospero's recitative, "Now doth my project gather to a head," is Shakespeare's blank verse set to music. The duet ends peacefully and happily with a duet for Ferdinand and Miranda about "gentle love, innocence, and chaste desire." On the whole the work is disappointing. One could have done with a little more Shakespeare and less of Christopher Smith's own librettist; but it contains much charming music, some of which would sound very fresh if revived now.

John Davy, a West-countryman, born at Exeter, 1763, composed an overture and other music for The Tempest. It is dedicated to the memory of John Philip Kemble, and includes songs by Arne, Purcell, and Linley. The overture is a very simple affair, bringing in Purcell's "Where the bee sucks" and "Come unto these yellow sands," and is, therefore, not so independent of the rest of the music as the overture of this period usually is.

After the overture comes Linley's graceful setting of "O, bid your faithful Ariel fly," sung in Prospero's cave {136} by Ariel (the words by Dr Laurence). Then follows a very simple so-called symphony by Davy, all very quiet and peaceful, going into Linley's horrible "Storm Chorus." Christopher Smith's Caliban song is introduced after the "Storm"—"No more dams I'll make for fish," which has a very cheerful tune; and Purcell's beautiful settings of "Come unto these yellow sands" and "Full fathom five" follow. Between Acts i. and ii. Davy introduced a symphony by himself, consisting of a very simple Largo, followed by an equally simple Rondo. The song and chorus that follow are by Purcell, to words by Dryden, beginning "King Fortune smiles," which, like the next song by the same authors, are too interesting to pass over in silence, though neither has any real connection with Shakespeare. The music for the appearance of Fairies is by Purcell, to words by Dryden, "Where does the black fiend ambition reside?", and is for two bass voices and chorus, with an interesting solo bassoon part.

The opening of the third act consists of a very pretty symphony by Davy, in the form of an air with variations. The only musical number in this act consists of a song, very grotesque in style, for Caliban, words by Ben Jonson, music by Christopher Smith. The prelude to the fourth act is in march rhythm, a pleasant, cheerful piece of music, composed by Davy. The setting of "Where the bee sucks" is Arne's delightful one, and is sung by Ariel, repeated by a quartet, with added words and the music much elaborated, while, according to the stage directions, Ariel and the spirits ascend into the sky. This is the last number, but the untiring Linley has added an appendix consisting of two songs for Ariel, "While you here do snoring lie" and "Ere you can say come and go," and a duet for Juno and Ceres, entitled "Honour, riches, marriage, blessing"; all with words by Shakespeare from this play—quite a concession on the part of a composer of this period, especially of T. Linley himself.

Between R. Johnson's time and the present day I can {137} trace twenty operas on this subject, but none of them has held the stage. The only modern one that was produced in London seems to be Hal�vy's two-act opera La Tempesta, book by Scribe, produced at Her Majesty's in Italian. The story of how this work came to be composed is rather interesting. In October 1831, Mendelssohn gave a grand concert at Munich, and was so successful that he received a commission to compose an opera for the Munich theatre. He consulted with Immerman as to the libretto, and arranged with him for one founded on The Tempest. The composer and librettist, however, soon quarrelled, and the opera scheme lay dormant for some time. About the middle of October Mendelssohn was in communication with Lumley, lessee of Her Majesty's, for an opera, libretto by Scribe, on the same subject. Mendelssohn did not like this libretto, and finally turned it down; and Jacques Fran�ois Fromental Elias, "a Jew whose real name was Levy," as Grove's Dictionary prettily phrases it, then set the libretto. Hal�vy was born in Paris, 1799, and studied at the Conservatoire under Cherubini. Having won the second prize twice, he finally carried off the Grand Prix de Rome itself.

The opera was produced at Her Majesty's, London, on June 14, 1850, and made an enormous success. The first act is opened by a chorus of Air Spirits, who obey the orders of Ariel. Sleeping Sylphs are wakened, and make together a most poetic choreographic effect, which is repeated again in the first tableau summoned by Prospero. Carlotta Grisi acted with great success as Ariel in this work, and Lablache was terrible and grotesque, though sometimes tender, as Caliban. Sontag was the Miranda, and the whole performance was conducted by our own Michael Balfe. The most popular numbers in the score were the cavatina, "Parmi una voce mormore"; the duet, "S' odio, orror di me non hai"; and the finale to the second act, which is full of movement and originality.

A lyrical drama, after Shakespeare, by Armand Silvestre {138} and Pierre Berton, music by Victor Alphonse Duvernoy, was produced in the Salle du Chatelet on November 24, 1880. This remarkable work won the Grand Prix for musical composition offered every two years by the town of Paris. It obtained a very well-deserved success at the first public performance for its great qualities of form and style. Much of the opera was greatly applauded, especially the duet of Ferdinand and Miranda, "Parle encore, que ta voix m'enivre," the dramatic trio, "Courbe-toi, vaincu sous la cha�ne," the very original song of Caliban, the symphonic music descriptive of Miranda's sleep, the prelude to the third act, and the pretty ballet air of the Sylphs.

Larousse, the musical historian, says that it is a truly interesting work, and certainly produces a grand effect on the stage. The composer of this opera was born in Paris, 1842.

Zdenko Fibich's three-act opera, Bo�re, or Der Sturm (1895), is a recent opera on this subject, and is by far the most modern in treatment. All Shakespeare's principal characters are present, and the libretto is very ingenious. There is no overture proper, but a fairly long orchestral introduction opens the first act; it consists of very furious storm music, with Prospero's principal theme hammered out on the bass brass. As the curtain rises, Prospero and Miranda are discovered watching the storm; the storm dies away, and Miranda, in a very melodious passage, asks her father all about it, and what has happened to the sailors and the ship which they have both seen in great difficulties. In a very dignified quasi-recitative passage Prospero tells her that the storm is of his own planning, and he then relates much of the story of his life and wrongs.

Though long, the orchestral accompaniment to this is so interesting and varied that no one could be bored by it. At the end Prospero puts Miranda to sleep, and after a beautiful orchestral interlude summons Ariel, who tells him in charming musical phrase what she has done with ship and sailors, and then exits to a delicate orchestral {139} passage for wood wind. Prospero awakes Miranda, and sends her into his cave; then he calls for Caliban, who presently appears to a grotesque tune played on the basses. To characteristic music he grumbles at his perpetual labour, till Prospero, angry, sends him off. Ariel and a spirit chorus now lure Alonzo and the rest, by their singing, to where Prospero is, and totally bewilder them; a very beautiful ensemble follows for chorus and principals, which finishes on the exit of all except Prospero and Miranda. Ariel returns bringing Ferdinand, whom Miranda recognises as the being she had seen in her dream. Ariel sings a very pretty adaptation of "Full fathom five," and the two lovers-to-be make friends, Prospero looking on unseen. Suddenly Prospero breaks in upon them very angrily, and displays to Ferdinand some of his miraculous powers, causing lightning and thunder, and finally paralysing him.

This is all done to a most effective and appropriate setting, and the curtain falls on the first act to a fine dramatic situation, much heightened by excellent music.

The second act opens with a fairly long orchestral prelude; it is on a dominant pedal, fifty-five bars in length, and depicts the depths of a tropical forest. Ferdinand sings, and is presently joined by Miranda. Now we have a really amusing comedy scene for Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban, the last-named having an excellent grotesque song, in which the others join. The drinking scene is very well set to music, the part of Caliban being strongly marked and individual.

Ariel breaks in on this festive scene with her spirit chorus, and the comedians exit. Gonzalo and the other nobles enter, and, as in the play, spirits bring mysterious food and drink, and strange music is everywhere heard. All this is capitally done. Ariel, in a dramatic manner, denounces them all as "men of sin." Prospero then enters, to a fine maestoso bass movement, explaining everything; and the act finishes with a solemn march, to which all the spirits of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water enter and do homage to Prospero.


The last act opens with a long prelude signifying Prospero's magic powers. Sometimes we get charming light Ariel music, sometimes music suggesting a deeper, more awful, kind of magic, and sometimes a grotesquely comic dance rhythm, which is, nevertheless, almost sad, suggesting poor Caliban. It is altogether a most interesting prelude, and would make an excellent concert number by itself. The curtain rises on Prospero's cave to mysterious sounds; alchemical instruments are scattered about, and great books in ancient bindings lie on the table. Prospero and Ariel are discovered. The Spirit tells him that Caliban and his friends are going to kill him in his sleep. Ferdinand and Miranda enter hand in hand, and Prospero summons the Spirits, who sing sweetly to the lovers. Presently Caliban and his friends enter, and Ariel and the other spirits chase them away jeeringly. Ariel claims liberty; and, to sonorous music, Prospero renounces his magic arts. With a great musical noise his cave disappears, and the scene changes to the landscape of the first act. In the rocky cove Alonzo's ship is ready to sail; Prospero calls on Ariel for the last time; and, to solemn tones, all the mortals enter from different parts of the stage. The end is now very near. Ariel is set free; Prospero promises all a comfortable, safe voyage; the sailors sing of the joys of home life; and the curtain falls to the Spirits singing of their new freedom. The Caliban and Spirit music is the best part of the opera. All the mysterious magical effects are most impressively done, but the composer is not so happy with his lovers. The orchestral interludes are excellent, and the many choruses of unseen Spirits are most melodious, and not too difficult.

Alfred M. Hale, a very progressive young composer, has written an opera on this subject, parts of which were performed at the Queen's Hall on February 28, 1912. Among the numbers given was a duet for Miranda and Ferdinand. A well-known musical critic writes as follows concerning this number: "Mr Hale has written vocal parts {141} in the style of an intoned conversation; no really vocal phrases are apparent, but the text is moaned to a vague backing of orchestral activity. Occasionally one heard snatches of Tristan or Pell�as. All is vast, vague, and vacuous. Mr Hale's orchestra breathes with its mouth wide open." So we will leave it at that.

Sullivan's Tempest contains some of his finest music. Composed at Leipsic when he was Mendelssohn Scholar, it has all the freshness of youth and none of its immaturity. It was first performed at the Crystal Palace, June 8, 1862, and was enthusiastically received, Charles Dickens complimenting the young composer very highly. Though not written expressly for the theatre, the music can be used almost as it stands; but I have never heard it without additional numbers. When it was adopted for Henrietta Hodson's production, Sullivan's "Where the bee sucks" was cut out and Arne's substituted. Arne's setting is his best work, and, in my opinion, the most beautiful of all the versions extant; but Sullivan's is fine too, and the former did not blend with the rest of the score but stood out and spoilt the whole musical scheme.

Taubert wrote capital incidental music for this play, but I have never heard it without additional numbers. Sir Frank Benson used a great deal of this setting in his production of The Tempest, but he made use of much other music as well. In his version the play began with a "Storm Chorus" by Haydn, supposed to have been inspired by his first (a bad) crossing to England; at least, this was the tradition in the Benson company. Then he went on to Taubert for "Come unto these yellow sands" and "Full fathom five," both very pretty arrangements for Ariel (soprano) and chorus; back to Arne for "Where the bee sucks," and to Sullivan for "Honour, riches." A song for Ariel, "Oh, bid thy faithful Ariel fly," by T. Linley, was interpolated, the words not even by Shakespeare. For the closing scenes, Sir Frank returned to {142} Taubert; and if the whole affair was a hotchpotch, it was a very agreeable one.

The last, and quite the most important, music written for The Tempest since Sullivan's time is Humperdinck's. Engelbert Humperdinck is well known in England as the composer of the opera H�nsel und Gretel, the scores of K�nigskinder and The Miracle, but few English people know his Shakespearian works. His music to The Tempest was first heard at a great production of the play in Berlin at the Neue Schauspielhaus on October 25, 1906. It consists of a long prelude, running into storm melodrama music for the whole of the first scene, calming down beautifully for Miranda's first entrance. All the lyrics and choruses are set, and in all there are eighteen important numbers. The music is difficult, and the chorus and orchestra must be on a large scale; but it would make a very interesting production if it could be done exactly as the composer devised it, with no added numbers, extra lyrics, or pseudo-Elizabethan bilge. Here are ninety pages of closely printed pianoforte score; enough, surely, for the most old-fashioned producer without additional numbers. Very effective use is made of the male and female chorus, singing bouche ferm�e instead of the orchestra playing, as melodrama music. Ariel's "Where the bee sucks" is a charming setting, and the choruses and dances are most carefully and reverentially done. There is no German equivalent to Shadwell, Davenant, or Dryden. Here we have nothing but the exact text of Shakespeare, and really it seems quite enough. The Prospero motif, a fanfare, occurring frequently, holds the entire work together, and the magic music would be a great help to any Shakespeare production. I hope one day to see a straight production of this play with the music as composed.

Berlioz was early attracted to The Tempest, and even called one of the ladies he adored—Miss Moke, subsequently {143} Mme. Pleyel—Ariel. At the end of 1828, after the failure at rehearsal of the Symphonie Fantastique, he was asked to write something for Girard, conductor of the Th��tre Italien. He then composed his Fantasia with choruses on The Tempest, but Girard at once saw it was too big for his theatre and could only be done at the Op�ra. There was to be a concert for the Artists' Benevolent Fund, and the work was accepted for performance by the director of the Academy, M. Loubbert, of whose care and kindness during the production Berlioz speaks most highly. He quotes Shakespeare about him (he often quoted Shakespeare), saying to a friend, "He was a man, Horatio." I cannot do better than transcribe the composer's interesting account of the first performance, taken from his Autobiography: "All went splendidly at rehearsal; everything seemed to smile, when, with my usual luck, an hour before the concert, there broke over Paris the worst storm that had been known for fifty years. The streets were flooded, practically impassable, and for the first half of the concert when my Tempest, damned Tempest, was being played, there were not more than three hundred people in the place." Just Berlioz's luck! Something nearly always went wrong with his work in Paris. In London, Petrograd, Berlin, anywhere else, he was immensely successful, but in Paris never quite a success, even at the height of his fame. The second performance, the following year, was much less unfortunate. Of the work itself Berlioz writes: "It is new, fresh, grand, sweet, tender, surprising."

It is a pity composers do not tell us more often what they think of their own works. I mean in autobiographies and signed articles, of course; not, as has sometimes happened, in inspired articles written by their friends, or in anonymous ones written by themselves.

To come to the work itself, Berlioz incorporated it in his Lelio, or The Return to Life (lyric melodrama). This is one of the most extraordinary hotchpotches in all music. It begins with a ballad by Goethe, then there is a long apostrophe to Shakespeare, then a brigand's song and {144} chorus, then a song of bliss; finally, the composer, Lelio or Berlioz, decides to write a fantasia on The Tempest, and calls on Shakespeare to stand by him. The orchestra and chorus then perform the fantasia. It is scored for full orchestra, but also for two pianos � quatre mains. The first number is a chorus of air spirits, soprani, alti, and tenori—1 and 2 calling on Miranda to come to her destined husband. (This is a rough translation.) After this comes a long orchestral interlude with a great crescendo and diminuendo, returning again to the Miranda chorus. The next is also a long orchestral interlude, introducing Caliban. The chorus shout fortissimo at him, calling him "Orrido monstro," which, I believe, means "horrid monster." After another long orchestral bit, the chorus again begins about Miranda, and sings a farewell chant to her as she is leaving the island. The coda is marked pi� animato confuoco, and keeps up animato to the end. Whether it is supposed to show general relief on the part of the inhabitants of the island on the departure of Prospero and the rest of the mortals, or sorrow for the same reason, I do not profess to know. Lelio (Berlioz) says a few words to the performers, finishing, "You have indeed made progress, so much so that we may henceforth attempt works of greater depth than this feeble sketch." But this "feeble sketch" makes a very difficult work to tackle; and if Berlioz had developed it, Heaven only knows where we should end!

La Temp�te, Fantaisie pour orchestre by P. Tschaikowsky, is a very long and complicated symphonic poem, with a definite programme. It really tells a good deal of the story of Shakespeare's play-poem. It opens with "The Sea." After a few preliminary bars for wind, the strings pianissimo, and very much divided, play without any change of expression for fifty-three bars, and for the same number of bars the bass is F, with occasional changes to F sharp. It is a wonderful tone picture of a calm sea. Then comes Ariel, very light and feathery, presently ordered to bring about a great storm: and it comes—quite one of the most terrific {145} in all music. The storm having calmed down, we get the love-music of Ferdinand and Miranda—very timid music, but finally swelling up to a fine forte effect; however, before this happens there is an amusing dialogue (if one may use the word) between Ariel and Caliban. To most impressive music, Prospero surrenders his magic powers, and the mortals quit the island. The sea music starts again just as in the opening, and the work ends on a perfectly calm sea even as it began. It is, of course, as with all the composer's greater works, very difficult, and scored for a large orchestra; but its effects are certain, and it is grateful to conduct or play. The storm is undoubtedly one of the most graphic imitations of Nature in all musical art.

Frederick Corder's Concert Overture "Prospero" is a very good example of the composer's work. It was produced in 1885, and the motto is from The Tempest, Act iii., Scene 3: "What harmony is this? My good friends, hark!"

It opens with a forte theme for trombones and tuba, obviously Prospero himself; followed by flute solo, again obviously Ariel, accompanied by pianissimo violin (very high sustained chords) and harp. These two subjects hold a sort of dialogue in which Prospero has the last word till the Allegro con fuoco commences.

This theme is a very high, swift, semiquaver passage for violins, with some occasional help from the wood wind. It leads to a subject for 'cello of quite a melodic, easy-going character, which might easily be Ferdinand, and, as the first violins join in, Miranda. Then enters Prospero with his trombones against this sweetness, and the drama of the overture begins—Prospero drowns his books, Ariel is heard singing joyfully, but somewhat sadly, and, in the end, the spirits of the island, free at last, are heard in a great rejoicing.

I wish Mr Corder had written even the vaguest programme for this overture. I have tried to write one, but I may be wrong the whole time; anyway, I have done my best, and {146} can heartily express my great admiration for the overture and the attitude it takes according to my reading of the play.

Mr Corder has also set "Come unto these yellow sands" and "Full fathom five" for soprano and female chorus, with harps for the first number, and contralto and orchestra for the second; both are melodious and effective, though there is much repetition of the words.

J. F. Duggan, born 1847, died 1894, whose name does not appear in any musical biographical dictionary that I can find, has done a couple of interesting settings of songs for Caliban. The first, curiously enough, is for a tenor: I have often thought of Caliban musically, but never as a tenor; still, here it is. The words begin, "No more dams I'll make for fish," and the setting is quite appropriately grotesque. The second is elaborate. It was first sung by Sir Charles Santley, to whom it was dedicated, and is for high baritone. The words begin, "Art thou afeared?" and the music is quite decorative in its harmonic progressions, and gives points quite excellently to the curious lines in which Caliban describes the musical wonders of the island to Trinculo and Stephano, while Ariel plays on his tabor and pipe. This song was published in 1871, and that is the only further biographical detail I can give.

Clarence Lucas, a Canadian composer (b. 1866), has written a very brilliant Scherzo for piano solo, entitled "Ariel." He has taken as his motto Shakespeare's words, "On the bat's back I do fly," and has certainly illustrated the familiar passage with great dexterity. It is a gossamer piece of work, and, though difficult, is highly effective. It bears strong traces of the composer's years of study at the Paris Conservatoire.

Joseph Spaight, a clever young English composer, has written a string quartet called "Ariel," which is really very interesting. The work is divided into eight sections, {147} each one expressing some Ariel episode in the play. The episodes are described in a few words, such as "On a ship in a storm," "Invisible," "Playing time on tabor and pipe and leading Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo away." They are highly descriptive, but one may well question whether the string quartet is the proper vehicle for such programme music.

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