Shakespeare and Music



The only opera mentioned by Mr Barclay Squire that might have been founded on this play is Timone, Misantropo, by the Emperor Leopold I., produced at Vienna in 1696. Leopold I., Emperor of the West, was born in 1640, and educated by the Jesuits for the Church, and he probably learned music from them. I have read fine biographies of him; but though I find he was not a really good ruler, there is no mention of his gifts as a musician. It would be interesting to discover a copy of an opera, libretto by the King of Dramatists, music by the Emperor of the West, King of Hungary and Bohemia; but with the exception of the name and the date I can discover no record of the work at all: not even a popular selection for the pianoforte—Leopold-Liszt!

In 1678, Thomas Shadwell produced his version of Timon of Athens, under the title "The History of Timon of Athens, the Man Hater, made into a play by Thomas Shadwell." Of the atrocities committed by the adapter on Shakespeare in this version it is not easy to speak with restraint. Suffice it to say that ten years after the production Shadwell became Poet Laureate! The masque in Act i. is written entirely by Shadwell, with music by Henry Purcell. Whether this work comes legitimately within the scope of my theme I am not certain. Undoubtedly the author and composer must have been under the influence of, if not inspired by, Shakespeare: as we have so little music for this strange play, I will therefore make a short analysis of the masque. Julian Marshall, in his foreword to the Purcell {149} Society's edition, says: "This work was not well calculated to inspire the genius of Purcell. Written to order, and perhaps in some haste, the score is slight in character and design." There are several beautiful numbers.

The work consists of an overture and thirteen numbers. The first part of the overture is taken from the "Trumpet Sonata," and is fairly familiar to lovers of Purcell. The duet for two nymphs that follows is preceded by a "Symphonie of Pipes" to imitate birds: this is played on two flutes with a very pretty effect. The bass song, "Return, revolting rebels," sung by Bacchus, has a fine bold melody; and a slow trio in the minor is in strong contrast to the principal theme. The best chorus is "Who can resist such mighty charms?", which, though simple in construction, has some fine broad effects.

The last duet and chorus, for Cupid and Bacchus, is very bright and melodious, composed in six-four time, and makes a merry end to the masque. After the epilogue comes a "Curtain tune on a ground," for strings only—by far the most interesting number in the piece. The persistent use of the idiom of "false relation" throughout the whole piece gives it a curious interest; and the contrapuntal and harmonic devices are also quite elaborate. I should think there is more of the real Timon in this one number than in all Shadwell's perversions.

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