Shakespeare and Music



There is only one opera, Hermione, by Max Bruch, founded on The Winter's Tale, and very little other music has been inspired by it, though the story possesses great operatic possibilities.

Engelbert Humperdinck's music for the Reinhardt production in Berlin, September 15, 1906, is, as usual with his incidental music, perfectly appropriate—not a superfluous note in it; and also as usual in these productions, Shakespeare's Act i., Scene 1, is Reinhardt's. Before the rise of the curtain an orchestra of wood wind, horns, and harp plays soft and solemn music (called "Tafelmusik" in the score) behind the scenes, and the orchestra continues till a fanfare of trumpets announces the entrance of Leontes, Hermione, and their suite.

There is no more music until we come to Act iii., Scene 2, when, to open the Court of Justice scene, we have a broad, dignified fanfare, quasi marcia, scored for trombones, tuba, and drums, and part of this is played at the end of the scene. This is the motive associated with the Oracle.

At the end of Act iii., Scene 3, Time, a chorus, enters, and solemn music plays during his speech, composed in the manner of the Oracle. In the meantime, an act-change has been made, and without pause the curtain rises on the fourth act; the music dying away as Polixenes and Camillo speak, swelling up on their exit and running into the symphony of Autolycus's song, "When daffodils begin to peer." This is very beautifully set, and the composer adds the verse from the end of the scene, which makes six verses {162} instead of five; but this is quite legitimate, as the last verse is obviously part of the whole lyric, though separated from the rest by some dialogue.

The music to open the fourth scene is called "Sunday Bells." I confess I don't understand why it is introduced, unless it be to cover a scene-change, and I can find no mention of bells or Sunday in the text; but I am quite sure there is some good reason for this number, apart from its own beauty. It is pianissimo, scored for very high tremolo violins, celesta bells, and harp; and I should very much like to know exactly what it means in its present position in the play.

Now comes a long and elaborate march of shepherds and shepherdesses, beginning in march time, four in a bar; then the time changes to two in a bar, and a very wild dance follows. Again the time changes, to mazurka rhythm now, three in a bar, and a very graceful dance in this time follows; finally we return to the fast two-in-a-bar passage, and the whole dance finishes with a coda, during which the music gets faster and faster to the end. The whole number makes a short ballet, with plenty of rhythmic changes. It is most effective, as well as being part of Shakespeare's plot.

Almost immediately comes Autolycus's song, "Lawn as white as driven snow"; this also is very carefully set. The next number is very interesting. It is a trio, sung by Autolycus, Dorcas, and Mopsa, accompanied by a bouche ferm´┐Że male-voice chorus—not singing the usual slow, sustained harmonies, but a quick four-part syncopated rhythm. This is a very ingenious number. After a little dialogue comes Autolycus's last song, "Will you buy any tape?" to a simple tune with an elaborate accompaniment. The Satyrs' dance that follows is a good example of strong but grotesque dance music in its first theme, but the trio is sensuous and suave, and the number finishes with a repetition of the first theme and a short but brilliant coda on the same melody.

In the last scene of the fifth act we have music {163} again. Paulina says, "Music, awake not; strike!" and very mysterious music is played until Hermione moves; then occurs a fine theme for brass and strings, while Hermione descends from the pedestal; after which, with a few pauses, the music continues to the end, when the curtain falls very slowly on Shakespeare's own last words. The melodrama music here is so superlatively good that one hardly notices it, such is its absolute Tightness. The situation, dramatically, is so strong that, though the music also is very individual, it does not for a moment counteract the strength of effect of the closing scene, but just helps it to a complete finish. Rarely has Shakespeare been better served by his acolytes.

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