PRELUDE – Intermezzo – Felix Mendelssohn
When the 17-year-old composer read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was moved to write a Concert Overture, which was precocious in the extreme. 16 years later, Mendelssohn was given the opportunity by King Frederick William of Prussia to write incidental music for a complete production of the play.
The Intermezzo occurs at the end of Act II, where Hermia follows Lysander into the wood (‘Either death, or you, I’ll find immediately’). The evocation of the wild, dark wood breaks off with a rustic dance representing the arrival of the Rude Mechanicals, in time for Act III.
WHEN DAISIES PIED
This song appears at the end of that most witty play: Love’s Labours Lost. The various hidden identities are dropped, the correct pairs are coupled off and the ladies instruct their lovers to return in a year’s time. A wait of twelve months will temper and prove their love.
Twinned with another song: ‘When Icicles Hang By The Wall’, these two songs are sung by different actors representing Spring and Winter and are presented as a kind of sing-off competition at the very end of the play.
This sing-off can be seen as a commentary on the trials and pitfalls of marriage. Both seasons are presided over by birds (the owl and the cuckoo) and both birds are capable of predicting disaster.
THE POOR SOUL SAT SIGHING
From Othello Act 4 Scene 3, Desdemona sings this song on the night before her murder at the hands of the jealous Moor of Venice.
The willow song was first sung to her by her old maid, Barbary, whose lover went mad, and who died singing it.
Says Desdemona: ‘That song tonight
Will not go from my mind, I have much to do
But to go hang my head all at one side
And sing it like poor Barbary.’
COME AWAY DEATH & SHE NEVER TOLD HER LOVE
Both of these songs come from Act 2 Scene 4 of that most musical of plays, Twelfth Night. This is the scene where Viola-disguised-as-Cesario and Duke Orsino talk of their unrequited love. The wondrous Clown Feste sings the first song, while the second is a setting of words spoken by Viola describing her ‘sister’s’ condition– when she is in fact referring to her own lovesick state.
IT WAS A LOVER AND HIS LASS
This song comes at the end of As You Like It.
Touchstone and Audrey are betrothed and to be married the next day. Unlike the courtly couples, their love is practical and earthy – as this song, sung by two pages, displays. Like the lovers in the fields, Touchstone has sex on his mind!
INTERLUDE: SHAKESPEARE’S GARLAND
Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) the composer, dramatist, poet, novelist and actor who most famously wrote the song Tom Bowling, composed Shakespeare’s Garland (a selection of songs, ballads, roundelays and catches) in 1769. It is also known as The Warwickshire Jubilee.
Here Guy presents three of these songs instrumentally.
The Mulberry Tree: a celebration of Shakespeare in seven verses.
Behold this fair Goblet twas carv’d from the Tree
Which oh my sweet Shakespear was planted by thee
As a Relick I kiss it and bow at thy shrine
What comes from thy hand must be ever Divine.
All This For A Poet is musically subtler, in a melancholy G minor.
All this for a poet, O no O no/A poet who liv’d Lord knows how long ago.
Sweet Willy O returns us to a confident mood. Willy’s virtues extend to five verses: we offer a musical précis here!
He sung it so rarely did sweet Willy O;
He melted each Maid/ So Skillfull he play’d
No Shepherd e’er pip’d like the sweet Willy O.
HOW SHOULD I YOUR TRUE LOVE KNOW?
Hamlet, Act 4 Scene 5.
In the mad scene, Ophelia cobbles the words of popular songs and ballads together to create a sung patchwork of madness. Some of the words of this beautiful song reference the famous Walsingham Ballad. The popular and much-revered shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was destroyed in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In referring to this ballad, Shakespeare perhaps intended to draw parallels with Ophelia’s desecration by Hamlet.
BLOW THOU WINTER WIND
From As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7, this song occurs just after the entrance of Orlando and old Adam, both of them starving and desperate for food in the forest of Arden. Despite a fierce initial encounter, they are invited to the Duke’s table. After the meal, the amiable Amiens sings this tune.
TAKE O TAKE THOSE LIPS AWAY
From Act 4 Scene I of Measure for Measure where Mariana mopes for Angelo in her moated grange. She had been betrothed to Angelo, the morally despotic ruler of Vienna, until he found she had no dowry and ditched her. Now she sits bemoaning her loss. This is the only song in the play. It is sung by a page and, symbolically, broken off half way through.
ORPHEUS WITH HIS LUTE
Henry V111: Act 3 Scene 1
The song is sung by one of Queen Katherine’s women,
‘Take thy lute wench,’ she says, ‘my heart grows sad with troubles.’
She asks for this music to soothe her sorrow and uncertainty. Her position is precarious. She has no heir, the King is in love with Anne Boleyn and divorce is rapidly becoming unavoidable.