music played a very important part in the great Bard’s masterworks
no one would deny although some plays demand less than others.
Timon of Athens calls for less than say Twelfth
Night or The Tempest. That this repertoire has
been mulled over and recorded several times is also quite
true. Many of the pieces listed above are available in other
more general collections. To find a disc concentrating on
Shakespeare settings is not that common. I happen to have
a 1995 Saydisc recording by the Broadside Band which covers
almost identical repertoire. Its advantage is that there are
39 tracks covering almost all of the plays and that the songs
are divided between John Potter - whose voice I don’t particularly
like, but never mind - and the delightful Deborah Roberts,
dependent on the character in the play to whom the song is
allocated. This new disc has 25 tracks with only one singer
Pamela Dellal. Her often bland and therefore rather featureless
method of delivery does little for me or for the characterization.
It became rather a relief at times when we encounter a track
of instrumental music - always so excellently played with
vitality and character - to break up the singing. Having said
that Dellal is brilliant in the Come Away Hecate when
she has to put across three characters: a Spirit, Hecate the
witch and Malkin, all with different colours and accents.
In this she is aided and abetted by Robert Johnson’s clever
music for the plays falls into three categories. The first:
songs that were especially composed for a play, like Where
the bee sucks for The Tempest. Then there are the
songs where the words are new or slightly altered like Jog
On from The Winter’s Tale but which the playwright
expected to go with a traditional melody. Then there are those
songs well known to all and quoted verbatim in the plays like
those associated with Ophelia in Hamlet. Her songs, for example
Tomorrow Shall Be St.Valentine’s Day might well surprise
an audience by their sexual innuendo when she appears during
the play to be so chaste.
good textbook on the subject is the recently published ‘Shakespeare
and Music’ by David Lindley in the Arden Shakespeare series
(Thomson Learning, 2006). He often mentions the multifarious
battle pieces and trumpet calls of which we know almost nothing.
Shakespeare certainly required them and they are not, of course,
recorded here. In addition to the songs we also have examples
of many kinds of dance-forms mentioned and required throughout
the plays. Lindley reminds us of several examples of ‘sad
and solemn music’ as found in Henry VIII for the sleeping
Queen Katherine. The CD has ten such tracks
musicians who worked for Shakespeare’s Company ‘The Lord Chamberlain’s
Men’ are a somewhat mysterious bunch. Some must have been
fine actors as well as instrumentalists and singers. We shouldn’t
be surprised however that Thomas Morley is featured. He was
a London-based musician with access to Court. Although not
a strikingly original composer he was a thoroughly professional
musician who could no doubt have turned his hand to anything.
He features early on in the CD as the music runs, as best
as one can ascertain, in chronological order. There’s a section
entitled ‘A year with Morley’; the year in question is 1599
which was incidentally a significant year anyway as David
Shapiro in his best-seller 1599, A Year in the life of
William Shakespeare (Faber, London 2000) has shown. It
was in that year that Shakespeare and his men took out the
lease on the now legendary Globe Theatre. Also in that year
Shakespeare wrote Henry V - the dance La Volta is
mentioned in the text - and As You Like It, possibly
collaborating with Morley on the music.
Shakespeare became associated with a figure of some significance:
Robert Johnson. Anthony Rooley on a disc (Virgin Classics
7 59321 2) totally devoted to Johnson’s theatre music called
him ‘Shakespeare’s Lutenist’. After 1603 when the Chamberlain’s
men became the ‘King’s Men’, Johnson became Lutenist to King
James I. If any of you have a copy of the BMS Newsletter Number
71 of 1996 you will find an article by me, on page 272 (copy
at end of review), which attempts to trace Robert Johnson’s
ancestry back over one hundred years through a very important
family of musicians almost all of whom worked at Court for
various monarchs. Johnson and Shakespeare were definitely
‘it’ in London cultural life from c.1600-10. Anyway
the disc ends with a sequence of Johnson’s settings which
were certainly first heard at the play’s premieres for example
‘Full Fathom Five’ from The Tempest’ (The Arden edition of
the play talks about there being a masque, with music by Johnson
in the original productions) as well as the Witches’ song
the other composers on this disc, William Corkine was a gamba
and viol player who flourished during the first two decades
of the 17th Century. Richard Farnaby was Giles
Farnaby’s son and has four works extant for keyboard. One
is arranged here for ensemble with the singer taking the popular
tune. John Dowland needs no introduction of course but Richard
Sumarte I’m sure does. He died about 1630 and has left just
Ensemble Chaconne is an American group founded in 1985 and
has made a specialism of the music of this period; they play
with style and verve.
you are unfamiliar with the music of the Elizabethan theatre
then this disc is as good a place to start as any. The disc
comes with an interesting booklet essay and full texts. For
myself I will stick with the Broadside Band for their added
sense of colour and greater tinge of authenticity.
& the Johnson family. Robert
Johnson c.1500-c.1560. Born in Scotland.
Ordained priest 1520s. c.1530 exiled to England for being a heretic at about the time that John Knox is likewise forced
to leave Scotland.
Lives in York
for a time with the Hudson family who have known Scottish connections.
His song Ty the mare tomboy seems to date from this
time. Tries his luck again in Scotland
but leaves for good c.1535. Arrives in London, Windsor c.1535-6.
Perhaps Johnson is dissatisfied with Catholicism. He might
have been chaplain to Anne Boleyn as has been suggested, as
she was executed in May 1536. Later, Johnson set some words
of Anne’s. He might well have enjoyed Royal favours. Also
becomes a ‘petitcanon at Winsor’. Reign of Edward VI (1547-1553),
who permitted the clergy to marry. I believe that Johnson
married sometime between 1546-1550. No further facts about
his life are known. Morning and Evening Canticles survive
which are in the homophonic style of the 1550s.
Johnson c.1550-1594. London-based Lutenist and later, Court Musician to the
Queen, 1579. Considered to have been a virtuoso.
Johnson c.1550-1601. Sometime
musician to the Kytson Family at Hengrave Hall, probably before
1592 when Wilbye takes over. Takes B.Mus in 1594. Johnson’s
Medley in the FitzWilliam Virginal Book is part of his
degree. Meres in his Palladis Tamia (London, 1598) considered him one of England’s leading composers. Only ten known works. Acquainted with London musical life. Writes for a court entertainment
(1591) songs called Eliza is the fairest queen and
Come Again. Has three pieces copied into the FitzWilliam
Virginal Book (two set by Byrd). Contributes madrigal to The
Triumphs of Oriana, 1601 called Come Blessed Bird.
Credited with inventing the mixed consort genre.
Johnson c.1582-1633. Son to John
Johnson, therefore grandson of earlier Robert. Lutenist and
Composer to the King’s Men of whom Shakespeare was a member
and set several of Shakespeare’s songs for very early productions.
Brought up in the household of Sir George Carey on his father’s
death, i.e. when he was about 13 years. Carey was patron to
the Chamberlain’s Men later known as the King’s Men. Lutenist
to the King James I from 1604. All of the Johnsons are in
some way connected with Royal patronage.
certainly the older Johnson travelled to London/Windsor. There,
as a priest and an exile, he may have had a certain notoriety.
The story that he may have been chaplain to Anne Boleyn in
1535/6 may not be as unlikely as has been suggested. We know
that he left for England
at that time. Boleyn would certainly have wanted a confessor.
There is a song surviving O death rock me asleep which,
it is said, she composed on the night before she died. Is
it not a possibility that her chaplain might have helped her
with it to while away the time before her execution? The style
of the piece with its close imitation is possibly similar
to Johnson’s (perhaps over-use of imitation) as found in say,
Domine in virtute tua. The text of this song includes
the words Toll on the passing bell, Ring out the
dolefull knell over an ostinato pattern.
in the 1550s when Johnson set Boleyn’s words Defiled is
my name, he also wrote a five-part consort piece called
Knell which is based on a similar ostinato pattern.
Coincidence? It seems to me that his son Edward (and possibly
John) knew William Byrd. They would have been almost exact
contemporaries. Perhaps Edward Johnson, like Byrd, was also
a Tallis pupil. Byrd set Edward’s compositions for harpsichord,
possibly after Edward’s death, and Edward writes a madrigal,
it is generally agreed, exhorting Byrd to contribute to the
Triumphs. Robert Johnson jnr must have been based in
London as his family before him.
above are mainly my own conclusions based upon Kenneth Elliot’s
biography of Johnson found in Grove. If it is ever possible
to prove a family relationship between these four composers,
then they make up a fascinating and formidable dynasty, the
like of which is little known in England
at that or any other time. (Music by Robert Johnson can be
heard on a disc on Virgin Veritas disc called Shakespeare’s
Lutenist). Gary Higginson