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Measure For Measure: The Music of Shakespeare’s Plays
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602) O Mistress Mine [1.36]; La Volta; [0.52] It was a lover and his lass [3.45];
William CORKINE (fl.1610-29) Walsingham; How should I your true love know [3.40]; Come live with me [3.20];
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Fortune my foe [4.26]; If music and sweet poetry agree [4.20]
Richard SUMARTE (c.1590-c.1630) Whoope do me no harm [1.09]
Richard FARNABY (1594-1623) Jog On [2.19]
Robert JOHNSON (1580-1634) Hark, Hark the lark [4.00]; Satyrs Dance [2.10]; Two Maids wooing a man [1.13]; Full Fathom Five [1.35]; Where the bee sucks [1.34]; The First Witches Dance [1.25]; The Second Witches Dance [1.06]; Come Away, Hecate [3.01]
ANON Bonny Sweete Robin[ 3.01]; Go from my window [4.00]; Take o take those lips away [2.04]; The Tempest [1.21] Greensleeves [3.29] Callino Casturame [2.36]; Lawne as white as driven snow [1.09]
Pamela Dellal (mezzo)
Ensemble Chaconne
rec. St. John’s Church, Beverly Farms, Massachusetts; 24, 28 May 2004. DDD
AMERICAN MASTERWORKS AMCD1594 [66.21]


 

That 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 melodic writing. 

The 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.

A 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

The 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.

Later 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 form ‘Macbeth’.

Of 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 two compositions.

The 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. 

If 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.

Gary Higginson

NOTE

Robert Johnson & 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.

John Johnson c.1550-1594. London-based Lutenist and later, Court Musician to the Queen, 1579. Considered to have been a virtuoso.

Edward 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.

Robert 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.

Almost 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.

Probably 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.

The 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

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