I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Gilding the gingerbread?

Shakespeare set to music: success or failure?

One notable success for my money is Feste’s song from Twelfth Night:

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

The trouble is I’m not alone. Apart from Quilter, Finzi, Arne, Arne (arr, Grainger), Morley and Stanford every high school in the US has helped choke out YouTube with its own setting, some not too dusty. But not alas the version pinging round my head, recorded by Janet Baker aeons ago and unamenable directly via Google Video.

The technique is to Google the song title conventionally, linked to Janet Baker. Time after time I came so close only to be forestalled by lack of composer attribution. Eventually the door opened on Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, a great tunesmith if nothing else, author of Jerusalem and the hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. A Janet Baker confirmation was unavailable but there are specialist CD retailers who offer downloads of individual tracks, supported by a browsing function.

And there – Oh bliss! – churned out by a nondescript tenor, I had it. As a reward to you all here’s the rest of Feste:

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter…
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

In effect Donne’s lady going to bed, but without the sweat and twisted sheets. More on musical Shakespeare (with examples) in the future. Not least the bit that inspired Uberliedmeister Schubert. Click here for Dame Janet (then Download followed by Run). Can recommend The Well-Digger's Daughter, a first-rate French feel-good movie.


  1. Without exception I love Shakespeare's songs. But do we know how they would have sounded in the Bard's day? Is there any indication of the music set to them? I have often wondered.

  2. Try Alfred Deller http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca5oJCnRjR4 You can also find 'A lover and his lass' and 'Where the bee sucks' here.
    I used to have these on vinyl, along with other songs accompanied by Desmond Dupre, all gone alas with the march of technology.

  3. Plutarch: But there are those songs which include la-las and repeated lines which may require a rather more vocal defence barrister.

    In some of the BBC Shakespeare DVDs which I know you own there are what claim to be contemporary ensembles. Of these the lute, the harpsichord and the flute have deservedly survived. The hautboy evolved into the oboe (and many would say its evolution has not yet come to an end) and the viol into the violin. The Elizabethan era saw the eventual disappearance of the medieval shawm (a sort of mini bassoon) and the sackbut (a kind of trombone). As far as I can remember there is a musical accompaniment to the credit titles of the BBC series and - in its droning - it probably gives a representative example of contemporary Shakespearean music. Repetition was an unfortunate feature.

    Fed: YouTube is being incredibly selective about what I can play - Thomas Allen but not Deller, for instance. Are you sure he's singing the Parry version of Oh Mistress Mine? there are many different versions. Incidentally hundreds of Deller LPs have been re-issued on CDs including Shakespeare songs See Alfred Deller, a discography.

  4. When that I was and a little tiny boy, with hey ho the wind and the rain... 'gainst knaves and fools men shut their gates....the rain it raineth every day.

    Almost meaningless but curiously moving, sung, recited or simply read. I think I would defend them all in context.

  5. Plutarch: But Shakespeare didn't write all those la-las; some have been inserted to eke out the tune structure. My concern is not just the words (with or without the la-las) but also the tunes. I have a particular distaste for: "Come unto these ye - e - e - e - low sands."

  6. Thank you for the download, LdP. I enjoyed listening to Ms. Baker, and can see why you favor her.

  7. The Crow: What pleases me is you were prepared to accept the palaver Box requires when I post links to one of my own records. The Box facility is free but I'm sure you can see they are urging me to upgrade to another level (at $15 a month) which promises to be as smooth as YouTube.

    Oh shocking Crow. Calling her Ms. She is in fact Dame Janet Baker. Which sounds as if she's taking part in a pantomime. You may remember I wrote about this dubious honour Britain hands out to its greatest women. I mean, Sir Lorenzo da Ponte sounds OK (not that a left-winger like me would ever accept such a nonsense). But Dame Martha Crow sounds joky.