"Who Will Believe My Verse in Time to Come?"-Sonnets by William Shakespeare-Musical Settings by David Duvall

By Berg, Gregory | Journal of Singing, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview
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"Who Will Believe My Verse in Time to Come?"-Sonnets by William Shakespeare-Musical Settings by David Duvall


Berg, Gregory, Journal of Singing


"Who Will Believe My Verse In Time To Come?"-Sonnets by William Shakespeare-Musical Settings by David Duvall. Anne Allgood, Julie Briskman, Eric Brotherson, Don Collins, Jason Collins, Connie Corrick, Ginger Culver, Allen Fitzpatrick, Hugh Hastings, Cayman llika, Eric Jensen, Terence Kelley, Bobbi Kotula, Natalie Lerch, Jacinta Koreski, Karen Oleson, vocalists; David Duvall, keyboards.

"Who Will Believe my Verse in Time to Come?" "All You Prefiguring," "Accuse Me Thus," "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," "Where All Thy Beauty Lies," "Heart's and Eye's Delight," "By Lies We Flattered Be," "The Heaven That Leads Men To Hell," "When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes," "What Beauty Was of Yore," "This Thou Perceiv'st," "You Can Never Be Old," "Save Thou My Rose," "Take All My Loves," "Ransom," "Two Loves I Have," "Sweet Flattery," "For Sweetest Things," "Is It for Fear to Wet a Widow's Eye," "Thou Hast All the All of Me," "You Dwell in Lover's Eyes," "You Still Shall Live," "December's Bareness Everywhere," "Love Alters Not."

"Shakespeare is not easy to set to music," wrote music historian Joseph Machlis while lauding Serenade to Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. "His verse has so powerful a music of its own that it defies anyone else's." This may help explain the relative paucity of Shakespeare art song settings over the years (one would expect there to be more), and why so many Shakespeare songs that have been composed did not come easily or effortlessly into being. It may also explain why we tend to hold Shakespeare song settings to an exceptionally high standard, and why composers like Finzi, Britten, and Argento have served up some of their very finest work in service to the bard's poetry.

The 154 sonnets by Shakespeare are an especially intriguing and even mysterious part of his oeuvre. It is not certain exactly when they were written or for whom and about whom they were crafted. What is all but certain is that Shakespeare did not intend for them to be officially published or otherwise disseminated to the rest of the world. In this way, they give us the closest we can come to the private, unguarded Shakespeare, which is one reason why experts have dissected and analyzed them for centuries.

Emmy- nominated composer David Duvall first encountered Shakespeare's sonnets while in junior high school and found himself dreaming of the day when he might set them to music. Several years later, he heard the album Shakespeare and All That Jazz with vocalist Cleo Laine, featuring several sonnets set to music by her husband, John Dankworth. Hearing Shakespeare's famous words set in a jazz style reminded him of his earlier determination to set some of the sonnets to his own music. Several decades later, while teaching in a summer theater program, Duvall found himself thinking again about the sonnets and the intriguing possibility that setting them to contemporary music might be an exciting means by which to draw young people to these remarkable texts. Two years later, Duvall tells us, he chose twelve sonnets with the intention of setting them to music as a Valentine's Day gift for his wife. Professional obligations prevented him from finishing any of the songs by his self-imposed deadline, but at least he had begun acting on the idea that had first occurred to him more than thirty years earlier. Eventually, Duvall set twenty-four of the sonnets as a set of contemporary art songs titled Who Will Believe My Verse In Time To Come? Duvall intends to follow this initial set with a second group consisting of jazz and pop settings of twenty-two more sonnets, and then a third set of songs based on a variety of poetic texts by Shakespeare. What is driving Duvall in this new venture is his belief that these songs can serve as valuable tools for singers to foster their acting skills, for actors to foster their singing skills, and for both singers and actors to develop a more comfortable and confident relationship with Shakespeare and his works.

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