Music in Shakespearean Tragedy

Music in Shakespearean Tragedy

Music in Shakespearean Tragedy

Music in Shakespearean Tragedy

Excerpt

To offer yet another book on Shakespeare seems rash. Yet, the particular subject of music is none too well covered in an otherwise vast literature, and few would deny that the student eager to grasp Shakespeare's art as a whole cannot afford to ignore the playwright's use of music. To probe this subject calls for a combination of historical, literary and musical skills, and for one person to acquire all of these is difficult indeed. I can only hope that the usefulness of this monograph will outweigh its imperfections.

Most of us come to a prolonged study of Shakespeare by way of our experiences as schoolboys. In these early, impressionable years, we react to the plays as readers, listeners and even as amateur actors and producers. From the beginning I was fascinated by certain lyrics such as the grave-digger's song in Hamlet and Pandarus' air in Troilus, and realized how much of the pathetic effect of Ophelia hinges on her mad-songs. But, instinctively, one felt that the music usually heard in the commercial theatre was quite wrong and clashed with the 'tone' of the verse. To find the right tone and atmosphere, to unlock the treasury of Elizabethan music and provide Shakespearean producers and audiences with the fitting vocal and instrumental strains seemed an urgent duty. The books of Chappell, Naylor, Warlock and others were read with fascination and profit but, grateful as I have remained to these distinguished predecessors, I encountered more riddles than answers.

After the war a colleague, Professor H. B. Williams (Dartmouth College, U.S.A.), invited me to provide the music for several of his Shakespearean productions. Influenced by Poel, Craig and Granville-Barker, Williams stressed the continuity of the plays, respected the full text and used the acting area in a manner corresponding to the Elizabethan platform stage. In B--M.S.T.

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