The use of music in Shakespeare

Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews,  Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,  Make tigers tame and huge leviathans  Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 3.2.79-82)Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Orpheus’ lute was strung with poets’ sinews,
Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.

(The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 3.2.79-82)
Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Music and the theatre share an intimate and faceted connection, and the artistic links between the two are no less prevalent in the plays, sonnets and narrative poems of Shakespeare than the works of any other poet. When first performed on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, Shakespeare’s plays were accompanied by a variety of “noises, sounds and sweet airs” which, like modern film scores and sound effects, enhanced the dramatic totality of the performance.

Shakespeare’s notoriously sparse stage directions in the Folios and Quartos give little indication of the nature of the music on stage at the time, yet the dramatic importance of music to each play as a work of art cannot be understated; consider the effect of the regal trumpet “flourishes” that accompany the entrances and exits of his regal characters (in Macbeth, the placement of these in relation to Duncan, Macbeth, and Malcolm masterfully introduces shades of dramatic irony), and in many of the plays the ‘hautboy’ (a harsh and thin sounding early-modern ancestor of the oboe) was employed by Shakespeare to significant dramatic effect as a musical omen of portentous action.

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Easter at Elgar’s

Elgar statue at the Elgar Birthplace Museum.Copyright Nelly Crane

Elgar statue at the Elgar Birthplace Museum.
Copyright Nelly Crane

After spending Easter with family in Worcester, it seemed as though I had been away from Cambridge a long time when I got back on Sunday. It is good to be back!

Wanting to make the most of the sunny weather in Worcestershire, my sister and I thought we would visit the Elgar Birthplace Museum, which is about three miles outside Worcester, in Lower Broadheath. It was somewhere we had been for outings when we were younger, but neither of us had been for about ten years, and so ended up improvising slightly – we chose a bus going in what we decided was about the right direction and hoped for the best. The chatty bus driver assured us that we were indeed on the right bus and said he would let us know when we got to the right stop ‘if he remembered’ thus lending a pleasing air of unpredictability to our adventure… Continue reading

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At the event: Musical time-travel

King Richard III passing through Market Bosworth en route to Leicester. Copyright Margaret Jones

King Richard III passing through Market Bosworth en route to Leicester.
Copyright Margaret Jones

On Sunday 22nd March I was in Market Bosworth, watching King Richard III’s cortege on its way to his reburial at Leicester Cathedral. It was a wonderful day memorable for many reasons – the skill and dedication of the volunteer army of helpers, the atmosphere,the colourful banners, the half-muffled peal of bells summoning the crowd like medieval pilgrims to the centre of the town, and the sometimes surreal historical costumes – everything from medieval merchants to refugees from nativity plays and Georgian milkmaids.

Music, as usual, was a problem. Why does no-one ever seem to get this quite right? Medieval was evidently considered too “odd” for modern ears, so we got Bach instead. A strange musical anachronism, with 200 years separating Bach’s birth from the Battle of Bosworth. So what, and who, would Richard, and his nemesis Henry Tudor, have been listening to in 1485?
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At the event: Hans Keller at the 1954 Salzburg Festival

Some of Hans Keller's programmes for the 1954 Salzburg Festival. c Cambridge University Library

Some of Hans Keller’s programmes for the 1954 Salzburg Festival.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust
© Cambridge University Library

When we last explored this most extraordinary of musicians, I was, if you remember, sorting the unsorted materials in his Archive here at the University Library. Well, now I know what’s in the boxes (mostly) and have moved on to documenting the simply gargantuan collection of articles/programme notes/radio scripts/reviews…you name it, he wrote it. This time, I thought we might take a look at what lies behind the finished article, as it were. A couple of weeks ago, buried at the bottom of box XX13 in the ubiquitous brown envelope (yes, really, they do exist) I found a cache of materials for the 1954 Salzburg Festival which, I think, provides an excellent example. So why not make a cup of coffee and help me unpack the contents…

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From winter to spring in Cambridge

Winter berries. Copyright Sarah Chapman

Winter berries. Copyright Sarah Chapman

The end of last week saw three rare celestial events come together in one day: a partial solar eclipse, a supermoon, and the Spring Equinox, when day and night are of equal length. From now on the days will lengthen (even if they’ll feel shorter for a brief time after the move this weekend to British Summer Time) up to the longest day in June. We’ve been musing on the change in the seasons here at MusiCB3. First there was the frost…..

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More on Pendlebury hidden collections

Sometimes, when the Pendlebury Library is quiet and term has ended, I disappear from my workplace to reach the secret corners of the library, rooms accessible only to library staff. A door in the library annexe separates the accessible part from “my realm”. There is where we keep rare books and scores.

I love browsing among the Pendlebury hidden collections, smelling the scent of old books, touching with care the fragile sheets, thinking about their history, their owners and the route they followed before reaching the library. Most of the time many of my questions are (and probably will stay) without answers, but it is fascinating to make conjectures. Continue reading

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A visit to the Lit and Phil

Now that I have been here working at the UL and Pendlebury libraries for a couple of months, I feel pretty well settled in, and am enjoying getting to know Cambridge a bit better. Especially now that spring is springing and it’s getting warmer, it is a lovely place to explore. Even with all this though, I have still found myself travelling up and down the country on a number of weekends. A couple of weekends ago, I went back home up to the North East. And what did I do with my time away from work? Why, I visited a library of course! Continue reading

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