William Sterling

Music and Art Inspired by Shakespeare 6


No. 6 All’s Well That Ends

A Summary of the earlier talks and some examples taken from Twentieth Century Music and Art including some Popular ones.

Music – Fantasia on Greensleeves by Vaughan Williams.

That work is misleadingly called the “Fantasia on Greensleeves” by Vaughan Williams despite not really being a fantasia nor entirely by Vaughan Williams. When I played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in a previous talk I said that was probably the most famous work inspired by Shakespeare but Vaughan Williams is so popular now that perhaps this is. It comes from his opera “Sir John In Love” based on The Merry Wives of Windsor composed in 1928. He included an arrangement of the popular Tudor song as it is actually mentioned in the text. Six years later (1934) Ralph Greaves extracted it and another Tudor tune, “Lovely Joan,” Vaughan Williams used in the opera and gave it the title we now know it by.

Many of the 20th century’s greatest composers have been inspired by Shakespeare in the traditional ways of songs and incidental music as well as operas such as Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” but they have also used the new media of film – composers like William Walton, Jacques Ibert and Dimitri Shostakovich, and Musicals – Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter. Some 20th century artists such as Henry Moore and Jackson Pollock have also taken inspiration from Shakespeare.

In the first talk I showed you examples of “The Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like It by William Mulready and Robert Smirke. The 20th century has also produced artists inspired by these including sculptor Richard Kindersley and sculptor and graphic artist Henry Moore. I thought we would listen to renowned Shakespearean actor John Nettles read the speech whilst looking at Moore’s depictions.

Audio – John Nettles reading “All The World’s A Stage” from As You Like It

Theatres in London have been decorated with sculptures from Shakespeare’s plays during the 20th century including St James’s Theatre which has since been demolished but some of whose reliefs have been preserved in Crown Passage. Edward Bainbridge Copnall designed the reliefs to show some of the great actors of the day in famous roles including Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh as Antony and Cleopatra. Another depicts one of the clowns, Henry V and Hamlet and possibly Ophelia. Some years earlier, in 1931, Gilbert Bayes decorated the Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue (now an Odeon cinema) with reliefs showing a procession of actors through the whole history of the theatre from ancient times to the present day. The section dealing with Shakespeare shows Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Titania, Puck, Henry V and Bottom.

Posters have become an accepted form of artwork and very collectable. An early example from 1879 is for a Broadway production of The Comedy of Errors with two well-known comedians of the day Stuart Robson and William Crane. The play also inspired the German born Jewish composer Berthold Goldschmidt. He had been a rising star of the musical scene in Germany until the Nazis came to power and he was banned from conducting and his music could not be performed. On the advice of an SS officer he emigrated to England in 1935 and worked for the BBC during the War. His Overture to The Comedy of Errors was written in 1925 so he already had an interest in British culture before he settled here.

Music – Goldschmidt’s “Comedy of Errors” Overture.

The play was also the inspiration for a Musical “The Boys From Syracuse” composed by one of the greatest Musical composers Richard Rodgers to words by Lorenz Hart. It was the first Musical based on a Shakespeare play and was a great hit when it appeared on Broadway in 1938, so much so that it was turned into a film in 1940. It inspired a two tone poster in an Art Deco style and a number of hits that have become well-loved songs in their own right.

Music – Richard Rodgers “Falling In Love With Love” from “The Boys from Syracuse” sung by Ellen Hanley.

Hamlet has never been unpopular and was turned into an opera by French composer Ambroise Thomas. Emile Vernier designed a poster for a production of this in 1868. Hamlet was particularly popular in Russia and Edward Gordon Craig designed sets for it in Moscow in 1908. Dimitri Shostakovich composed three sets of Incidental Music for it for an outlandish anti-West production in 1932 and two more traditional versions in 1954 and the film version in 1964 in a translation by Boris Pasternak. Sir Laurence Olivier also made a film of it in 1948 with music by his favourite film composer, Sir William Walton. Olivier also made films with Walton scores of Richard III and Henry V. Ronald Ossory Dunlop had painted Rosalind Iden as Ophelia a few years earlier in 1940 in a traditional way.

Music – “Hunt” from Shostakovich’s Hamlet Op. 32 of 1932.

One of the greatest operas based on Shakespeare predates the 20th century by just a few years. Verdi’s “Falstaff” based mainly on The Merry Wives of Windsor” but including a few scenes from Henry IV which librettist Arrigo Boito thought would help with characterisation. Was completed in 1893 and was the great Italian’s swansong. Sets and costumes were designed for various productions including those by Ettore Tito and G Amato. German artist Eduard von Grützner may well have seen a production of the opera which inspired his “Falstaff” in 1896. Similarly William Frederick Davis’s of 1907. Australian artist Sir William Dobell was inspired by the actor Anthony Quayle for his 1951 picture. One of the great British composers of the 20th century, Sir Edward Elgar, was inspired by Falstaff in Henry IV to produce his most significant Shakespeare tribute. His “Falstaff” Opus 68 is described as a Symphonic Study and is in essence an extended Symphonic Poem with each episode easily identifiable. It dates to 1913 and was one of his favourite orchestral works. Another composer inspired by Falstaff was Gustav Holst whose opera “At The Boar’s Head” is also based on Henry IV. Along with Olivier one of the great actor film makers was American Orson Welles. He made films of Othello and Macbeth as well but called his version of Falstaff “The Chimes At Midnight” taken from the line by Falstaff to Justice Shallow in Henry IV Part 2 “We have heard the chimes at midnight” referring to their young days when they were up revelling all night. It was released for the American cinema under the title “Falstaff” in 1967 with a superb poster. The music was composed by Italian film composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino who had also written the music for Welles’s “Othello”.

Music – “Apertura festosa” from Lavagnino’s score for Orson Welles’s “Falstaff.”

The Merchant of Venice was turned into a joint French/Italian film in 1911 called “Shylock” and also produced a good poster. Shylock’s friend Tubal also inspired an interesting costume design by Charles de Sousy Ricketts (RA 1928). Having inspired Gabriel Faure to compose incidental music for a version with the same title in 1897, the play has not inspired many 20th century composers except the song “Tell me where is fancy bred” which has been set by Benjamin Britten, Francis Poulenc and Virgil Thomson.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream also inspired Britten for one of his most delightful operas but not so much art. One exception is the painting of Hans Wassmann as Bottom by Hungarian artist Emil Orlik.

I have already mentioned Othello and like Verdi’s last opera, his penultimate opera of 1887 “Otello” also had a libretto by Boito with some additional material including Desdemona’s beautiful prayer “Ave Maria” before her death. Posters and stage sets also figure in the art such as a poster for a production of the play in America in 1884 and Carlo Ferrario’s sets for Verdi’s premiere. Percy Anderson designed costumes for a 1906 production but some of the most Avant Garde designs were by Georgian artist Petre Otskheli for Kote Marjanishvili’s 1933 production. Anderson also designed costumes for Richard II. Orson Welles’s film of Othello used music by Lavagnino as he was to for “Falstaff.” For Macbeth (1948) he used French composer Jacques Ibert who had also written incidental music for A Midsummer’s Night Dream a few years earlier.

Music – Main title from Lavagnino’s score for Orson Welles’s film of Othello.

One of the most interesting takes on Shakespeare in the 20th century was a science fiction film based on The Tempest called “Forbidden Planet” in 1956. In it a spacecraft is sent to Planet Altair IV to investigate why a previous mission has not been in touch. They find the sole survivor is Dr Morbius along with his daughter Altaira who was born on the planet so has known no other people. They are takes on Prospero and Miranda. The captain of the spacecraft Commander Adams is the equivalent of Ferdinand. Instead of Ariel Morbius has gained exceptional mental powers from a machine left behind by an extinct race of super intelligent creatures that has enabled him to build a robot, called Robby. The story does not follow the play exactly as Morbius has also unleashed a creature from his Id who is even more monstrous and destructive than Caliban. The denouement is also different from the play but there are clear parallels, even to one of the crew getting drunk. The iconic poster shows a demonic looking Robby carrying a scantily clad unconscious Altaira. This does not reflect any part of the film but makes a great poster. The music is credited as “electronic tonalities” and was composed by husband and wife Louis and Bebe Barron and is the first entirely electronic score for a film.

Music – “Flurry of Dust and a Robot Approaches” by Louis and Bebe Barron from the film “Forbidden Planet” based on The Tempest.

Timon of Athens has inspired little art or music but Vorticist pioneer Wyndham Lewis produced a classic poster for it in about 1930. This contrast with the more traditional poster for a production of Twelfth Night at Yale in 1921. This play has also inspired some interesting costume designs.

Many 20th century artists have continued to paint in a traditional style. Henry VI was more popular with artists in previous centuries but one of the best known representations of the choosing of the roses when the supporters of York and Lancaster choose the white and red roses to show their support for the king or his rival, is by Henry Arthur Payne in 1908. Maxwell Ashby Armfield painted the scene depicted in Desdemona’s Willow Song from near the end of Othello in 1902 and Sir John Gilbert’s illustration of “Come away, come away, death” from Twelfth Night is also traditionally painted. One of the most beautiful 20th century settings of a Shakespeare song is Gerald Finzi’s “Come away, come away, death” which forms the first of five Shakespeare songs in his Song Cycle “Let Us Garlands Bring” composed between 1929 and 1942.

Music – Bryn Terfel singing Finzi’s “Come away, come away, death.”

Other traditional paintings include Gilbert’s “Autolychus’s Song” from A Winter’s Tale and Arthur Rackham’s 1909 illustrations of Romeo and Juliet. He also illustrated A midsummer Night’s Dream in 1908 in a beautiful Art Nouveau style. In 1903 sculptor Henry Hugh Armstead produced “Remorse” which depicts Lady Macbeth desperately trying to wash away the blood from her hands and the guilt from her soul. In a more Art Deco vein is Brenda Putnam’s sculpture of Puck outside the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

Of the more abstract and modernist artists Reginald Cotterell Butler’s 1955 “Ophelia” is a rather forlorn figure with her misshapen limbs symbolic of her broken mental state. Stanley William Hayter’s “Ophelia” of 1936 is even more abstracted but beautifully colourful. In 1972 Graham Ovenden produced three paintings with titles related to Macbeth, “This Blasted Heath”, “Birnan Wood” and “Great Dunsinane.” His use of colour evokes the menace of the witches and their prediction to Macbeth on the blasted heath delivered by an apparition of a crowned child clutching a tree:

Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care

Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are;

Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until

Great Birnan Wood to high Dunsinane Hill

Shall come against him.

Macbeth takes heart from this but when Macduff and Malcolm attack him at Dunsinane Castle they disguise their numbers by taking branches from Birnan Wood.

Colour also plays an important part in Lebanese artist Nabil Kanso’s “Othello My Warrior” of 1985. It is entirely absent from Australian artist Arthur Boyd’s 1970 “Romeo and Juliet” who appear to float like figures from a Chagall, above a menacing creature presumably symbolising their future fate. This most romantic of plays was the inspiration to one of the great musicals “West Side Story” with music by Leonard Bernstein and words by Stephen Sondheim first produced on Broadway in 1957. The Montagues and Capulets of Verona are replaced by rival New York gangs, the Jets and Sharks. Tony and Maria are from opposite sides and their love doomed to be unacceptable to both communities, ending inevitably in tragedy. We have heard several versions of this beautiful song from comedian David Copperfield to Hungarian String Quartet Il Diablo but it is so beautiful it is worth hearing again.

Music – “Somewhere” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” based on Romeo and Juliet, sung by Betsi Morrison.

The final image is by one of the most famous of abstract artists, American Jackson Pollock, known for his technique of dribbling paint over the canvas flat on the ground. It is entitled “Full Fathom Five” referring to the song of Ariel in The Tempest. This play continues to inspire composers such as Michael Nyman. He composed the music for Peter Greenaway’s film “Prospero’s Books” based on the play in 1991 and extracted some of it for his Saxophone Concerto called “Where the Bee Dances” which was performed in the final of the BBC Young Musicians competition in 2016 by Jess Gillam. To end I shall play two 20th century versions of “Full Fathom Five.”

Music – “A Sea Dirge” by Charles Ives composed in 1925 and “Full Fathom Five” by Vaughan Williams from his “Three Shakespeare Songs” of 1951.

Thank you for attending these talks and let me repeat that I shall be downloading them to my website in the near future with some extra details and printable versions of the slides. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me through the website.

Below is a printable version of the slides

Lecture 6 slides to print

These episodes from Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time might be of interest

Shakespeare’s Work

Shakespeare’s Life