The Best Classical Music Inspired By Shakespeare

Shakespeare Music - photo courtesy of http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/shakespearelang/2017/06/13/music-in-shakespeare/

Image from http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/shakespearelang/2017/06/13/music-in-shakespeare/

It is a well-known fact that Shakespeare’s influence spread well beyond his plays and far beyond idyllic Stratford-upon-Avon. He gave us new words like “fashionable” and “softhearted”. He inspired figures like Freud, Dickens, and George Washington, to name a few. His reach can even be seen as far as the planet Uranus – 25 of its 27 moons are named for Shakespearean characters. A bit closer to home, however, are the numerous orchestral and vocal works that were written about Shakespearean storylines and characters. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest, here is a rundown of the best classical music inspired by Shakespeare.

Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Mendelssohn wrote music for Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream on two separate occasions. He first wrote a concert overture in 1826 and then in 1842 he incorporated the overture into incidental music he wrote for a production. The exclusively instrumental movements, the Overture, Scherzo, Intermezzo, Nocturne, and Wedding March, are typically played as a suite in both concerts and recordings and they remain among the most famous of all Shakespearean classical music. In fact, the Wedding March is the traditional music you hear when the just married couple exits the ceremony.

Gade – Hamlet Overture

Like Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky wrote both an overture and incidental music about Hamlet. Liszt also wrote a symphonic poem titled Hamlet. But it is Danish composer Niel Gade’s Hamlet Overture that made our list because of its emotionally dramatic nature that is truly evocative of Shakespeare’s play. A symphonic poem of sorts, it begins with a funereal march that foreshadows tragedy followed by an animated, angry theme in a minor key that eventually leads to a pulsating theme in a major key (perhaps a Hamlet and Ophelia love theme). The piece then returns to the funereal march in a unified conclusion. The Parker Symphony will be performing Gade’s Hamlet Overture on May 11!

Dvořák – Othello Overture

Critics sometimes note that Dvořák’s Othello Overture has a “New World Symphony” quality to it, but for anyone who has heard his In Nature’s Realm Overture, the similarities in some of the melodies are indisputable – and with good reason. The work is the third part of a trilogy called “Nature, Life, and Love”. The other two overtures are In Nature’s Realm and the Carnival Overture. Othello is by far the most emotional of the three works with sweet moments woven in between intense and even ominous parts. Dvořák called it “the most substantial and the most subtle, touching emotions not engaged by its more outgoing companion works.”

Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet

You’ve no doubt heard parts of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet in popular culture – most recently “The Dance of the Knights” as ominous music in The Apprentice. But there’s more to this ballet and its music than just that one melody. Love, quarrels, fights, and the balcony love scene all offer amazing musical moments. Note: Tchaikovsky also wrote a Romeo & Juliet overture worth listening to.

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that Verdi adapted for the operatic stage (he also wrote Otello, Falstaff, and Re Lear). It is also one of only a handful of Shakespeare-inspired operas that have made their place in standard repertory. When he set out to write, Verdi wanted to make Macbeth one of his best scores. He was truly inspired by Shakespeare’s play calling it “one of mankind’s greatest creations.”

Schumann – Julius Caesar Overture

It was not only inspired by Shakespeare’s play, but Schumann’s Julius Caesar was also heavily influenced by Beethoven’s Egmont overture. It shares the key of F minor with Beethoven’s work as well as the sonata form and a code in a major key. A known musical cryptogram enthusiast, it has been suggested that there is a cipher for “C-A-E-S-A-R” in this work’s opening chords.

Schubert – An Sylvia

From the title, it’s difficult to see how this fits the Shakespeare music theme. However, An Sylvia was inspired by a scene in Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is a German lied (an art song in which a German poem is set to music). The text is a German translation of the poem, “Who is Sylvia” from Act 4, Scene 2 of the play. Schubert wrote this at the height of his career and while it seems simple, it also has an elegant and witty quality that is perfectly aligned with the tone of the play.

Walton – Suite from Henry V

Before the times of John Williams were numerous film score composers you may not know. And like some of today’s compositions, some of this film music can truly stand on its own. William Walton’s music for the 1944 film Henry V can be counted in this category. He manages to achieve dramatic effect that delivers a top-notch musical adventure. The music was arranged into a suite and recorded in 1963.

Korngold – Much Ado About Nothing

Korngold is another name known for his film scores (although he also wrote an amazing violin concerto). In 1918, prior to his time as a film composer, he was asked to write incidental music in Vienna for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The result was music with imaginative melodies, rich tones, and lush harmonies that help it stand on its own as an independent work.

Sibelius – The Tempest (Stormen)

The Tempest is considered by many to be among Sibelius’ greatest achievements. Written as incidental music to the play, Sibelius strove to represent individual characters through specific instrumentation. Critics note that his use of harps and percussion to represent the ambiguity of Prospero is a truly inventive choice. This along with another work titled Tapiola were the last of Sibelius’ works. After that he spent his remaining 32 years writing almost nothing else.

 

10 Facts About Dvorak That You May Not Know

 

Dvorak Portrait You may know Antonín Dvořák as the composer of the much-loved and often-played Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’ (aka the New World Symphony), but there is more to the man than just his most famous work. Although his time in America is well-known thanks to the aforementioned symphony, he was actually born in a small village north of Prague and was very passionate about his homeland and its music, infusing the sounds in pieces like his Slavonic Dances.

Here are 10 others things you may not know about Dvořák.

1. He Apprenticed As a Butcher: Dvořák was the oldest of 14 children (8 who survived infancy). His father was a zither player, an innkeeper, and also a butcher. A young Antonin not only joined his father in the local band, but also in his business as an apprentice butcher. At the age of 13, he was inducted into the Butcher’s Guild of Zlonice.

2. His Grandmother Had a Pet Name For Him: Dvořák’s grandmother called him, “my little toothy” because he apparently had good teeth.

3. His First Compositions Went Unnoticed: Dvořák’s first compositions received no critical reception and no public performance. In fact, it wasn’t until Johannes Brahms’ efforts to boost his career that any of his music began to attract interest. It is said that Dvořák was so critical of himself that he burned his early works.

4. Sheet Music For The First Slavonic Dances Sold Out: In 1874, Brahms sat on a jury to award financial support to talented composers in need. It is then that he encountered Dvořák and was “visibly overcome” by his “mastery and talent”. Brahms recommended that his publisher, Simrock, publish a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. The sheet music for the 8 dances sold out in one day.

5. Dvořák Loved Trains: The composer was known to spend hours at the Franz Josef railway station in Prague, watching trains. He knew the timetable by heart and even asked his students to describe train journeys they had made. Later, when he visited America, he also took up pigeon raising and watching steamboats.

6. He Stole Pencils: In an effort to help calm Czech speakers in Austria who were upset over the banning of their language, Dvořák was appointed a member of the Austrian Senate. He came the first day in 1901, accepted the honor, stole all of the pencils at his desk because they were perfect for composing, and never showed up again.

7. He Was An Early Riser: Dvořák and his wife got up very early in the morning. When they stayed in Cambridge with composer and organist Charles Villiers Stanford, the host was surprised to find couple sitting under a tree in the garden at 6 AM.

8. A Ship Is Named For Dvořák: In 1943, an American Liberty ship in the U.S. Navy was named the USNS Antonín Dvořák in the composer’s honor.

9. There Is A Mural In His Honor In Iowa: Dvořák spent a few weeks living in Spillville, IA. It was a town of mostly Czech speaking immigrants at the time. It is there that he wrote his “American” String Quartet. Today, a mural is there in his honor.

10. He Is The Second Czech Composer To Achieve Worldwide Recognition: Dvořák is not the only Czech composer of note. Bedřich Smetana, of Má vlast and its The Moldau movement fame, first established a nationalist example during the 1848 Prague uprising.

 

Be sure to join us to hear Dvorak’s “The Water Goblin” at our “Sounds of the Deep” concert, Friday October 27 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center in Parker, CO.

 

Classical Music Composer Friends

 

Friendship comes in many forms. When it comes to your circle of friends, you may include everything from acquaintances to BFF’s. Or you may prefer something more intimate and keep your group limited to people you’ve known for years. Either way, friends play an important role in life.

The same is also true for classical music composers. In fact, some of the most famous composers, like Mozart and Haydn, were actually very close friends who inspired and challenged each other to reach new musical heights. Since today, June 8, is National Best Friend Day, we’re going to profile just a few of these classical music composer friendships.

Mozart and Haydn

Classical Music Composer Friends Haydn and Mozart

Though he was far younger than Haydn, Mozart’s relationship with Haydn was one of mutual respect. They most likely first met in 1781 when Mozart moved to Vienna. Haydn was already a famous composer and Mozart’s reputation was on the rise. It is not well-documented, but they appear to have been friends that enjoyed each other’s company and work. Some music suggests that Haydn may have been somewhat of a mentor to Mozart. Haydn freely praised Mozart, once saying, “I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior.” Mozart was documented as speaking very highly of Haydn. Mozart even wrote a series of string quartets dedicated to Haydn.

Haydn was distraught over Mozart’s death. He wrote, “for some time I was quite beside myself over his death, and could not believe that Providence should so quickly have called away an irreplaceable man into the next world.” Haydn also wrote to Constanze Mozart, the widow, offering musical instruction to her son when he reached the appropriate age, and later followed through on his offer.

Mahler and Strauss

Classical Music Composer Friends Mahler and Strauss

Both Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss were great conductors and composers during the 1890’s and 1900’s. Though Mahler once said, “Strauss and I come from different sides of a mountain. One day we shall meet,” they met in 1887 and remained friends until Mahler’s untimely death. Mahler conducted many of Strauss’ works and Strauss was a supported of Mahler’s music, conducting several of his symphonies. They challenged each other musically and despite personality differences (Strauss was cool and collected while Mahler was self-centered and neurotic), they enjoyed spending time together. According to Mahler’s wife, “They enjoyed talking to one another as they were never of one mind.”

It is said that upon Mahler’s death, Strauss was so devastated that he could barely speak. He considered Mahler a good friend and worthy adversary.

Holst and Vaughan Williams

Classical Music Composer Friends Holst and Vaughan Williams

Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams are two of the best-known English composers and were lifelong friends. They met in 1895 just after Holst celebrated his 21st birthday. They served as each other’s chief critics. They would play their latest compositions to each other while still in the works to hear valuable feedback. They also enjoyed talking about a variety of subjects. Vaughan Williams once said they discussed, “every subject under the sun from the lowest note of the double bassoon to the philosophy of Jude the Obscure.”

At Holst’s funeral in 1934, Vaughan Williams conducted music by Holst and himself.

Brahms and Dvořák

Classical Music Composer Friends Brahms and Dvorak

The friendship between Brahms and Dvořák is actually quite an unlikely one. Brahms was not known as particularly encouraging of young and new talent. A couple of composers even became obsessed with his lack of appreciation for their work. In 1874, however, he reluctantly sat on a jury to award financial support to talented composers in need. He encountered a submission from an obscure Czech composer including two symphonies, several overtures, and a song cycle. He was reportedly “visibly overcome” by the “mastery and talent” of the individual who we would learn was Dvořák. He arranged for Dvořák’s work to be given to his own publisher, Simrock, who accepted it and even commissioned what became one of Dvořák’s most popular works, the Slavonic Dances.

Through the years, Dvořák never forgot that he owed a great deal to Brahms’ interest. He regularly kept in contact with Brahms, even dedicating his String Quartet no. 9 in D minor to him. Brahms not only served as Dvořák’s mentor, offering advice and support, but also even served as Dvořák’s copy editor and proofreader while Dvořák traveled to America. Dvořák said it was hard to understand why Brahms would “take on the very tedious job of proofreading. I don’t believe there is another musician of his stature in the whole world who would do such a thing.”

Copland and Bernstein

Classical Music Composer Friends Copland and Bernstein

While Holst and Vaughan Williams were well-known in England, there was also a musical friendship of two greats in America – that of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The two met in November 1937 on Copland’s birthday and remained friends for almost half a century. Copland was already an established composer. Bernstein recalled many years later in an article that he “was crazy about” Copland’s Piano Variations and when he was introduced to him at a dance recital in New York, he “almost fell out of the balcony”.

Copland was extremely influential on Bernstein’s career. He often offered constructive criticism for Bernstein’s music and even helped him get started in conducting studies, writing him letters of recommendation and guiding him to Curtis Institute. Copland, however, was less enthusiastic about Bernstein’s music than his role as a conductor and Bernstein was sharply critical about Copland’s music (particular his Third Symphony). Still, their friendship remained overwhelmingly positive. The two spent many summers together at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and Copland’s rhythmic freshness and recognizable American style can be seen in some of Bernstein’s work.