I’ll be heading to Washington soon for performances of my Songs and Dances from ‘The Tempest’ this coming Friday and Saturday – details here.
Although I have posted many times about the difficulty of getting a work performed a second time, this is one piece that I thought would be truly unlikely to be reprised. It is scored for an ensemble of early instruments – medieval and renaissance strings and winds – accompanying soprano and baritone soloists. While it is not unheard of for an early music group to take on a new piece, (consider Kile Smith’s Vespers), it is certainly uncommon, and after the first performances of Songs and Dances in the late 90s I figured I would never hear it in its original scoring again, so I made a version for modern instruments, which has been done a couple of times. But now the Folger has revived the piece, putting it on a program with incidental music for the play by the seventeenth century composer Matthew Locke – this is the same juxtaposition that they offered on their CD that includes my Tempest music. William Sharp and Rosa Lamoreaux are the soloists for this weekend’s performances. (The image at left, with its quote from the play, is taken from the Folger website.)
Here’s a listing of the movements for the piece, and a program note:
1. A Tempestuous Noise
sopranino recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, very small suspended cymbal
2. Come Unto These Yellow Sands
soprano, treble viol, bass viol, lute, dumbek
3. Solemn Music of Ariel
tenor recorder, 2 bass viols, lute
4. The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain, and I
baritone, alto recorder, treble viol, bass viol, lute
5. Full Fathom Five
soprano, bass recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, crotales in E and B
6.Flout ‘em and Scout ‘em / Be Not Afeard
baritone, alto recorder, vielle, kamenji, bass viol, citole, harp, psaltery, tambourine
7a. A Solemn and Strange Music
alto recorder, 2 bass viols
7b. Honor, Riches, Marriage Blessing
7c. Earth’s Increase, Foison Plenty
baritone, alto recorder, 2 bass viols, lute
7d. A Graceful Dance, a Confused Noise
soprano recorder, 2 alto recorders, lute
8. No More Dams
baritone, rebec, vielle, citole, nakara
9. Where the Bee Sucks
soprano, alto recorder, bass viol, lute
10. Our Revels Now Are Ended
soprano, baritone, alto recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, crotales in E and B
Songs and Dances from “The Tempest” came about because Folger Consort member Christopher Kendall, who knew my work as composer and pianist from his “other” consort – the 21st Century Consort – had heard my Four Sacred Songs, a set of arrangements of plainchant melodies for soprano and a sextet of modern instruments. Christopher wondered if an arrangement of those songs could be made for the old instruments of the Folger Consort. I thought about that for a bit but ultimately decided I would rather write a fresh piece for the Folger, eventually realizing that a piece composed for the ensemble in residence at the Folger Library should really be a Shakespeare piece. My first plan was to concoct an anthology of texts from various Shakespeare plays, but I set that aside in favor of focusing on a single play, perhaps the most musical of Shakespeare’s creations, The Tempest. My suite of short pieces includes settings of songs from the play as well as a few speeches. I have also included some instrumental music, as suggested by the evocative stage directions. I hope lovers of the play will forgive me for re-ordering the texts so as to create a satisfying musical sequence that does not in all cases correspond to the sequence of the play itself.
The texts are by turns playful, drunken, evocative, and profound. Throughout they are imbued with a magical atmosphere that is unique in Shakespeare. I hope I have reflected some of this atmosphere in my music.
The challenge for a modern composer to write for the instruments of another time is formidable. You spend your life as a composer building up an image in the inner ear of what, for example, the cello sounds like in various contexts – it is difficult to set these things aside when presented with a cello-like object such as the vielle. But, at least to some extent, set them aside you must. As a pianist I feel especially ill-equipped to write for these instruments since my own instrument’s repertoire begins about a century after the newest music the Folger Consort normally plays! I lack a personal connection with the repertoires of these instruments. Still, I love the sounds of the ancient instruments, and love the repertoires the Folger so beautifully engages. So I have tried to create a sound world that would both suit the instruments and perhaps challenge them a little, all the while serving Shakespeare’s texts.
The endless patience and goodwill of the members of the Consort have played no small role in the creation of this piece. I am grateful for the chance to adventure with them to Prospero’s enchanted realm where we might enjoy the “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”