Shakespeare and Music

Music in Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s plays are full of music. Lorenzo in the Merchant of Venice calls for music as he and Jessica sit outside: ‘soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony’. Jessica’s reaction is, perhaps, unexpected: ‘I am never merry when I hear sweet music’.  And, indeed, music is not necessarily associated with merriment in Shakespeare. The song that Duke Orsino (Twelfth Night) calls for to soothe his disturbed heart deals with the melancholy of unrequited love: ‘Come away, come away death’.  Desdemona sings the mournful ‘Willow’ song just before she is murdered by Othello. Iago’s drinking song has a glee and energy about it that seems devilish because we know it is part of his plan to bring about Cassio’s downfall. Paulina, about to bring the statue of the apparently dead Hermione to life, cries ‘Music, awake her; strike!’ (The Winter’s Tale’).

The Tempest is arguably the most musical of the plays. Caliban, the ‘salvage and deformed slave’, is lulled and enchanted by the isle by the ‘Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not’. But he only sings himself to join in the drinking songs of his companions from the shipwreck, Trinculo and Stephano. Ariel has mischievous and taunting songs as he goes about his puckish business, as well as the well-known ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’. And the masque that Prospero organises in Act IV has its own music.

[All quotations are from Arden editions of the plays.]

Shakespeare in Music

Some of the original settings of Shakespeare’s songs have been preserved; for instance, Richard Johnson’s settings of ‘Where the bee sucks’ and ‘Full fadom five’ from The Tempest. But in any case Shakespeare’s lyrics and indeed his plays have provided – and still provide – endless inspiration for composers. Apart from countless settings of the songs, there is incidental music (Arthur Sullivan’s music for The Tempest has a wonderfully graphic overture); music for films of the plays (William Walton’s score for Henry V, for instance); orchestral pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, Elgar’s symphonic study Falstaff, Liszt’s symphonic poem Hamlet and Berlioz’s unconventional symphony with voices, Romeo and Juliet; modern musicals such as Kiss me Kate and West Side Story – and of course the operas. Verdi’s wonderful Otello and Falstaff come to mind immediately, but a personal favourite is Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict.

At their concert on Saturday, 11 July 2016, the Southport Bach Choir will be marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by singing several settings of his words. Vaughan Williams’s Serenade, his setting of the words from The Merchant of Venice (referred to above) is probably his best-known Shakespearian piece, but we shall be performing his lesser known Three Shakespeare Songs. Only one of these, ‘Full fathom five’, is actually marked as a song in Shakespeare. The words of the second piece, ‘The cloud-capp’d towers’, are taken from Prospero’s famous speech as he dismisses the spirits of the masque; ‘Our revels now are ended’. The third song sets words spoken by a stray fairy in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: ‘Over hill, over dale’.

Last year the choir included in its 50th anniversary concert a specially commissioned piece by Will Todd, ‘It was a lover and his lass’. We are glad to have another opportunity of singing such a delightful piece again this summer, and will be pairing and contrasting it with Thomas Morley’s setting (1600) of the same words. Rather more unusually, the Swedish composer, Nils Lindberg, has set a Shakespeare sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ as part of his Garland of Elisabethan Poetry – an appropriate song to include in the choir’s summer concert. Finally, turning to one of the modern re-workings of Shakespeare, the concert will include one of the movements from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story choral suite.

 

Singing Mahler with CSO

Members of Southport Bach Choir will be singing in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with Crosby Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on Sunday, 8 May at 2.30 pm.

Two years ago members of the choir formed the nucleus of the Crosby Symphony Chorus to sing with the orchestra in Liverpool’s beautiful but acoustically-challenging Metropolitan Cathedral. On that occasion Bruckner’s Te Deum and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were performed.

This year, Mahler’s work, usually known as his ‘Resurrection’ symphony, will be preceded by Mozart’s joyful Exsultate Jubilate, which was originally written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, but is usually sung today by a soprano.  The chorus, composed of singers from Southport, Liverpool and Chester, will not be needed until (as in the Beethoven symphony) the fifth and final movement of the Mahler. Beethoven asks for 4 soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), but Mahler confines himself to alto (who sings in the fourth movement) and soprano, who joins the alto and chorus in the fifth movement.

The soloists will be Barbara Ruzsics (soprano) and Stephanie Guidera (alto). The concert will be conducted by SBC’s Director of Music, Ian Crawford.

Tickets for this concert can be obtained by following links on the orchestra’s website.

David Williams as conductor (2)

 

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

David Williams as conductor (2)

During the years that David Williams was in charge, the choir continued to expand its repertoire, covering music from the 17th to the 20th century that could be sung by a choir of fewer than fifty singers. However, Southport singers were given the opportunity of singing in a larger scale work in 1978, when David arranged a joint performance of Verdi’s Requiem with Altringham Choral Society and King’s Macclesfield School Choir. In fact there were two performances, one on 20 May at Wythenshaw Forum, when Neil Chaffey conducted, and one the following evening at Holy Trinity Southport, when David conducted.

In 1980, the choir (without choral reinforcements) performed the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, a major undertaking because of the forces involved. This was the first time that the choir had performed with a period orchestra (the Guildhall Waites), and the first time it had employed an international soloist: Ian Partridge. The ‘echo’ tenor, incidentally, was sung by Adrian Thompson, who went on to gain similar renown. He clearly pleased the choir, because he was invited back to give a solo recital the following year.

Furthermore Adrian Thompson was engaged to sing the Evangelist when the choir performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1985. This was an even more ambitious undertaking than the Monteverdi, because of the forces involved. Stephen Varcoe sang the part of Christus, and the other soloists were Elizabeth Lane, Kevin Smith, Christopher Underwood, Barry Banks and Andrew Greenan. The orchestra was the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists. The performance was a big success, filling the church and giving audience and performers alike a moving and rewarding experience.

But there were setbacks from time to time. One of the most dramatic, and in this part of the country most unexpected, was in December 1981 when a sudden snow-storm prevented the orchestra’s leader, among others, from reaching the church, and the concert had to be cancelled.

Colonel Roger Hesketh

In its early years the choir enjoyed the support of a patron, Colonel Roger Hesketh, who also composed small pieces for the choir. During the 1975-6 season the choir sang his anthem, ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust’ and during the 1985-6 season they performed his setting of Psalm 23. Colonel Hesketh died in November 1987, and members of the choir sang Schubert’s setting of that Psalm, one of his favourite pieces, at his funeral. The Easter concert in March 1988, when works by César Franck, Gerald Finzi, Poulenc and Rutter were performed,  was dedicated to his memory. Colonel Hesketh holds an exceptional place in the choir’s history, for he has never been replaced as patron.

Carol-singing

In 1985 members of the choir sang carols in Wayfarers’ Arcade, under the direction of Margaret Cowling, and a collection was made in aid of Age Concern. Thus was started a tradition that continues to this day. The location has changed from Wayfarers’ Arcade, to the Cambridge Arcade, to more recently the Marks and Spencer on Chapel Street, and the charity supported has changed from year to year, but singing carols for Christmas shoppers in the town centre is an enjoyable part of the choir’s season. We have, over the years, also sung carols in other locations: retirement homes, Birkdale village, Speke Hall and even, in 2014, the Pontins in Ainsdale.

 

I expect my next post about the history of the choir to be my last on this subject, bringing things up to the present.

 

 

 

 

Spring concert 2016

Our Spring Concert at 7.30 on Saturday, 19 March 2016 has the evocative title ‘From Darkness to Light’. As the dark of the winter evenings gradually gives way to the bright light of springlike days (and after such a doleful winter some sunshine has been truly welcome recently), the Southport Bach Choir have been rehearsing for a concert to include music by Duruflé, Lauridsen and Britten.

Duruflé’s Requiem has become popular with British choirs, often being paired with the earlier Requiem by Fauré. Although Duruflé was composing his work during the Second World War, he does not include a Dies irae, as one might expect, so that the requiem lacks the ferocity of Verdi’s, for instance. The gloom of the early movements is lifted with the serenity of the chant-like Lux aeterna and the final In Paradisum.

‘Lux aeterna’ is the title of the work we shall be singing by the popular American composer, Morten Lauridsen, written in 1997. It is a cycle of 5 pieces, all of which contain references to light, taken from various Latin texts. The first and last movements come from the requiem mass: Requiem aeternam and Agnus Dei – Lux aeterna. The second movement is part of the Te Deum (In te, Domine, speravi), the third is an unaccompanied motet, O nata lux and it is followed by the jubilant canticle, Veni Sancte Spiritus.

The third piece in the concert, Rejoice in the Lamb, is Benjamin Britten’s setting of words by the eccentric 18th century writer, Christopher Smart. Written while he was an inmate in an asylum, the poem takes joy in the way different creatures, in their individual ways, worship the Lord. Britten does, by way of contrast, include a section of the poem in which Smart reflects on his own hardships, but he foresees deliverance, and the work ends by glorying in the way various instruments praise God before gathering into a final Hallelujah.

The SBC, conducted by our Director of Music, Ian Crawford, will be joined by soloists: Stephanie Guidera (mezzo-soprano) and Stuart O’Hara (baritone) and will be accompanied by Stephen Hargreaves on the organ.

Holy Trinity Church, Hoghton Street, Southport PR9 0TE.

Tickets £10 from members of the choir or ring 01704 540097.

Come and Sing!

On Saturday 30th January 2016, we will be holding another of our popular  Come and Sing days, directed, as usual by the choir’s MD, Ian Crawford. Having held these events in Crosby during the past few years, we have decided this time to use Emmanuel Church, Southport.  If you have come to one of these events in the past you will know that they are rewarding and fun, providing an opportunity to sing some great music in an informal setting.

The music we will be singing this time will be Vivaldi’s Magnificat and Jonathan Dove’s Missa Brevis. Less familiar than the Gloria, Vivaldi’s Magnificat is another wonderfully tuneful and relatively straightforward piece, which can be enjoyed by less experienced choral singers. Dove’s Missa Brevis is perhaps more challenging, notable for its lively syncopation and dancing rhythms. But Dove is experienced in writing for musical theatre and his music is very appealing at the same time as being very up-to-date. He aims to make both performing and listening to his music an enjoyable experience. The Southport Bach Choir performed the Missa Brevis in the 2013-14 season and enjoyed it so much that they are delighted to have the opportunity of sharing this work with other singers.

Here is a recording of a recent liturgical performance of the Gloria by the choir of Bath Abbey which gives you some idea of this attractive work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Bek2DOviXE.

Tickets for singers are £15. And of course there will be cakes – something that has become a feature of our Come and Sings!

If you have any questions ring Suzanne on 017704 553903. For further details and application form click here: Come and Sing 2015 flyer.

Christmas Concert 2015

Our Christmas concert this year will include Charpentier’s atmospheric mass based on French carol tunes: Messe de minuit. Although these tunes are not particularly familiar to an English audience, they lend the solemn words of the mass a lightness and joyfulness appropriate to the magical moment of Christ’s birth. Our performance on Saturday 12 December will be accompanied by Robert Woods on the piano and organ, and instrumentalists from Liverpool Concert Orchestra.

The rest of the programme will consist of carols old and new. This year, as a small tribute to Sir David Willcocks, who died earlier this year, we are performing his setting of ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’. We shall also sing ‘Wassail’ by his son Jonathan Willcocks.  Bob Chilcott has become something of a favourite with the choir, and we shall be singing several settings and arrangements by him.

In our summer concert we were delighted to sing a piece by our own Director of Music, Ian Crawford. He set the words of Christina Rossetti’s charming poem, ‘A Birthday’, in honour of the choir’s 50th anniversary. For this December concert, celebrating Christ’s (rather more significant) birthday, he has set the traditional words of ‘The Boar’s Head Carol’, and keeps the choir on its toes with syncopated rhythms and the need for clean, clear articulation! We hope to do the carol justice on Saturday.

Christmas at Melling Tithebarn

The Choir will be celebrating Christmas at Melling Tithebarn with a concert of carols and other music suited to the time of year on Friday, 18 December 2015, starting at 8.00pm.

Last year we greatly enjoyed singing there amid the beautiful Christmas decorations – and the smell of mulled wine and mince pies! And we were delighted to be asked back to perform in a place that is as different as could be from Holy Trinity, Southport, where we usually sing.

Tickets cost £8.00 and are available from 0151 526 7238, or (text only) 07818404808.

Jonathan Antoine concert

We are delighted to have been asked to sing with the young tenor, Jonathan Antoine, who will be singing in concert at The Atkinson, Southport, on Sunday 22 November, at 7.30pm.

Jonathan made his name by appearing in the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as one half of the duo, Jonathan and Charlotte. This is his first tour in which he is performing in concerts from Gateshead to Eastbourne, London to Manchester –  Southport, and many cities in between.

Tickets are available from The Atkinson.

Concert Season 2015-16

Saturday 12 December 2015 at 7.30 pm

CHRISTMAS BY CANDLELIGHT

Charpentier: Messe de Minuit

with carols by Rutter, Chilcott, MacMillan and Willcocks, plus congregational carols

Tickets £10

 

Saturday 19 March 2016 at 7.30 pm

Duruflé: Requiem

Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

Tickets £10

 

Saturday 11 June 2016 at 7.30 pm

SUMMER CONCERT

Handel: Dettingen Te Deum

Shakespeare settings for choir and soloists.

Helen Francis: Alto
Stephen Newlove: Tenor
Mark Rowlinson: Bass

with Crosby Symphony Orchestra

Tickets £12

All concerts conducted by Ian Crawford

Season tickets £29

Further information: 01704 540097

All concerts at Holy Trinity Church, Hoghton St, Southport PR9 0TE

 

David Williams as conductor (1)

This is the third in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

When David Williams took over as conductor of the Southport Bach Society (now Choir) in 1970, the choir was definitely a going concern, with a nucleus of committed singers, a regular season of concerts, and the ambition of establishing itself as a fundamental part of the town’s cultural life.

Management of the choir

At this time the choir was governed by a committee of just four people: Chair, Conductor, Treasurer and Secretary. David Bowman had been greatly supported by Eddie and Joan Twigg, as Treasurer and Secretary, and when he left Joan Twigg resigned from her role. Joy Lea took over as Secretary until 1981, when Jean Sutton took on this important and onerous job. Eddie Twigg continued as Treasurer until 1974, when he and his wife left Southport. There were several changes of Treasurer before Peter Woodhead took over in 1977, to be followed by Bob Bride in 1980. Arthur Baldwin stayed as Chairman until 1972, when he was succeeded by John Watts, who held the chair for the next nine years. Valerie Pedlar was Chairman from 198-85, and Bleddyn Davies from 1985-1991.

By the time the choir reached its 10th anniversary in 1975, it was clear that the financial position was rather precarious. It was decided to increase the membership subscription, and the price of concert tickets, but it was felt that more attention should be given to fund-raising activities and to improving publicity. To this end, it was agreed to add extra committee members to cope with the all the work that needed to be done, and at the same time ensure that different voice parts were represented. Six new members joined the committee and immediately set to work.

At the AGM the following year it was reported that the choir’s finances had improved considerably, partly as a result of a grant from Merseyside Arts Association, but also because of the fund-raising and social activities that had been organized. Much of the money raised went towards the purchase of half a grand piano, the other half being purchased by Holy Trinity Church, but enough had been raised to ensure that there was money in the bank at the end of the season.

Another vital feature of the choir’s life is the rehearsal pianist. Mary Crayston was been appointed as accompanist in 1976 and was greatly appreciated. When she gave up in 1982, Keith Matthews was recruited and he remained as the choir’s much-loved accompanist until 2010. And he still occasionally helps out when necessary!

Fund-raising

Fund-raising events could also be fun and included Victorian evenings, coffee mornings and garden parties as well as more routine bring and buy or jumble sales. The secretary’s report for the 1982-3 season shows how busy the choir could be, since in addition to the normal three concerts in December, April and June, there were the following events:

October – 1) Second-hand book sale; 2) the choir sang at a Gala concert at Southport Arts Centre as part of the town’s Music Festival.

November – A Victorian evening at a member’s house.

February – 1) A concert at URC Church, Trafalgar Road in aid of the church re-building fund; 2) a 12-hour music marathon.

April – A recital by Emma Kirkby and Anthony Rooley at St Cuthbert’s Church.

June – A garden party in a member’s garden.

July – A social evening at Rufford Old Hall.

Energetic fund-raising by the choir meant that David could be more ambitious in his concert-planning, including professional soloists and orchestras from time to time, but the choir was also greatly helped by grants from the National Federation of Music Societies and Merseyside Arts Association. Less frequently the choir was able to attract commercial sponsors.

 

In my next post I’ll write about some of the more ambitious works that the choir performed during the first 20 years of David’s tenure.