Shakespeare and Music



As You Like It has not been dealt with much by musicians, though one of them, Sir Henry Bishop, has been very hard upon it. The earliest known opera on the subject is by Francesco Maria Veracini. It was produced under the title of Rosalinda during the composer's visit to London in 1744. Mr W. Barclay Squire, in his article on Shakespearian operas, mentions three operas of this name, by Capelli, Ziani, and J. C. Smith, but adds that they have no connection with Shakespeare's comedy. Bishop's pasticcio opera on this subject was produced at the Royal, Covent Garden, in 1819. The overture is a potpourri of so-called Shakespearian songs, simply harmonised and roughly hung together. The first number is a duet for Rosalind and Celia, "Whilst inconstant fortune smiled," words freely adapted from The Passionate Pilgrim. There is nothing much to say about it: it seems quite innocuous, but very dull. Rosalind's song, which she sings after having fallen in love with Orlando, is a setting of the 148th Sonnet, minus the two last lines. It is again quite dull. Celia has a long and depressing aria in praise of friendship, the words taken from the 123rd Sonnet. After these numbers it is quite refreshing to come across a cheerful male-voice hunting glee—"Even as the sun" is the title—the words being taken from Venus and Adonis. There are the usual horn effects, fortissimo chorus effects, and pianissimo echoes, all the old tricks, but put together by a good old hand, Bishop. Dr Arne's setting of "Under the greenwood tree" follows for Amiens, and a beautiful setting it is. Touchstone, in this version, is a tenor (somehow I never fancied him as a tenor), and sings a bright little {8} song, "Fair was my love," from The Passionate Pilgrim. This is followed by a trio for Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone, beginning "Crabbed age and youth," the words again taken from The Passionate Pilgrim (what a useful poem it is to pasticcio opera composers!). This trio is a very simple one. The first verse consists of alternate phrases by the three singers, who then all sing together, over and over again, the line "For methinks thou stay'st too long." A welcome relief is Dr Arne's broad, flowing setting of "Blow, blow, thou winter wind," by far the best to these words. The next number is a terrible setting by Bishop of the first eight lines of the 7th Sonnet, "Low in the Orient when the gracious light," for male voices. Silvius now has a sentimental song to words taken, slightly altered, from Venus and Adonis. The situation is inverted: Silvius sings Venus's words reproaching Adonis, to Phoebe; but Bishop is undaunted, and "Oh thou obdurate flint, hard as steel" is addressed to a woman! (By the way, Shakespeare wrote "Art," not "Oh.") Rosalind sings a sentimental ballad to the words from Venus and Adonis beginning "If love had lent you twenty thousand tongues," of no great importance. Dr Arne's beautiful setting of "When daisies pied," from Love's Labour's Lost, is another welcome relief, and I remember in several modern revivals of this play managers introducing this song when they had a Rosalind able to sing well enough. The next number is a march and dance for the procession of Hymen, and is for orchestra only. It is a good example of absolutely straight writing, with no bother about the romance or mystery of the masque of Hymen—a good workaday march in D major and common time. This is followed by the last number, words actually from As You Like It. Hymen, who in the original production was played by a boy, sings "Then is there mirth in heaven," a long, tedious, florid song, full of endless repetitions of single words. It is a curious fact that the beautiful lyric, "It was a lover and his lass," does not occur in this version, though really part of the original play.


It was a great pity that Sir George Alexander did not commission Edward German to write the whole of his music for the As You Like It revival at the St James's, instead of the Masque only. This Masque is so very good that one would like to have an overture and full entr'actes, but one must be thankful for what one has got. The work is in four movements. First, an introduction, very quiet and moderately slow, leading to the "Woodland Dance" in the minor, beginning very quietly, but working up to twelve ff bars in the middle, and then dying away. The second number is a very graceful "Children's Dance," piano throughout, most melodious, and very delicately scored. The last number, "Rustic Dance," is the longest and most important. It begins allegro con spirito and fortissimo, and keeps it up till the first episode, which is in the same time, but pianissimo and in the minor. Soon this is worked up to a big forte rallentando effect, which leads into the last theme, pianissimo to begin with, getting quicker and quicker and more crescendo to the coda, which is presto fortissimo. This is by far the most effective of the movements, but the "Children's Dance" is the most beautiful. Mr German's setting of "It was a lover and his lass," one of the best of this lyric, was not composed for this production.

Clarence Lucas's overture to the comedy is one of the few purely orchestral works associated with As You Like It. It begins very brightly, the first theme being a rollicking one in Old English style. This is developed until we come to the second subject, which is much slower, and is first played on the clarinet. The whole overture is really in valse time, and the second half of the second theme makes a most interesting syncopated valse. The first half ends with a horn passage, suggesting the banished Duke and his friends hunting. There are no new themes. Those which I have described are taken through their phases in various keys, and the work comes to a sparkling finish by means of a presto coda. It is a very lively comedy overture, and not at all difficult to perform.

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