Shakespeare and Music



Wagner's one known contribution to Shakespearian music is his two-act opera, Das Liebesverbot, founded on Measure for Measure, and not, as so many people think, on Love's Labour's Lost. It is his second complete opera, and, for reasons I will explain later, was only once performed; now, seeing that the composer, according to some authorities, apparently destroyed all of it except a couple of numbers, it may never be done again. Wagner planned the libretto during the summer of 1834, while on holiday at Teplitz. He had lately heard Auber's Masaniello at Leipsic, and was astonished at the effect of the striking scenes and rapid action of this opera. Could he not improve on Auber's music and produce an opera in which the action should be equally swift? He took Measure for Measure, changed the scene from Vienna to Sicily, "where a German governor, aghast at the incomprehensible laziness of its populace, attempts to carry out a puritanical reform and lamentably fails." (The words in quotation marks are taken from Wagner's article on this opera in volume vii. of his prose works, as with the other quotations that follow.)

The score of the opera was finished while the composer was musical director at the town theatre of Magdeburg, during the winter of 1835-36. Wagner had the right to claim a benefit performance, and, having an excellent troupe of singers at his disposal, decided to produce his opera at this benefit. "In spite of a royal subsidy and the intervention of a theatre committee, our worthy director was in a perennial state of bankruptcy," says Wagner, "and before the end of the season the most popular member of {68} the company, in spite of the unpunctuality of the payment of their salaries and the offer of better engagements elsewhere." Wagner modestly says: "It was only through my being a favourite with the whole opera company that I induced the singers not merely to stay until the end of March, but also to undertake the study of my opera, most exhausting in view of the briefness of the time." He only had ten days for all the various rehearsals. He says: "Notwithstanding that it had been quite impossible to drive them into a little conscious settledness of memory, I finally reckoned on a miracle to be wrought by my own acquired dexterity as conductor." This does not bear out the general opinion held in London as to Wagner's conducting. During his season as conductor of the Philharmonic in 1855, he had very severe opposition with which to contend, especially that of the musical critics Chorley and Davison (the Athen�um and the Times); but I should think Wagner was a pretty useful conductor, to judge from his article about conducting. Wagner kept the company together at rehearsal by singing all their parts and shouting the necessary action, forgetting that this could not be done at the public performance. At the general rehearsal Wagner's conducting, gesticulation, shouting, and prompting kept things together, but at the performance, before a crowded house, there was utter chaos.

Unfortunately, Wagner had allowed the manager, Herr Bethmann, to have the receipts of the premi�re as his benefit; and at the second performance, Wagner's benefit, there were few in the audience, and a free fight, amusingly described by him, was waged behind the scenes.

It takes Wagner six pages of closely printed prose to give a r�sum� of the plot, and it would be impossible in my present space to do more than comment on some of the changes. The Duke, who is the most indefatigable talker in Shakespeare's play, becomes a King, who never even appears. Angelo becomes a German Governor, who tries to foist German puritanism on the hot-blooded Sicilians. There is no moated grange for Mariana, who in Wagner's version is {69} a fellow-novice of Isabella. Neither King nor Duke ever appearing, Isabella marries Lucio—a strange alteration to make. Isabella, to save her brother Claudio, arranges an appointment with the German Governor at the Carnival (Wagner's idea), and sends Mariana instead. They are discovered, and the Governor expects to be executed for his ill-treatment of Mariana, when news is heard of the King's arrival in harbour. In Wagner's words, "Everyone decides to go in full carnival attire to greet the beloved prince, who surely will be pleased to see how ill the sour puritanism of the Germans becomes the heat of Sicily. The word goes round! Gay festivals delight him more than all the gloomy edicts. Frederick, with his newly married wife Mariana, has to head the procession; the novice, Isabella, lost to the cloister for ever, makes the second pair with Lucio." This is Wagner's ending, and anyone who knows the original text can get a fair idea of his alterations.

With the few, but very important, exceptions I have mentioned, he sticks fairly closely to Shakespeare's text. In regard to the troubles concerning the production, much has been amusingly written by Wagner. The police took offence at the title "Forbidden Love." The production was for the last week before Easter, when only serious pieces were performed. Wagner assured the magistrate that it was founded on a serious play by Shakespeare, and, not having read further than the title, the official passed the opera on condition that the title was changed to The Novice of Palermo. Wagner says: "In the Magdeburg performance, remarkably enough, I had nothing at all to suffer from the dubious character of my opera text; the story remained utterly unknown to the audience, on account of its thoroughly vague representation." Of his benefit performance the composer says: "Whether a few seats were filled at the commencement of the overture I can scarcely judge. About a quarter of an hour earlier the only people I could see in the stalls were my landlady and her husband, and, strange to say, a Polish Jew in full costume! I was hoping for an increase in the audience {70} notwithstanding, when suddenly the most unheard-of scenes took place in the wings. The husband of my primadonna (Isabella) had fallen upon the second tenor, a very pretty young man, who sang my 'Claudio,' and against whom the offended husband had long nursed a secret grudge. It seems that having convinced himself of the nature of the audience when he accompanied me to the curtain, the lady's husband deemed the longed-for hour arrived for taking vengeance on his wife's admirer without damage to the theatrical enterprise. Claudio was so badly cuffed and beaten by him that the unhappy wretch had to escape to the cloak-room with bleeding face. Isabella was told of it, rushed in despair at her raging husband, and received such blows from him that she fell into convulsions." There was a general free fight, all the company paying off old scores. The principals were unable to proceed with the performance, the manager made the usual speech about unforeseen obstacles, and the performance did not take place. This is the correct account of the exciting second and last performance, told almost in Wagner's own words, of the composer's only Shakespearian opera.

Of the music, Grove says the score is in the possession of the King of Bavaria at Munich. In the British Museum there is a copy of a carnival song and chorus, very bright and spirited, but with no trace of the later Wagner. There is also a "Carnival scene" for pianoforte, founded on motives from the opera, by Geo. Kirchner. Unfortunately, the first half of this fantasia is the song I have just noticed, with elaborate bravura passages for the piano, but the middle episode is much more like the real man. It is a fairly slow, melodious passage, full of interesting modulations, quite foreshadowing what the composer might do. If the rest of the work is up to this form, and if the score is really in Munich, I hope that it will be published, and performed with better luck than at Wagner's "benefit."

As there has been so little music composed for this play, I will give a short account of as many settings as I can find of the solitary lyric contained in it. Probably the {71} first setting of these words was by Dr John Wilson, born at Faversham, 1595, who is supposed to have sung Balthazar in Much Ado About Nothing, and other similar parts, and to have been mentioned by name in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays.

In this edition (1623) the stage direction runs, "Enter the Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jacke Wilson." This particular song is published in Playford's Select Ayres and Dialogues, published in 1659 for one, two, or three voices, to the theorbo-lute or bass-viol. The words are beautifully set to a quaint and pathetic air, and there is no verbal repetition. Dr Wilson adds the second verse, "Hide, O hide those hills of snow," by Fletcher, to make the song an ordinary length, without futile repetition.

The next setting is by John Weldon, pupil of Henry Purcell, born at Chichester, January 19, 1676, and educated at Eton. This song is interesting, but very florid, and the words are dreadfully ill-treated. Weldon only sets the verse attributed to Shakespeare. The music was on sale at "The Golden Harp and Hoboy" in Catherine Street. Our music-sellers do not call their shops by such pretty names now.

Next on our list comes Johann Ernst Galliard, happily named as a composer of theatre music, one of our earliest German "peaceful penetrators." Born at Zelle, Hanover, in 1687, he soon emigrated to England, where he successfully composed operas and much dramatic music, including this pretty little song, which was published in 1730. He was organist at Somerset House, and, I suppose, played the organ while the clerks filled in birth certificates and made out income-tax forms. He died in London in 1749.

Thomas Chilcot, composer of the next version of these words, was organist at Bath Abbey from 1733 until he died (1766). This song was published in 1745, and is a good example of the period, slightly florid, but very melodious, {72} with a charming accompaniment for stringed orchestra. It is a song that would repay careful study on the part of a high tenor. The second Fletcher verse is added in this version.

Of Christopher Dixon, the composer of the next setting, no mention is made in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and all that seems to be known of him is that he was called "of York," and some cantatas and songs of his are in the British Museum Library. This song, published in 1760, has a flowing, rather sad melody, and the second verse is again used.

A glee for male voices to these words was published about 1780. It was composed by either Tommaso or Giuseppe Giordani, two composer-brothers—probably by the former, who was born at Naples in 1740 and migrated to Dublin in 1761, and wrote a great deal of music to English lyrics. This glee is a charming setting. The part-writing is always graceful, and often very ingenious, the inner parts melodious and interesting, and the whole effective. The composer has adapted this glee for mezzo-soprano solo with harpsichord accompaniment, and a very pretty song it makes.

Jackson of Exeter, as he was generally called, who wrote the celebrated church service known as Jackson in F, has set these words as a duet, with harpsichord accompaniment. The first verse only is taken, but the composer "rings the changes" on the words to such an unhappy extent that it makes quite a long number. Simple, melodious, and graceful, like nearly all of Jackson's secular music, it is not of much value as a serious setting of the words. Strangely enough, it is marked allegro molto, and, should this instruction be carried out literally, the effect would be very curious, taking the words into consideration. The composer was born at Exeter in 1730, and this duet was published in 1780. He was a {73} keen landscape painter, and imitated the style of his friend Gainsborough.

W. Tindal, whose setting was published in 1785, is not mentioned in Grove's Dictionary, and seems to have composed very little music. Six vocal pieces, of which this is No. 2, and eight English, Spanish, and Scottish ballads, one of which is a quaint setting of part of Hamlet's love-letter, "But never doubt I love," are all the compositions of his I can find. This duet is full of clever bits of imitation and good contrapuntal part-writing, and is melodious as well. Tindal also repeats the words almost ad nauseam, and only uses the first verse.

Sir John Andrew Stevenson, Mus.D., composed a glee on these words, which was published in 1795, but is of no great merit.

All that I can discover about Luffman Atterbury is that he was a carpenter before he became a musician, was a musician-in-ordinary to George III., sang at the Handel commemoration of 1784, and died in 1796. He composed one beautiful piece of music, a round in three parts to the first verse of these words, which is really a perfect gem. The melody is simple and beautiful, the counter-melodies are equally taking, and the part-writing is very skilful. What more can one desire?

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