Though no scores are included in his published works, William Shakespeare frequently employed music in his plays, writing poems for new songs and adopting existing ballads. Numerous characters allude to then-popular tunes while composers such as Thomas Morley and Robert Johnson also contributed original compositions.
Next week, the acclaimed period music trio Ensemble Chaconne, joined by mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal, will present a concert of songs associated with Shakespeare’s oeuvre.
The performance, titled “Measure for Measure: The Music of Shakespeare’s Plays,” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6, in Edison Theatre.
“Some of the most prominent Elizabethan and Jacobean composers wrote music for the Bard’s plays,” said Ensemble Chaconne’s Olav Chris Henriksen, who performs on lute, theorbo and guitar.
Morley, who served as organist for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in Elizabethan England, published setting to “Twelfth Night,” “Henry V” and “As You Like It.” Meanwhile Johnson, who served as composer to the court of James I, wrote music to Shakespeare’s lyrics for songs in “The Tempest.”
“Throughout the plays, Shakespeare refers to ballad tunes in passing” Henriksen said. “His audience was familiar with the songs and their stories, and they serve as shortcuts in conveying various ideas and circumstances.”
For example Ophelia, descending into madness in “Hamlet,” quotes several contemporary ballads, while Sir John Falstaff, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” refers to the song “Fortune My Foe,” with which bystanders often taunted prisoners being led to the gallows.
“‘Greensleeves,’ the famous ballad tune, is mentioned twice in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,'” Henriksen said. “It’s largely forgotten today that the title refers to ladies of ill repute, who were recognized by their green sleeves.”
Also on the program will be “The Lord Souches Maske,” which was frequently used as an opening piece for Shakespeare’s plays, followed by Morley’s “O Mistress Mine,” which is sung by Feste in “Twelfth Night”; “La Volto” from “Henry V”; and “It Was a Lover and His Lasse” from “As You Like It.”
Johnson is represented by songs from “The Tempest” as well as by three compositions that, following Shakespeare’s death, became popularly associated with “Macbeth”: the first and second “Witches’ Dance” and “Come Away, Hecate.”
Rounding out the program will be the songs “Hark, Hark! The Lark”, “Take, O Take Those Lips Away” and “The Willow Song”; “Callino Casturame,” an Irish/English ballad quoted in “Henry V”; and several songs written for the rogue balladeer Autolycus in “The Winter’s Tale.”
In addition to Henriksen, Ensemble Chaconne includes Peter H. Bloom on Renaissance and Baroque flutes and Carol Lewis on viola da gamba. The three musicians have performed together since 1985, while also appearing in solo recitals and concerts with other ensembles.
Dellal — a frequent guest artist with Ensemble Chaconne — is a founding member of Favella Lyrica and a member of the Blue Heron Renaissance Choir. She has appeared in concert in major cities in Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan.
The concert is sponsored by the Performing Arts Department, the Departments of Music and English, both in Arts & Sciences, and by Edison Theatre.
Tickets — $5 for students, $10 for faculty, staff and seniors and $15 for the public — are available through the Edison Theatre box office. For more information, call 935-5566.