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Edward Elgar

Blog 14

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The amount of inspiration Shakespeare has given composers is astonishing. Even though Shakespeare was British, it is a testament to his genius that he was recognized as an inspirational figure abroad.

The most notable works inspired by Shakespeare (for me) are Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Prokofiev's Rome and Juliet, Verdi's Othello. If anyone can direct my attention to any more I'd appreciate that.

So why Shakespeare and why does he keep popping up in the Romantic era? Probably the most famous play ever written is Hamlet, followed by Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and King Lear. I'd struggle to give you five other play writers let alone their plays. These are also quality works that explore themes of life, death and love. These are the themes that Romantic composers were obsessed about so it's not really surprising that they clung to Shakespeare for inspiration.

Is there any future for Shakespeare in classical music? What elements of Shakespeare could lend themselves to contemporary music? There is madness, conflict and terror, I suppose that's a start! If anyone has any thoughts on this subject I'd be interested to hear them. Also, if anyone knows of a contemporary piece of music that uses Shakespeare as an influence, I'd be exited to know. As you can tell I have yet to fully explore this topic!


  1. emiellucifuge's Avatar
    Some others I know of:

    Belioz - Romeo et Juliette
    Liszt - Hamlet
    Nystroem - Symphony No. 4 'Sinfonia Shakespeariana'
    Dvorak - Otello
    Otto Nicolai - The Merry wives of windsor
    Dag Wiren - the Merchant of Venice
    Sullivan - the Tempest
    Larsson - A Winter's Tale
    Schumann - Julius Caesar
    Cimarosa - Cleopatra
  2. Edward Elgar's Avatar
    Thanks, I'm listening to Liszt's Hamlet right now. I'm so glad that a great composer has tackled Shakespeare's best work.
  3. Air's Avatar
    Verdi adored Shakespeare. Besides Otello there's also Hamlet, Macbeth and Falstaff (based on The Merry Wives of Windsor), the last being his ultimate opera and one of the great ones. Another two famous Shakespeare operas are Gounod's Romeo et Juliette and Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Delius's opera A Village Romeo and Juliet is a version of the Romeo and Juliet story too with basic plot elements of family rivalry, love, fate, and death which no doubt was influenced by Shakespeare's play. The section titled "Walk to the Paradise Garden" contains some of his absolute best music.

    One of Sibelius's last great works was the incidental music he wrote to the Tempest, written alongside with Tapiola. Another interesting one is Henry V. The play has had several films based upon it, including Olivier's 1944 propaganda film that features a brilliant score written by William Walton. There is a highly-condensed suite based upon the score, but I still think it is crucial to hear it as a whole in order to truly experience it. There are a lot of intricacies that the condensed version cannot bring out, and it fits Shakespeare's original play much better as a longer work. Walton also wrote film scores for Hamlet and Richard III which I can imagine are equally wonderful.
    Updated May-15-2011 at 03:25 by Air
  4. Edward Elgar's Avatar
    I've performed the Walton suite of Henry V! The programme had the embarrassing but highly amusing typo, "Touch her soft lips and parts"! I need to get that film on DVD.
  5. Air's Avatar
    Freudian slip?