Three Shakespeare Songs
SA or SAB and piano
Composer’s note: From a chronological point of view, my Three Shakespeare Songs began with ‘Hark, hark, the lark’—a setting that I originally made for upper voices. For this set I added a new Tenor/Bass part, and made it the centrepiece of two more Shakespeare settings.
The set begins with ‘Full fathom five’, from The Tempest, which is full of magic and mystery. Here the spirit Ariel sings of a drowned figure who lies five fathoms (30 feet) deep and who is magically transformed; ostinatos and deep bass chords help to conjure up the atmosphere.
In Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, musicians are summoned to perform ‘a wonderful sweet air with admirable rich words’—‘Hark, hark, the lark’. This poem is an episode of gentleness amid a tale of deceit, rivalry, and seduction, and in my setting the piano suggests the singing of the lark while the voices communicate the sense of expressive calm.
The third song is ‘You spotted snakes’, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here the fairies sing a lullaby and song of protection for Titania, their queen. This is a lovely poem to inspire a composer, with its changes of mood between the spiky depiction of snakes and other ‘evil’ creatures, and the calm and soothing lullaby sections. The three songs may be sung separately or as a set, and all are to be found in The Oxford Book of Flexible Choral Songs.