Five Works of Music Inspired by William Shakespeare
By Celia Casey
Long admired for their poetic expression and dramatic truth, Shakespeare’s plays have inspired countless creative works, including those of a number of esteemed composers. We take a look at five of our favourites.
1. Felix Mendelssohn - Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.21
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of Felix Mendelssohn’s favourite plays and it inspired him to write this stand-alone concert work at the age of seventeen. Dramatic, downward leaps in clarinet and violin imitate the hee-hawing of the donkey-headed craftsman Bottom, while fast-paced, scurrying violins evoke the scampering feet of mischievous fairies of the forest.
2. Jean Sibelius - The Tempest, Op.109
Based on the final play that Shakespeare wrote, Sibelius’ incidental music for The Tempest was written for solo vocalists, choir, orchestra, and a harmonium, or pump organ. He uses the orchestra to its full capacity to create rich, exciting orchestral colours, while different instruments illustrate individual characters. The Prelude evokes a gusty storm at sea.
3. Sergei Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet Suites
The dramatic, romantic tale of Romeo and Juliet was the inspiration behind the beautiful music of three orchestral suites by Prokofiev. Originally conceived as a ballet, the romantic score is studded with musical imagery – sword fights, Romeo’s skittish puppy and lush melodies portraying the tragic lovers. You can hear our favourite excerpts from these suites in our highly anticipated Romeo and Juliet concert next year, including ‘Montagues and Capulets’, with the exhilarating ‘Dance of the Knights’ at 1:18.
4. Guiseppe Verdi - Macbeth
Verdi’s score to this opera reflects the harsh reality of the play’s macabre storyline. Revised for a French audience, it includes a passionate aria for the character of Lady Macbeth.
5. Hector Berlioz - Le Roi Lear Overture Op.4
Berlioz was inspired by the work of many writers, but most of all Shakespeare, who he though of as his muse. He composed Le Roi Lear Overture shortly after he had been awarded the Prix de Rome. It has two sections: one dark and despondent; the other colourful and dramatic.