For their February 2013 cover story, the editors of BBC Music magazine came up with a list of the 50 most influential people in the history of music. Bach was on it, as you might expect, but so was Shakespeare.
Any music lover can see the logic in that, and reel off pieces like Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy entitled “Romeo and Juliet,” or all the great operas based on Shakespeare’s plays, ranging from Verdi’s “Falstaff” to a recent setting of “The Tempest” by Thomas Adès.
And speaking of “The Tempest,” in New York on today’s date in 1981, Sharon Robinson premiered a new solo cello suite she commissioned from the American composer Ned Rorem, a work entitled “After Reading Shakespeare.” One section of the new suite was titled “Caliban,” after a memorable figure in “The Tempest”—others after Shakespearean characters like Lear, Portia, or Titania and Oberon.
“Yes,” says Rorem, “I was re-reading Shakespeare the month the piece was accomplished… Yet the experience did not so much inspire the music itself as provide a cohesive program upon which the music be might formalized, and thus intellectually grasped by the listener. Indeed, some of the titles were added AFTER the fact, as when parents christen their children.”
After all, as Shakespeare’s Juliet might put it, “What’s in a name?”
Music Played in Today's Program
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)After Reading ShakespeareSharon Robinson, celloNaxos 8.559316