What's YOUR Favorite Shakespeare Music?

Apr 23, 2014

It MAY be SHAKEspeare's BIRTHday, SO they SAY, and WHAT muSIcian can reFRAIN from PLAY? That is (to drop the iambic pentameter) from the fun of listing favorite Shakespeare-inspired classical works? Below are a couple of lists from other sources, followed by my own additions and comments. What would make YOUR list? Let us know on our Facebook page or on twitter @IPRClassical, or by email (bsherman@iowapublicradio.org)  - and whatever you choose, Happy Shakespeare Day!

William Blake's 1786 painting of Oberon, Titania, and Puck - painted before Mendelssohn defined them musically!
Credit wikipedia

I love the list put up by our friends at Performance TodayI'm a little puzzled by the one from Gramophone which wouldn't bother me except for their indefensible title, "Top-10 Shakespeare-inspired works." With  a hey and ho and a hey nonny-no, I realize that there are no right or wrong answers; still, I'll boldface the ones I personally would choose, and then add some of my own favorites at the end.

- Performance Today (The great thing about their list is that they give youtube video for each piece):

1. Giuseppe Verdi's Otello

2. Jean Sibelius's Tempest incidental music

3. Hector Berlioz, Romeo and Juliet

4. Claude Debussy, Le roi Lear

5. Bedrich Smetana, Richard III

6. Edward Elgar, Falstaff

7. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Much Ado about Nothing

8. Henry Purcell, The Fairy Queen

9. George Frideric Handel, Julius Caesar

10. Samuel Barber, Anthony and Cleopatra

  - Gramophone (their list links to their reviews of favorite recordings):

1.  Piotr Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet

2. Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff

3. Edward Elgar, Falstaff [Note: it made both lists!]

4. Hector Berlioz, Romeo and Juliet [Also made both lists. And the composer's, too -  The "Love Scene" was his favorite among all of his works. I'll embed a video of a beautiful performance:]

5. Hector Berlioz, Beatrice et Benedict

6. Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet

7. Piotr Tchaikovsky, Hamlet [Forgive the snarky comment, but: Really? I do love Tchaikovsky, but this doesn't seem to me his very best music.]

8. Giuseppe Verdi, Otello [made both lists with good reason; it's better than the play!]

9. Gioachino Rossini, Otello [Odd choice, whatever its merits]

10. Thomas Ades, The Tempest [One of the best operas of our time. Good choice!]

- And finally, here are a few I would add:

1. Felix Mendelssohn, Midsummer Night's Dream (The overture and incidental music that defined how "fairy music" sounded and how the play was understood for over a century.  I'm puzzled that it wasn't on either of the above lists, but maybe they figured it's too familiar? Anyway, here's a lovely performance)

2. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music (utterly magical setting of a text from The Merchant of Venice)

3. Franz Schubert, An Silvia (German setting of the text "Who is Silvia? What is she/ That all our swains commend her?" from Two Gentlemen of Verona. Schubert's piano part, by the way, is meant to evoke a lute):

4. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Four Shakespeare Songs - sung here by the great Anne-Sofie von Otter:

5. Benjamin Britten, A Midsummer Night's Dream (wonderful opera)