When one thinks of Shakespeare, the language and the stories come to mind. The enduring legacy of the great man continues to spread, to this day, throughout the world. So as an Englishman, it was marvelous to be in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, for a Concert dedicated to his works, and to the truly universal nature of storytelling.
It wasn’t his many masterpieces that were the topic of the concert though, it was the music; the art-form added posthumously. Countless creative minds, some of whom were present in the luxurious ICE Auditorium Hall, have made Film adaptations, Ballet’s, Television shows and so much more over the decades. Genius Composers have written utterly stunning works to go with them as well, including the recipient of the first Kilar Award; Elliot Goldenthal, the man of whom the second half of the concert was dedicated. He told us why writing music for Shakespeare is so fascinating to him:
The thing about Shakespeare in general is that his characters aren’t single layered, they are multi-layered. They can be antagonists and protagonists, sometimes at the same time, and that is musically interesting.
A History Lesson
The Concert began, as all the great ones do, with a palpable air of anticipation. ‘The Beethoven Academy Orchestra,’ led by Conductor Christian Schumann (who I previously interviewed before the festival here) took to the stage, and the musicians tuned their instruments, which always gives me goosebumps for what lies ahead.
The opening pieces took us back to some of the first big adaptations. The Orchestra opened with Miklos Rozsa’s ‘Julius Caesar;’ with its building, militaristic power setting the scene for the night to come. What followed was a stirring, iconic collection of pieces from Nino Rota’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ The emotion was immediately heightened as the melodies, so ingrained in our collective minds, flowed and spiraled around the Hall, giving us all a moment of bliss as we sat there; heads tilted back, eyes glaring, and hearts open.
The audience were then relaxed in their seats, contentedly unaware of the rousing notes to come, as we were taken back even further to 1935, and it was Prokofiev’s turn to showcase his influential ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Known in today’s society because of its popular use in the Television series ‘The Apprentice,’ Prokofiev’s ‘Montagues and Capulets’ is a masterclass of drama, pounding back and forth as the strings and percussion sections march to war.
Back to Recent Times
Next up were the more contemporary adaptations, such as Jocelyn Pook’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and Stephen Warbeck’s ‘Henry IV’ and his Oscar-winning ‘Shakespeare in Love.’ This gorgeous, rich tapestry of music fit perfectly with the overall brilliance of the greats from decades ago, and continued with the high standard of style whilst firmly establishing their own individuality.
Jocelyn Pook took us back to her experiences on ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and described the delicate beauty we heard from the Score:
There are some period instruments in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ The brief was that I could do my own thing. I wasn’t pinned down. I like to have a mixture of early instruments and slightly more unusual juxtapositions of old and new, or just unusual combinations. I was brought in right at the beginning, so it was really great to have that freedom and early participation. I also had to write the music before it was shooting, so the actors could mime to it on-set. The first piece I wrote (which was performed) was used as the end credits to the film.
With ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ it needed to feel plausible that the music in those dialogue-free scenes, that people notice, is grown out of the world itself and is very true to the time. They wanted a theme, a main theme, so I wrote something one day in France and threw it in the film. I don’t really treat Shakespeare any differently than anything else. It is of course the most illuminating voice in all of literature history, but people ask if I’m using traditional instruments in traditional ways, but I just look at the film in the context of my perspective. Anything works if it frees your ability to respond to the material.
The Calm Before the Storm
We knew with ‘Titus’ that there would be a full Orchestra, so we knew there would be rhythmic percussion for the armies, for example. And the metallic sounds and sounds of air and earth. I took the violence very seriously in ‘Titus.’Elliot would support the emotion underneath the performances, and even though there’s a lot of dialogue, people need a break, so they need some visual and musical moments like the hunt in ‘Titus,’ where it’s just the image and the music giving you a breather from the intense and psychological drama. There aren’t many contemporary films that have long soliloquies these days, so Shakespeare keeps language alive.
When it comes to songs, the lyrics are secondary to the drama on-screen. I tried to learn of the way the actor would sing, so it comes from the general manner of which the actor would behave throughout the performance or play. Also when writing the love songs for different ages, it has a completely different resonance. Characters singing to each other romantically makes the music very different when it’s either a 70 year old or a 17 year old.