This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
William Shakespeare wrote songs into his plays. He also wrote poems and sonnets, some of the best ever. Naturally, over the years composers have put these to music. I'm going to feature some of these today.
There is a mixture of composers who actually worked with Will at the time, up to others who wrote the music just this year. This year is sort of important as it's 400 years since Will turned his toes up.
That most prolific of composers, Anon, starts the ball rolling today. To perform Mr or Ms A's composition we have ALFRED DELLER.
Alf was (and probably still is) the best known counter-tenor. This singing style replaced the previous castrato and is an improvement over that as the singer retains all the requisite parts of his anatomy.
Alf's contribution is
Coming right up to date we have DAVID GILMOUR.
Dave is best known for being a member of the group Pink Floyd which he joined as a replacement for founder Syd Barrett when Syd went off the rails in a big way.
Dave performs probably the most famous of Will's sonnets, number 18. That's the one that starts, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate..." and so on.
Speaking of "best knowns", BRYN TERFEL is almost certainly the world's best known bass-baritone.
Bryn has sung in every famous opera house on the planet and a lot of other places as well. His song is It Was a Lover and his Lass from As You Like It. This was set to music by Gerald Finzi, who was a British composer best known for his choral works.
FLORENCE WELCH is the songwriter and singer for the English band Florence and the Machine.
She (and they) has (have) had several albums that topped the charts but I'm afraid that I missed those. I haven't missed her Shakespeare though, and she performs Sonnet 29 (When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes).
PHILIPPE SLY is another bass-baritone.
Phil was born and bred in Canada which is where he received his training. These days he's a member of the San Francisco Opera. He performs Hey, ho, the Wind and the Rain, a song from Twelfth Night.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT recently released a complete album devoted to Will.
Rufe certainly has musical pedigree – his father is Loudon the third, mother Kate McGarrigle (making his aunt Kate's sister Anna). His sister Martha is also a singer and writer of songs (ones that bare her soul to a considerable degree). His step-mother is Suzzy Roche, and I'd better stop there as I'm running out of space.
I've selected Sonnet 20 from his album, that's the one about a woman's face.
The musical HAIR had some Shakespeare in it.
This might or might not surprise you. In my collection, whenever I collected this, I just labeled it "Hair" so I have no idea which version it is or who is singing (because that was quite a while ago). It's a chorus, so there are several people anyway.
What they perform is What a Piece of Work Is Man, from Hamlet.
IAN BOSTRIDGE and ANTONIO PAPPANO recorded an album of Will's songs.
Ian did the singing and Tony tickled the ivories. The song I've selected was again written by Gerald Finzi, who is a bit of a one for putting tunes to Will's songs. In this case it's Who is Silvia? from Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Australian national treasure and most famous singer/songwriter PAUL KELLY was another who released an album this year devoted to the works of Will.
From that I have taken Sonnet 138. This one starts "When my love swears she is made of truth..." It sounds rather like one of Paul's own songs. He must have studied the master's works closely.
I originally had this last song pencilled in first to be performed by Alfred Deller. However, on hearing EMMA KIRKBY perform it I knew she had to be the one, and Alf got a different song.
Emma is one of the finest performers of early music and I can testify to her greatness as I had the good fortune of seeing and hearing her here in Melbourne.
From The Tempest, Emma sings Where the Bee Sucks, There Lurk I.