Inspired by the Bard Conductor's Notes

Conductor’s Notes – “Inspired by the Bard” March 26, 2017

FCS Monte's Memos

Throughout history artists have inspired and been inspired by artists of their acquaintance and of previous periods. At the March 26, 2017 concert, “Inspired by the Bard,” we will present for you three works drawing on the genius of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). His many plays created a wealth of characters and plot lines calling out for musical treatment.

German composer Otto Nicolai (1810 – 1849) was greatly admired in his lifetime and was a founder of the Vienna Philharmonic. He wrote six operas, five in Italian as was standard then even in Germany, and one in German. That one, based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor was his greatest success. It was premiered in March of 1849 and a mere two months later, on May 11, he had a stroke and died at age 39. The sprightly overture is a favorite in concert halls around the world.

In 1873 a 33 year old Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) was given a plan and scenario for a concert work by his friend Vladimir Stassov (1824 – 1906), a dominant critic and voice for the arts in Russia. Already in 1869 Tchaikovsky had chosen a Shakespeare inspired theme writing his overture – fantasy Romeo and Juliet . In only eleven days he wrote and orchestrated a similar piece based on The Tempest. The music depicts the stillness of the sea, the storm, Ariel and Caliban, the love of Fernando and Miranda, and concludes by returning to the sea and Prospero. Although beautiful and highly effective, The Tempest never received the accolades that greeted Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky would look to Shakespeare again in 1891, writing an overture and incidental music for Hamlet. We are pleased to present The Tempest today for the first time in Milwaukee in many years.

Now considered one of the landmark ballets and compositions for the ballets, Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofieff (1891 – 1953) had a complicated start. When premiered in 1935, the ballet was given a happy ending to conform to the Soviet Union’s many regulations for artistic works. It was not well received, and Prokofieff undertook substantial rewriting of the music, also reverting to the traditional ending. He made suites from the full score which were widely played and admired. The new version of the full ballet was premiered in 1938 in Czechoslovakia and wouldn’t be given a full production in Russia until 1940. Shakespeare’s range of drama and characters are fully shown. Also included are crowd dances and ethnic dances as were so popular in ballets of the time. Our selections include: The Montagues and Capulets; Young Juliet; Minuet; Masques; Romeo and Juliet; Death of Tybalt; and Romeo in the Tomb.

We hope you enjoy our program and may be inspired to read or reread some of Shakespeare’s plays or verse. It always enriches. And join us for our season finale on May 7, featuring a grand scale work by America’s first acknowledged woman composer.