Musicking Shakespeare

Musicking Shakespeare

A Conflict of Theatres

Daniel Albright


University of Rochester Press



Demonstrates how Purcell, Berlioz, Verdi, and Britten, responding to Shakespeare's juxtaposition of contrasting theatrical styles, devised music dramas that call opera into question.
In this book, Daniel Albright, one of today's most intrepid and vividly communicative explorers of the border territory between literature and music, offers insights into how composers of genius can help us to understand Shakespeare.
Musicking Shakespeare demonstrates how four composers -- Purcell, Berlioz, Verdi, and Britten -- respond to the distinctive features of Shakespeare's plays: their unwieldiness, their refusal to fit into interpretive boxes, their ranting quality, their arbitrary bursts of gorgeousness. The four composers break the normal forms of opera -- of music altogether -- in order to come to terms with the challenges that Shakespeare presents to the music dramatist.
Musicking Shakespeare begins with an analysis of Shakespeare's play The Tempest as an imaginary Jacobean opera and as a real Restoration opera. It then discusses works that respond with wit and sophistication to Shakespeare's irony, obscurity, contortion, and heft: Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, Verdi's Macbeth, Purcell's The Fairy Queen, and Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
These works are problematic in the ways that Shakespeare's plays are problematic. Shakespeare's favorite dramatic device is to juxtapose two kinds of theatres within a single play, such as the formal masque and the loose Elizabethan stage. The four composers studied here respond to this aspect of Shakespeare's art by going beyond the comfort zone of the operatic medium. The music dramas they devise call opera into question.

Daniel Albright is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University.


July 2007
2 black and white, 73 line illustrations
332 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580462556
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC LIT004020, MUS028000, DRA010000
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Table of Contents

The Veronese Social Code
The Code of Love
Love against Language
The Afterlife of Romeo and Juliet
La lance branlée: French Opinions of Shakespeare
Berlioz in the Plural
Roméo et Juliette: Introduction
Roméo et Juliette: The Symphony
Roméo et Juliette: The Opera Resumes
Shakespeare's Random
Magic as Theft
Squinting at Consequences
Macbeth's Children
Macbeth as an Actor
Two Theatres
Witches Amok
Sortileges of Speech
Lady Macbeth as Witch
Time Slips
La Sonnambula
The Picture of Cupid
Depictorializing Cupid
Cupid's Wax
The Tedious Brief Scene
Other Dreams in Other Summers: The Aesthetic of the Masque
Purcell's The Fairy Queen
Lampe's Pyramus and Thisbe
Experimenters: Mendelssohn and Korngold
Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream


Winner, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award, 2008

Engrossing, . . . learned and enlightening discussions of how literature always aspires to the wordless power of music.BIBLIOTHEQUE D'HUMANISME ET RENAISSANCE (Leonard R. N. Ashley)

This lively book draws our attention to conflict with the theatre, (and) to ways dramatic works-be they plays or operas-have the capacity to undermine themselves in a paradoxically productive manner. . . . A rigorously interdisciplinary project. . . . Albright treats composers as literary critics and their works as commentaries upon Shakespeare's texts. . . . Illuminating comparisons. . . . Albright gives us an extremely personal account of these works that displays all the passions and pleasures of reading-and listening to-Shakespeare. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW (Hannah J. Crawforth)

I would urge anyone interested in Shakespeare and music to read (Albright's Volume). . . In the central Macbeth section. . . Albright provides readers with a nuanced and productive interpretive framework for understanding both play and opera. . . . A feisty and often inpirational contribution to Shakespeare Studies and the dialogue between the disciplines. MUSIC AND LETTERS (Julie Sanders)

The strength of this study lies in Albright's understanding of the dramatic meanings of musical performance. . . (Contains) a must-read introduction that discusses a typology of singing characters and how the playwright uses them dramatically. . . . This important contribution to the study of text/music relationships should be in all music collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. CHOICE (George Torres)

A host of penetrating glimpses into the way Shakespeare's mind worked and how composers responded to his plays. Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, Verdi's Macbeth, and a bizarre collection of derivatives of A Midsummer Night's Dream display musical theatre in as many varied costumes as Shakespeare's own creations. Albright lingers over the theatrical and musical treats that the musical imagination can devise in re-working Shakespeare on its own terms. --Hugh Macdonald, Avis Blewett Professor of Music, Washington University

Author Bio

Daniel ALbright is Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Harvard University

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