Every now and then the deputy musical directors of Auckland Choral Society are invited to jointly conduct a concert. In 1999 this took the form of a ’subscriber’s bonus’ concert, containing works requiring minimal accompaniment forces. Early discussions lead us in the direction of a Shakespeare-themed concert. In addition to conducting some American settings of Shakespeare, I decided to write a new cycle using Shakespearean texts. Given the nature of the intended concert, I wanted to write a work which was immediately approachable and contained an element of fun. My original intention was to compose a cycle based on references to flowers in Shakespeare’s writings, as I had a copy of a book which detailed them. However, it soon became apparent that many references were part of texts which were not suitable for a musical setting : some were conversational and others merely a passing mention of a flower. I broadened my scope a little and fashioned a sequence of seven texts which all refer in some way to things botanical and/or seasonal. The first text is from ‘As You Like It’ and sets the well-known ‘it was a lover and his lass’ in a jazzy idiom. A complete contrast of mood is presented in ‘Come, buy’ from ‘The Winter’s Tale’, where the words detail a variety of items which might be purchased to charm a lady. The third piece is a short setting of ‘Hark, hark the lark’ from ‘Cymberline’. Unlike Schubert’s well-known setting, this lark is rather boisterous and rowdy! The music owes more than a little to mid-twentieth century film music, perhaps a film involving a frenetic chase sequence! The centerpiece of the cycle is a setting of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnet ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (sonnet 18). Here the women’s voices are heard on their own, with the 2nd altos given a rare chance to take the limelight. The fifth piece is a reflective setting of ‘I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows’ from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Initially unison voices present the melody, breaking into harmony only for the second half of the song. Throwing caution to the wind, the sixth piece is a madcap, cartoonish setting of ‘When daisies pied’ from ’Love’s Labour’s Lost’. Where better to end the cycle than with the ‘flower-power’ era of the 1960’s and a swinging version of ‘Under the greenwood tree’ from ‘As You Like It’, using just about every harmonic cliche of the music of that time. ‘A Shakespeare Garland’ was written for, and is dedicated to, Auckland Choral Society who gave the first performance.
Shakespeare. Combination of As you like it; The winter's Tale; Cymbeline; Sonnet; A Midsummer night's dream; Love's Labour's Lost