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Incidental Music to Shakespeare's Othello

for violin, piano and narrator

Year:  1944

Year:  1944

Composer:   Douglas Lilburn

Films, Audio & Samples

Sample Audio

Sample: 0'00" - 1'00" (Willow Song)

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Lilburn wrote these seven musical interludes in quasi-Elizabethan style; nonetheless one can still clearly detect his own compositional voice. The most extended music is that for the Willow Song, which in Shakespeare's Othello is sung by Desdemona to her maid Emilia on the eve of the heroine's death. Lilburn knew well how to handle the style of the melancholy vocal lament, translating the repeated 'willow, willow...' refrains of the original song into repeated skips of a falling third, and using the violin's mid-low register. Broken chord accompaniment in the piano imitates the sound of a strummed lute. Lilburn Willow Song was heard together with the premier of two settings of R.A.K. Mason's poems, Song Thinking of Her Dead, and O Fons Bandusiae in a 3YA broadcast on 29 November 1946. It was first performed two years earlier, though, as part of a production of Othello given by the Canterbury University College Drama Society, directed by Ngaio Marsh.

Lilburn Collaborated with Ngaio Marsh in five Shakespeare production sin the early 1940s; Othello was the second. Just as Marsh regarded his musical input highly, so Lilburn considered her to be an outstanding producer: "She had more understanding of Shakespeare than anyone else I have ever met', he observed, 'and an exquisite ear for the music and cadences of his verse'. The first two Shakespearian productions by this able team, of Hamlet and Othello, were a great success, so much so that the Drama Society toured with them to Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.

Contents note

Act 2 Scene 1 "O my fair warrior!" Othello
Fanfare. Adagio/allegretto
Act 2 Scene 3 "And what's he then that says I play the villain." lago
Allegro risoluto
Willow song
Act 5 Scene 2 "...I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate," Othello
Finale andante

Performance history

Performed by Elizabeth Holowell (violin), Dean Sky-Lucas (piano) and Cameron Rhodes (actor) at The Music Theatre, University of Auckland, in Auckland

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