HENRY PURCELL Suite from A Midsummer
Purcell called his late theatrical work The
Fairy Queen, but it was a typical “semi-opera” of the late 17th century,
consisting of spoken play with actors (in this case a version of A Midsummer
Night’s Dream heavily adapted, apparently by Elkanah Settle) alternating
with a series of musical sections with elaborate staging effects, totally
unrelated to the plot of the play. Such a production guaranteed that audiences
got their money’s worth.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY The Tempest, Op. 18
After Tchaikovsky had started to
make a name for himself with his fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet (generally regarded as his first masterpiece) and
first two symphonies, his friend, critic Vladimir Stasov, helped him map out a
new piece, evidently turning once more to Shakespeare in the hope that lightning
would strike twice.
choosing to write a purely orchestral work as an “overture” that evoked
particular characters and incidents from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest may
lack the narrative drive of the earlier score, which is heard far more often,
but it contains the romantic heart of the story, which clearly attracted the
composer most strongly.
LUIGI DALLAPICCOLA Piccola musica notturna
taking his title from Mozart’s Eine
kleine Nachtmusik (both translate as “A little night music”), Dallapiccola
composed a short, evocative night piece for a festival of music to be presented
for young audiences in 1954.
Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Op. 60
Mendelssohn is not generally regarded as a particularly dramatic composer (his
only “operas” are short, lighthearted works written in his youth), his concert
setting of Goethe’s pantheistic poem about pagan ritual in the dark forests of
northern Europe betrays a real theatrical character. It played a large role in
the development of secular cantatas for chorus, soloists, and orchestra in the
Romantic era and beyond.