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ClassicsOnline Home » CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Shakespeare Songs
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968): Shakespeare
Mario Caetelnuovo-Tedeaeo began writing music
as a boy, wills a piann piece Cielo di Settembre (September Sky), composed
when he was fifteen. Born in Florence in 1895, he studied composition there
at the Cherubini Institute of Muaic with Pizzetti, graduating as a pianist in
1914 and in composition in 1918. In the following years he established himself,
with the help of Casella, as one of’ the leading younger composers in Italy.
In 1926 he received the Italian Prize for his opera, La Mandragola (The
Mandrake), based on Machiavelli’s comedy, but by 1939 the rise of anti-Jewish
sentiment forced him to leave Italy, where his family had lived for some four
centuries. He now settled in the United States.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed for a wide variety
of instruments, writing concertos and sonatas, and a large number of piano pieces.
The New York Philharmonic under Toscanini gave the first performance of his
violin concerti in 1931 and 1933, with Jascha Heifetz, end of his cello concerto
in 1935, with Gregor Piatigorsky. The same orchestra under John Barbirolli gave
the first performance of his second piano concerto, with the composer as soloist.
In addition to La Mandragola, Caslelnuovo-Tedesco composed four other
operas, two of them based on plays by Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
in 1956 and All’s Well That Ends Well in the following year.
Shakespeare remained a continuing source of inspiration
for Castelnuovo-Tedesco. From 1921 to 1925 he set 33 songs from the plays, 31
of which, all those for solo voice and piano, are recorded here. In 1944 and
1945 he also set to music 35 of the sonnets. These intimate and varied settings
have an innocent yet piquant charm about them.
 In Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night the
lovelorn Duke Oraino asks his clown to sing Come away, death, to relieve
his sorrow. Ironically he talks of his lover’s pain with Viola, who it herself
in love with him and, shipwrecked on the coast of his dukedom, has disguised
herself as a page, now to be charged with the wooing of Orsino’s beloved Olivia
on her master’s behalf. Like many other songs in this collection, the piano
is used to imitate a plucked instrument in a series of chords.
 Tell me where is fancy bred?, from
The Merchant of Venice, is sung by an unseen singer in the famous
casket scene. Portia, a rich heiress, tests the motives of her suitors by their
choice of one of three caskets, of gold, silver and base lead respectively.
As she had hoped, Basssnio makes the wisest choice, the casket of base lead,
and wine Portia’s hand. His moment of choice is accompanied by the well known
song. The piano alternately imitates the sound of bells and opens up into a
richer sound as fancy is described.
 Under the greenwood tree and  Blow,
blow, thou winter wind are taken from she play As You Like It,
with its satirical treatment of popular pastoral convention. These two songs,
sung by the courtier Amiens, describe life in the forest of Arden for the exiled
court of the banished Duke, ousted by his brother. The songs reflect the harshness
of life and the still harsher sting of man’s ingratitude. The piano is used
to depict the wind, birds chirping sod the hunter’s horn.
 It was a love and his lass it taken
from the same play, sung by the banished Duke’s pages to the cynical clown Touchstone
in the penultimate scene, before all difficulties are resolved. Touchstone describes
the song as containing no great matter.
 Orpheus with his lute made trees appears
in the third act of the historical play Herny VIII, where it is
sung by a girl to comfort Queen Katherine, Katherine of Aragon, whose marriage
to him the King seeks to have annulled. This sad song once again imitates she
melancholy plucked notes of the lute, as the maid hogs to her mistress.
 Who is Silvia, from The Two Gentlemen
of Verona, praises Silvia in a serenade offered by Proteus, together with
her father, the Duke of Milan’s choice of suitor, Thurio, whose claims he pretends
to encourage. Proteus is observed by his former mistress, Julia, who finally
regains his affections.
 For the rain it raineth every day is
sung by the clown in Twelfth Night as an epilogue to the play. Castelnuovo-Tedesco
has the voice and piano alternate the final line of the first four verses, back
and forth in various keys.
 Sigh no more,ladies is sung by Belthazar,
servant to Doe Pedro, Prince of Arragon, in the play Much Ado About Nothing.
The song playfully bids maids beware of men, deceivers ever, a reflection on
the conduct of some of the men in comedy.
 Take, O take those lips away is sung
by a boy to console Mariana, betrothed to the hypocritical Angelo, deputy to
the absent Duke, who has imposed stringent moral laws on the dukedom, while
pursuing his own immoral ends. The composer has carefully adjusted the tessitura
so that the singer may only use the head voice, a matter to which he pays careful
and consistent alteration.
 The clown entertains the drunken Sir Toby
Belch and foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night with O mistress mine.
 The pedlar Antolycus in A Winter’s Tale
is a thief, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, and his songs reflect
his cunning ways. In this song the white sheets make his thieving fingers twitch
 The setting of Desdemona’ s Willow Song,
from the tragedy Othello, is one of Castelnuovos-Tedesco’ dramatic masterpieces.
Here the piano at alternately represents the footsteps of her jealous husband
Othello, as he paces outside her room, the accompaniment to the sad folk-ballad,
the wind, and finally Othello himself, as he comes to kill her.
 In the Roundel from The Merry
Wives of Windsor, those who seek to torment the ambitious and unsuccessful
lover Falstaff in the guise of fairies, dance around him by the haunted oak-tree
at midnight, the scene and place of his proposed assignation with one of the
merry wives of the title.
The piano underscores the incessant tensing of
tire fairies as they surround and torment Falstaff.
 In Timon of Athens Apemantus is the
bitter philosopher who predicts the impending downfall of the generous and trusting
Timon. He alone refuses to take his gifts and stubbornly eats root as the others
dine at Timon’s table, only to ignore his later pleas for help. The gruff accompaniment
to his grace at Timon’s banquet and mocking Amen impart an element of
 In Cymbeline Cloten step-son of Cymbeline,
King of Britain, has musicians play in the ante-chamber of the room where the
King’s daughter, Imogen, lies asleep. She has just been tricked by Iachimo who
hides in a trunk and spies tan her as rise sleeps, only to claim that use lies
shared her bed. The song, with its reference to the god of the sun, Phoebus,
tells her that day has come.
 The treacherous schemer Iago, in the play
Othello, uses the drinking-songs And let me the canakin clink
and King Stephen was a worthy peer to trap Cassio into letting
down his guard so that he can be used as a tool to destroy Othello by provoking
the latter’s jealousy.
 A grave-digger, in the tragedy Hamlet,
sings at his work and cynically tosses out the skulls (which we hear rolling
down the hill in the piano part), as Hamlet observes and comments on his callous
attitude. Castelnuovo-Tedesco has also included the opening melody of Ophelia
in the piano part to underline the irony of Hamlet’s discovery that the grave
is destined for her.
 Ophelia, in the same play, now in
madness, answers Queen Gertrude’s queries with her songs. She mourns her father’s
death at Hamlet’s hand, Hamlet’s cruel rejection of her, and her sorrow at Hamlet’s
Castelnovo-Tedesco captures her unpredictable
and rapid changes of mood, from deep sorrow to bitter memories and sad longing.
 The dialogue between the owl and the cuckoo
offers an entertainment to end the play Love’s Labour’s Lost. Here the
cuckoo represents Ver (Spring) and the owl Hiems (Winter). Here
the composer evokes the cuckoo, the chromatically howling winter wind, the owl
and other sounds front nature.
 The pedlar Autolycus, in A Winter’s Tale,
hawks his wares to simple country-people, whom he is always ready to deceive.
 In Cymbeline the two brothers, Guiderius
and Arviragus, disguised sons of the British King, mourn the apparent deaths
of Imogen, who is actually their sister. The dirge Fear no more the heat
of the sun is solemn in mood, with its heavy chordal accompaniment.
 But shall I go mourn for that, my dear?
and Jog on, jog on, the footpath way are sung by the pedlar
Autolycus in A Winter’s Tale, as he dissembles in front of the countryman
he plans so cheat. The last verse apparently comes from a popular song of Shakespeare’s
time, borrowed, following his common practice.
 In Much Ado About Nothing musicians
mourn the supposed death of Hero, falsely accused and jilted by her lover Claudio,
but soon to be united in marriage with him. Is his sad lament, the chime of
the wedding bells can be heard, underlining the irony of this mock entombment.
 What shall he have that kill’d the deer?,
with its cynical implications, is sung by foresters in As You Like It as
the request of the melancholy Jaques, who has followed the banished Duke into
exile in the Forest of Arden.
 Castelnuovo-Tedesco tells the sad story of
King Lear through the six songs of The Fool from the tragedy King
Lear. The storm rages around the King as the Fool pleads with him to understand
his folly. The Fool, here the voice of reason, becomes more desperate with each
song, until he becomes resigned to the fate of this father who has been betrayed
by his two elder daughters and has rashly cast aside the loyal youngest.
 The spirit Ariel, in the service of Prospero,
the banished Duke of Milan, in The Tempest, is soon to be released, as
Prospero prepares to bring matters to head, later to abjure his magic. Where
the bee suchs celebrates the life of Ariel in coming freedom.
 In the same play Stephano, the drunken butler of the usurping Duke of
Milan, now wrecked on Prospero’s island through the latter’s magic, sings a
sailor’s song, I shall no more to sea, the raucous mood aptly
captured the composer.
 Arielprovides a contrast in Come
unto these yellow sands. The spirit lures the victims of Prospero’s magical
storm on through she enchanted island where they will undergo various trials.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco sets the stage with the seductive sound of the waves and
the frightening echoes of the deep, the howling of wild beats and the hell tolling
a drowned man’s knell.
 Caliban, in the same play, a native
of the island, enslaved by Prospero, grumbles at his lot as he drinks more and
more of the wine given him by his new master, the disreputable drunken butler,
 To celebrate the marriage of his daughter
Miranda with Feadinand, son of the King of Naples, among those ship-wrecked
in the storm, Prospero provides an epithalamium. In a masque, offered
through his magic power, Juno and Ceres each sing a verse of different character
invoking blessings on the couple. Castelnuovo-Tedesco follows the songs with
an extended wedding march. The arpeggiated chords here suggest wedding hells
in happy celebration.
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CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Shakespeare Songs