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In Search of Settings of Shakespeare Texts

Greetings Listers,
I'm in the process of compiling a list of repertoire for next year's concerts. Winter will be loosely programmed around settings of Shakespearian texts and be entitled, "A Winter's Tale" The spring concert in conjunction with our GSA on campus and our Tolerance Workshops will be presenting a concert entitled, "Does it Really Matter: Music by Gay and Lesbian Composers". Any titles or composers that you feel are worth a look or listen would be much appreciated. I would like to have my list to mull over during the first several weeks of summer. As always, thank you in advance for your wisdom and suggestions.
Bruce Lengacher
Acalanes High School
Lafayette, CA
Replies (25): Threaded | Chronological
on April 22, 2011 1:14pm
This two separate requests, right? There are ChoralNet resources for:
on April 22, 2011 3:17pm
Hi Bruce,
One of the best settings of Shakespeare I know is Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music. If you're looking for solo repertoire to mix it up, I would suggest Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring, which sets five different Shakespeare texts. Good luck in your search.
on April 23, 2011 12:04am
Matthew Harris has a large number of wonderfully set Shakespeare texts.  I'm only familiar with books one and two, but they are really well written, and I only imagine the rest of his settings are equally wonderful.
If you have a really nuanced ensemble, take a look at Vaughan William's setting of "Full Fathom Five."  Other titles and composers off the top of my head for high school choirs are:
Full Fathom Five - Charles Wood
Fear no more the heat o' the sun - John Cook
Give me my Romeo - Christopher Delp
Shakespeare Songs - Matthew Harris (Personal favorites are Who is Sylvia? and and Tell me, Where is fancy bread?  
Hope this helps!
on April 23, 2011 6:12am
Here is the performance of "Shakespeare's Kiss" for SATB performed at the Ithaca College Choral Composition/Festival by the Ward Melville HS Camarata.
It is currently avaialble through as well.
If you would like a perusal score - please contact me directly as crickb88(a)
on April 23, 2011 6:59am

Hi, Bruce.
For your winter concert, please consider my Shakespeare setting "That time of year" composed in 2010, ECS Publishing #7740.
Kindly follow this liink
to hear the wolrd premiere performance by the Saint Joseph Valley Camerata, David A. Seitz, music director.
A couple of other titles in the publisher's catalog that come to mind are
"Dirge from Cymbeline" by Conrad Susa (SATB, Trumpet), ECS Publishing #4405, and
"Shakespeare Madrigals" by Gregg Smith (SATB), ECS Publishing #5453.

For your spring concert, please consider "Elegy for Matthew" (Matthew Shepard) by David Conte (SATB, Piano or Orchestra), ECS Publishing #5470.

Thank you for your consideration.

Stanley M. Hoffman

on April 23, 2011 2:28pm
Hi Bruce,
I am actually doing such a program with my college choirs,  both SATB and SSA.
Here's a rough list

Blow blow thou winter wind                           Rutter        SATB
Some say that ever 'gainst the season comes                           Beverly Lewis    SSA
Come Away Death                    Brahms        SSA
You Spotted Snakes                    Mendehlssohn    SSA
To This House Give Glimmering Light        Mendehlssohn    SSA
 from Midsummer Night's Dream
BOOK 1(5 volumes)
Hark, Hark! The Lark                    Harris        SATB
Full Fathom Five                        Harris        SATB
Who is Silvia                        Harris        SATB
Who is Silvia                         Baksa      SATB
Dirge  (Come Away Death)                               Rorem        SATB
Live With Me                        Rorem        SATB 

Serenade to Music                    VaughanWilliams    SATB
Three Madrigals  (also for SSA)
O Mistress Mine                        Diemer        SATB             
Take O take those lips                    Diemer        SATB
Sigh No More Ladies                    Diemer        SATB

It was a lover and his lass                Morley        SATB

Songs and Sonnets  (my favorite)             Shearing        SATB, piano and String Bass
Birthday Madrigals          Rutter (not doing this one,  but is was inspired by Shearing's work)
I must say,  it was a fun program to research.
Good luck.
John Cuk
Director of Choirs
Manhattanville College
on April 23, 2011 12:38pm
For the Winter concert, the only thing of mine I can think of would be NUAGES for SATB & string quartet. 5 mninutes. The word "nuages" (clouds) is the full text. Also, you might consider Debussy's "Yvers, vous n'est q'un villain" or some such spelling. (Winter, you're nothing but a villain.)
For your Spring concert, I'd recommend composers Emma Lou Diemer and Jennifer Higdon.
John Biggs
on April 23, 2011 11:58pm
I have to mention 4 Shakespear Songs, More Shakespear Songs and No More Shakespeare Songs? by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi. Highly recommended. Scores can be found at SuLaSol.
on April 24, 2011 8:33pm
I have composed Three Shakespeare Songs for trebles SSA, trumpet, and piano.
1.  Hark, hark, the lark
2.  Blow, blow thou winter wind
3.  Orpheus with his lute
also Harmony of the Spheres for SATB, horn, and piano
(or SSA instead of SATB) using words from The Merchant of Venice.
I can send scores and recordings if you wish.  
Brian Holmes
San Jose
on April 25, 2011 6:29am
Hi Brian,
I would love to have recordings if they are available. You can either email them to me as mp3's or use snail mail to the address below. I appreciate your input.
Bruce Lengacher 1200 Pleasant Hill Rd.
Lafayette, CA 94549
on April 25, 2011 4:26am
Amy Beach composed three Shakespeare songs for women's voices.
19th Century American woman composer.
Published by Treble Clef Press.
on April 25, 2011 4:47am
Listen to the choral composition GOOD NIGHT based on the famous Shakesoeare-words,
published by HELBLING
on April 25, 2011 6:49am
If you have access to a good harpist, take a look at "Harpsonnets," a setting of four Shakespeare sonnets for SATB and harp by James Bassi, published by Oxford University Press.  They're extremely well-written and suitable for a good high school chorus, college chorus, or community choir. 
Good luck!
Susan Medley
on April 26, 2011 10:20pm
I've recently composed a piece titled "The Rest is Silence" for SATB and piano. The text is taken from the last scene of Hamlet. I'd be happy to send a score/recording. 
Philip King
on April 27, 2011 7:39am

A Shakespeare music catalogue

on April 27, 2011 4:23pm
Some of my favorite Shakespeare settings (thanks to Richard Sparks!)
Songs of Ariel - Frank Martin
Fancies - Sven-Eric Johansen - fabulous miniatures with piano.
George Shearing - Music to Hear - jazz influenced in a classical idiom.
There's a couple great PDQ Bach settings - I think from the Liebeslieder Polkas?  "It Was A Lover and His Lass" is one of them. 
on April 28, 2011 9:48am
Please consider my work for women's chorus and piano called Wise Words of Love. Nine short movements, total duration 14 minutes.
Rebecca Oswald
on April 29, 2011 3:14am
For Women's Chorus - three settings from Midsummernight's Dream by Cary Ratcliff.  I think published by Boosey.  Fresh, inventive and wonderful!
on May 19, 2011 12:16am
You might check out my five Shakespeare Sonnets. Audio and score excerpts are available here:
on May 20, 2011 5:13am
If you would like to consider my setting of While You Here Do Snoring Lie (SATB - a cappella), I'd be happy to send you the score.
Steve Murray
on May 22, 2011 12:19am
Bruce -- For your workshop, if the theme of religious tolerance fits, consider "Ecumencial Meditation" for SATB, flute, clarinet, cello and piano.  It just premiered in Vienna's Stephansdom as a commission to help commemorate the 1700th anniversary of an imperial Roman tolerance act (Edict of Nikomedia).  It uses phrases from 8 religions and 9 languages.  Audio, score and details at this link to its info page on my website.  cheers,
Christopher J. Hoh
on May 22, 2011 8:44am
Hi Bruce,
Just noticed your request, otherwise I would have replied right away.  Matthew Harris has five books of Shakespeare Songs.  My chamber choir is singing three of them June 5.  I had room for only three of settings on this concert so my problem was to choose ONLY three.  They are charming and fun! We are doing "Hark, Hark the Lark", "Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred" and "There Was A Lover and His Lass"---my singers really like them and I plan to do several more of them when I have a chance.  His 'Who is Sylvia" is FUNKY.....and I love the Pheonix Bach Choir's recording of a few of them---shout out to David Topping!  Amongst them, there is sure to be one or two to fit what you need.
Marie Grass Amenta, founder and music director
the Midwest Motet Society
on May 23, 2011 2:34am
Track Down James Valcq and find his "Two Shakespeare Songs".  Private published for now.  Outstanding pieces, well received when we premiered them.  If you have difficulty finding him write to me drmjg(a) and I will pass on the information
Mark Jon Gottschalk
on May 23, 2011 4:43am
William Mathias has some wonderful Shakespeare settings.
Also check out the works by George Shearing.  Very jazzy, obviously.  The Vancouver Chamber Choir recorded one set of them, Music To Hear.
on June 4, 2011 7:09pm
Our Shakespeare concert was springtime a few years ago, and we included other Elizabethan poets in the mix, but here is what we did:
  • “It was a Lover and his Lass” - Thomas Morley (1557?-1602)               
  • Songs from Shakespeare (1974) - Robert Jordahl (1926-2008)
  • Two songs from Twelfth Night (1989, rev. 2010) - Nathaniel G. Lew (b. 1967)
  • “It was a Lover and his Lass” from Songs from Shakespeare (1972) - Harry Freedman (1922-2005)
  • Songs of Springtime (excerpts) (1931) - Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950)
  • “To Daffodils,” from Five Flower Songs (1950) - Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
  • (Intermission)
  • Three Shakespeare Songs (1951) - Ralph Vaughan Williams (1874-1958)
  • “It was a Lover and his Lass” (1982) - Ward Swingle (b. 1927)
  • Songs from Shakespeare (excerpts) (1972) - Harry Freedman
  • “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” - Robert J. S. Stevens (1757-1837)
  • “Under the Greenwood Tree” from Four Shakespeare Songs (2005) - Martha Sullivan (b. 1965)
  • “It was a Lover and his Lass” (1976) - John Rutter (b. 1945)
The Freedman pieces in particular were a fantastic find: hard and sophisticated but worth the trouble.  He was a major Canadian choral composer whose works deserve to be MUCH better known, and his music is all available from the Canadian Music Service.  The Sullivan set is very challenging but a good group can take it on.  We did the most straightforward of the four, which is really beautiful.  You can get them from her at  The Jordahl group is very short and we got in "samizdat" since it is long out of print, and I have my own pieces of course.  The rest are in print.  The Vaughan Williams are masterpieces.
In putting together the program I made the following list from my research.  Most of these pieces I didn't look at or even look up to see if they are really choral works with Shakespeare texts, but a few I did and rejected because they were not what I needed: not to my taste, unaccompanied, too long or short, etc.  
  • Baksa: Under the Greenwood Tree; O Mistress Mine Alex. Broude
  • Berger, Jean (1909-2002), Three Roundelays
  • Bird, Hubert – The Hallowed Season
  • Boyd, O Mistress Mine, Classic Artists
  • Brahms - four songs for women, horns, harp, #2
  • Bush, Geoffrey (1920-1998), The Sweet Season
  • Chatman - Blow, Blow thou Winter Wind, Jaymar
  • Chilcott, Who is Sylvia?
  • Convery: Crabbéd Age and Youth, Boosey and Hawkes
  • Dickau, Three from Shakespeare, Kjos (with piano)
  • Diemer: Three Madrigals [O Mistress Mine; Take, O Take; Sigh no more] (with piano)
  • Fink, Michael - Full Fadom Five, Mark Foster
  • Harris, Matthew - Shakespeare Songs (Am. Composers Alliance) (everyone likes these) (18 total!)
  • Jeppesen, Four Shakespeare Songs
  • Johanson - Fancies
  • Kirk, Theron - Five Shakespeare Songs
  • Kodaly - Fancies
  • Lapp, Greg A, (b. 1961?), Three Songs from Twelfth Night
  • Lindberg, Nils - O Mistress Mine (11 Elizabethan poems)
  • MacFarren – Shakespeare Glees
  • Mantyjarvi (two sets plus one: 4+5+1)
  • Martin, Frank  - songs of Ariel (?)
  • Mathias, William  - It was a Lover and his Lass (with piano)
  • Moore, Edwin - Crabbed Youth
  • P.D.Q. Bach Liebeslieder Polkas (Presser) - some by the Bard.
  • P.D.Q. Bach: Who is Sylvia?
  • Pfautsch: Orpheus with His Lute
  • Poulenc - Fancies
  • Rutter - Blow, blow thous winter wind (with piano)
  • Rutter, When Icicles Hang (small orch)
  • Schuman, William - Orpheus with his Lute
  • Shearing, George - Music to Hear, Hinshaw (mostly accompanied)
  • Simon, Julia Three Shakespeare Songs (unpub - wahoofive(a)
  • Stevens, RJS - glees
  • Vaughan Williams - in Windsor Forest
  • Vaughan Williams - The Willow Song
  • Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music
  • Washburn - Sigh No More, Ladies
  • Willan, Sigh no more
  • Willcocks, David, The Glories of Shakespeare (OUP) (orch)
  • Young, Robert, “For Thy Sweet Love,” from Two Love Songs
Nathaniel G. Lew
Montpelier, Vermont
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