M.A. Shakespeare

I thought it might be convenient for students of Shakespeare to have some readily accessible recodings of Shakespeare songs in performance. These are taken off old vinyl LP's, some of them no longer obtainable. If any are still in copyright, I plead study purposes only.

I hunted high and low for my LP of these Alfred Deller recordings, but it is either buried deep under the stairs or otherwise gone. But I had at some point made a tape, so these MP3's have travelled LP, to tape, were burned onto a CD, and now go onto the net as MP3's. The LP was 'Shakespeare Songs and Lute Solos', with Desmond Duprée as the lutenist. The suitably unearthly voice of this first of the modern male altos is heard as Ariel, other songs from (or mentioned in) Shakespeare plays follow.



1. Robert Johnson (music) / Shakespeare (text): The Tempest Song: Where the bee sucks

2. Johnson/Shakespeare, Song: 'Full fathom five'

3. Song: 'Callino (Caleno) custore me' : The Ancient Pistol, of all characters, cites this refrain line among his tags.

4. Anon. (music) / Shakespeare (?) text: Twelfth Night Song: Peg-a-Ramsay

5. Thomas Morley (music) / Shakespeare (text): As You like it Song: It was a lover and his lass

6. Thomas Morley (music) / Shakespeare (text): Twelfth night Song: O mistress mine

7. Deller continues with a ravishing performance of 'Take, O take those lips away', the song performed by the boy for Mariana in Measure for Measure, in that moment of purity and yearning before the text plunges us back into the belly of the state, and Vienna's prison. The more erotic second stanza to the song, either left out by Shakespeare, or added by John Fletcher, is also given, unfortunately in a bowdlerised text (you will hear 'blossom' for 'bosom').

A note about Alfred Deller: Trained with a Cathedral Choir, Deller retained a vibrato-less, pure singing voice throughout his career, which began during World War 2, and lasted almost to his death in 1979. Deller was the vocal instrument which allowed Micael Tippett to recover the music of Purcell, he was crucial throughout the early decades of the recovery of 'Early Music'. The early years were difficult for him "At each concert [Deller] had first to overcome the antipathy of 75 per cent of his audience", (cited in the ODNB)

The ODNB entry (by Matthew Spring) on Robert Johnson (1583-1633) conveniently lists the plays for which he provided song settings: "Shakespeare's Cymbeline (c.1609), The Winter's Tale (c.1611), and The Tempest (1611), Middleton's The Witch (1609), Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (c.1613), Jonson's The Gypsies Metamorphosed (1621), and five plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, The Captain (c.1612), Valentinian (c.1614), The Mad Lover (c.1616), The Chances (c.1617), and The Lover's Progress (1623)." He was also active composing for court masques. Sir George Carey was patron to both the King's Men and Johnson.

Thomas Morley (c1557-1602): was, like his interpreter Deller, a trained chorister, and (probably) a counter-tenor in his later life. Pupil of William Byrd, and, after Byrd's death, pretty much the major power in English music. Published the first books of English madrigals. Catholic, like Byrd, turned into a spy and informant against his erstwhile co-religionists.

John Wilson?? (music) / Shakespeare (text): Measure for Measure Song: 'Take, O take those lips away' (As Sternfeld says, this song exemplifies the more ambitious type of boy's song in a 17th century play, with its octave leaps and melismas. If this setting is Wilson's, it would first have been heard in Fletcher's 'The Bloody Brother', not 'Measure for Measure')

MP3's B, C and D




The James Bowman/James Tyler LP I have excerpted from was 'Songs in Shakespeare's Plays' (1978) (Archiv Produktion, 2533 407). I have taken B'O Mistress Mine', 'Lawn as white as driven snow', C'Hark, hark the lark' and D'Farewell, Dear Heart'. The eminent scholar (musicologist) Frederick Sternfeld provided the sleeve notes. He points out that: 'two types of singing voices were at the command of the playwright: adult singers and boys'. Boy members of Shakespeare's company would be apprenticed to older actors, who were sometimes themselves members of the musician's guild (there was no guild for actors). The wills of senior actors sometimes show them leaving musical instruments to such apprentices. A high standard of attainment was to be expected. Recall that the musicians of the company played for up to an hour before the start of performances.

Sternfeld also notes that there is no proof that Shakespeare and Morley actually collaborated to produce 'O Mistress Mine' and 'It was a Lover and his Lass'.

The setting for 'Lawn as white a driven snow' was by the prolific John Wilson, whose dates were 1595-1674, so, unless he was extremely precocious, this was either for a later production, outside Shakespeare's lifetime, or, of course, set just for the sake of the words (cf Dowland's 'Fine knacks for ladies' as a prototypical pedlar's song). Wilson was probably in the King's Men from 1611, apprenticed to Heminges, so Wilson might therefore have been a boy singer in Shakespeare's last plays. Royal Holloway's own Ian Spink writes the ODNB entry on Wilson, who certainly wrote songs for the King's Men from 1614 through to around 1630. Surviving settings for songs in plays by Richard Brome's 'The Northern Lass'; John Fletcher's 'The Beggar's Bush', 'The Bloody Brother', 'The False one', 'Love's Cure', 'The Loyal Subject', 'The Mad Lover', 'The Pilgrim', 'The Queen of Corinth', 'Valentinian', 'The Wild Goose Chase', and 'Women Pleas'd'; John Ford's 'The Lovers' Melancholy'; and Thomas Middleton's 'The Witch'.

'Hark, hark the lark' for Cloten in Cymbeline, might have been set by Robert Johnson, who worked with Shakespeare on 'The Tempest'.

'Farewell, Dear Heart' is sung at Malvolio by Sir Toby Belch and Feste: Shakespeare has them adapting the words set in Robert Jones's First Book of Songs and Airs, 1600.


This mp3, 'Farewell unkind, Farewell, to me no more a Father' is tangential to Shakespeare. It comes from John Dowland's Third Book of Songs, 1603, and here is performed by the peerless Emma Kirkby. But, to hear such a good piece of music, it is possible to imagine a later performance of The Merchant of Venice giving such a song to Jessica, or playing the air after her elopement with Lorenzo.


"Farewell unkind, farewell,

To me no more a father

Since my heart holds my love most dear.

The wealth which thou dost reap

Another's hand must gather,

Though my heart still lies buried there"

MP3 FIn a similar vein, 'Come Sorrow, come':


might be a song that we can imagine being performed between acts in some later plush revival of Hamlet, triggered by the tradition of the musical Ophelia ('Enter Ofelia playing on a Lute, and her haire downe singing', reads the 1603 First Quarto text). Here, performed again by Emma Kirkby, accompanied by the viols of the Consort of Musicke.

"Come, ye heavy states of night,

Do my father's spirit right,

Soundings baleful let me borrow,

Burdening my song with sorrow.

Come, sorrow, come, her eyes that sings

By thee are tuned into springs"

MP3's G and H Finally, two longer mp3's from one of the first English Operas, Matthew Locke's version (with other composers) of the Dryden-Shadwell version of 'The Tempest (1674).

Music from a Restoration adaptation of Shakespeare, one seen by Dryden as the first English Opera. The 1667 Davenant/Dryden version of the play had been re-worked by Thomas Shadwell, with scenic and musical additions. Matthew Locke was the main composer, with Giovanni Battista Draghi. In the excerpts, the setting of 'Full Fathom Five' and 'Come unto these yellow sands' was by John Banister, and the echo-dialogue between Ferdinand and Ariel, 'Go thy ways'. Pelham Humphrey set 'Where the bee sucks', and the actor John Hart contributed 'Adieu to the pleasures' for Miranda's sister Dorinda. The excerpts are from Oiseau-Lyre DSLO 507 (1977), with The Academy of Ancient Music, led by Christopher Hogwood. Emma Kirkby sings 'Full Fathom Five', Judith Nelson 'Come unto these yellow sands', 'Where the bee sucks' and 'Adieu to the passions' .