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Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream: William Shakespeare's plays and poetry have inspired everything from artwork to movie adaptations. Find out which composers took inspiration from the great playwright, creating some brilliant classical music in its own right.
A passionate Russian composer meets a tragic Shakespearean love story, and the result? A turbulent orchestral fantasy, featuring angry violins, crashing cymbals, and perhaps the most recognisable love theme in the classical music canon.
The first of Verdi's Shakespeare adaptations, Macbeth was premiered in 1847. The libretto is by Maria Piave with additions by Andrea Maffei. Here tenor Joseph Calleja sings Macduff at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
First written as a concert overture, Mendelssohn wrote his Midsummer Night's Dream when he was 17 years old. In 1842, 16 years later, the composer wrote incidental music to the play, including the famous 'Wedding March'.
Hamlet's uncle kills his father, Hamlet is rejected by Ophelia, he goes mad, and dies at the end, right? Not in Thomas' adaptation. There are a fair few plot changes - including the addition of an uncharacteristically lively drinking song, and Hamlet, who is very much alive, claiming his place on the throne as the curtain falls!
Written after his Symphony No. 7, between 1925-6, the incidental music to 'The Tempest' uses different instruments to represent different characters in the play. Other than his 1926 tone poem, 'Tapiola', he produced no more large-scale works for the rest of his life.
You'd be forgiven for thinking Verdi was a rather miserable soul. Of his 26 operas, this was only the second comedy. It's another one of Boito (pictured) and Verdi's collaborations, adapted from The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV.
Ding! Ding-dong bell! Vaughan Williams swaps his trademark pastoral classics for Shakespeare's isle full of noises in 'Full Fathom Five' and 'The Cloud-Capp'd Towers', songs based on text from The Tempest. The cheeky fairy chorus in 'Over Hill, Over Dale' sings text from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
When Berlioz attended productions of 'Hamlet' and 'Romeo and Juliet', he fell in love with the Irish actress playing Ophelia and Juliet, and grew fascinated by Shakespeare and his plays. He married the actress, Harriet Smithson, in 1833, and performed his 'Roméo et Juliette' in 1839.
Brahms wrote these five songs for an 1873 performance of Hamlet by actress Olga Precheisen in Prague. They were published after his death, and are based on Ophelia's poetry in Shakespeare's play.
The grand brass fanfares which kick off the overture of Debussy's Shakespearean incidental music are a far cry from the wispy flute theme from 'Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune'. Debussy only composed two movements to his 1904 work, King Lear - the powerful fanfare, and the eerie movement, 'Le Sommeil de Lear'.
You may have heard 'The Dance of the Knights' (also known as 'Montagues and Capulets') as the ominous theme tune for The Apprentice, but there's a lot more to this ballet. Love, quarrels, fights, and, of course, the famous balcony scene play out in Prokofiev's characterful ballet score.
The melodies and harmonies from Stravinsky's Shakespeare songs use a serial technique - they are based on a series of pre-ordered notes. The first, 'Musick to hear', is from Shakespeare's eighth sonnet, and only uses four pitches in total.
"Soft stillness and the night / Become the touches of sweet harmony." This beautiful text, set at the beginning and the end of Vaughan Williams' piece, are taken from Act V, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice. The piece was first performed in 1938.
A lesser-known Hamlet adaptation, with a very faithful libretto written by a devoted Shakespeare scholar, Arrigo Boito. Composed by the conductor Franco Faccio, the piece was successful upon its premiere, but after a failed revival in 1871 where the lead singer lost his voice, Faccio withdrew the piece and it was never performed again in his lifetime.
As an overture based on a tragic play, the opening is surprisingly serene and positive. The piece has something of a 'From the New World' symphony feel about it, with spiky strings and prominent horn lines, and folky tunes giving way to chaotic drama at the end.
Shakespeare's plays were known throughout Europe in various translations, but Richard III was the first to be issued in Czech in 1851. The production of the play in Prague prompted Smetana to study the musical responses of a fellow Shakespeare fan: Berlioz.
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway, 'Prospero's Books' is a film adaptation of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', with a soundtrack by Michael Nyman. As well as the jagged jazzy rhythms of 'Prospero's Curse' and the tranquil 'Where the bee sucks, the film is also known for its extramusical content - the extensive use of nudity and animation are two notable features.
First performed in 1966, Barber's opera wasn't well received by the press, despite having a huge production budget and employing Franco Zeffirelli as director - it was even dropped by the Met Opera after its first performance. The text made use of Shakespeare's language exclusively, until it was revised and performed once more in 1975.
Elgar's symphonic poem portrays Sir John Falstaff from Shakespeare's Henry IV parts 1 and 2. It's not to be confused with Verdi's Falstaff character, taken from The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Based on Shakespeare's 1603 play, Othello, Verdi's adaptation was first performed in Milan's La Scala Theatre in 1887. The similarities between the original play and the opera adaptation are primarily thanks to the excellent Shakespeare-fanatic librettist, Arrigo Boito.
Korngold, known for his film scores, was also a big Shakespeare fan. He wrote his 'Much Ado About Nothing' incidental music in 1918-1919, reorchestrated Mendelssohn's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in 1935, and composed his 'Four Shakespeare Songs' in 1937-41.
Scenes from London in 1600, performed by a full orchestra in 1944? Walton achieved a remarkable feat with his score for Olivier's film of 'Henry V', creating a period feel by using sounds similar to music of the time.
Shakespeare didn't write a play called 'The Fairy Queen' - and Purcell didn't set any of the playwright's text to music in his 1692 semi-opera. It's an adaptation, of sorts, of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - but no one is sure who wrote the libretto.
Shakespeare's dark tragedy might seem an unusual choice for a composer who is best-known for his comic operas. But Rossini's adaptation deviates heavily from the original play, and even features an alternative happy ending! This was common practice at the time for many composers, not just fans of comic opera.
As a lover of English music and poetry, it's not a wonder Finzi composed songs to the text of the Bard. His 1942 set of five songs for baritone, 'Let Us Garlands Bring' are among his best-known works, but he also composed incidental music to Shakespeare's 'Love's Labour's Lost' in 1946.
Stephen Storace may not be a household name, but Lorenzo da Ponte, librettist for some of Mozart's finest operas, certainly has a strong opera pedigree. He wrote the text for Storace's 'Gli Equivoci', following the plot of Shakespeare's 'The Comedy of Errors' pretty closely.
Britten's adaptation of Shakespeare's bewitching play was first performed in 1960. It omits most of Act I, focusing on the magic of the fairies in the wood and the main themes of the play.