SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
400 years in the making.............
To celebrate the cultural Olympiad of 2012: A brand new album that puts Shakespeare's Sonnets to Music for the first time.
Shakespeare's poetry............. Shakespeare's instruments.................. Modern songs
Written during the time of Elizabeth I and re-imagined for the Diamond Jubilee year of Elizabeth II, these are the most precious words ever written about love. Performed on instruments from the early 17th century, played by the cream of the world's period instrument specialists, conceived with immense passion, commitment and integrity, Shakespeare: The Sonnets was recorded in London over the last 6 months.
Fresh from his success of recording an outsize Renaissance mass for a massive 40 parts that had not been heard for 400 years (and winning a Gramophone Album of the Year Award in the process), Robert Hollingworth, director of vocal ensemble I Fagiolini (also a judge on the UK's Choir of the Year and involved in a number of films) was looking for a new challenge. To a specialist of the Renaissance period, Shakespeare's sonnets are an intriguing challenge: the most romantic and personal poems ever written but rarely set to music.
Two choices were then to be made:
1/ Use music from the period
2/ Commission new songs but keep to the colours of the period by using instruments from the time.
The latter option seemed adventurous and intriguing - and so the project was born.
All the lyrics are Shakespeare's own and no additions made, although occasionally lines have been moved around to fit the contemporary song structures. Within this, the meaning is never altered and the emotional content of the sonnets is always sustained. What is amazing is how modern some of Shakespeare's language is: ‘Blind Fool Love', or the ‘blues' sonnet ‘No Longer Mourn' - or the final track, ‘Love is a Babe'.
Singers from all over the UK perform on the album, some of whom have performed at the New York Metropolitan, La Scala Milan and just about every stadium and concert hall across the globe.
Finding players of these rare and ancient instruments ought to have been incredibly difficult but in fact the UK is the world leader in modern performers on these recreated ‘period' instruments, and experts in playing in period style. What proved to be harder was securing their services, as they are constantly flying around the world, giving concerts and making recordings of the music of the time.
The Lirone is a 13 string cello-type that plays chords and is so difficult to play that it has not been heard for hundreds of years. Its smaller cousin was a favourite of poets and it was Leonardo da Vinci's own instrument. We were very fortunate to find the world's top player, American Erin Headley, in London and available to play on 4 tracks. Erin is one of only a handful of professional lirone players in the whole world.
Lynda Sayce, who played lutes, Renaissance guitars and theorbo is the lead lutenist with ‘The Musicians of the Globe' (based at London's Globe Theatre) and is a world authority on the instrument. The theorbo, a lute with a very long neck, was invented at the end of the 16th century. Her instrument is a copy of one originally made in Venice in 1608 and now housed in the Royal College of Music, London. It has strings lengths of over 170cm and a massive 2 metre neck!
Gawain Glenton and Sam Goble play cornett, a instrument that combines the brassy timbre of a trumpet with softer woodier tones and was prized at the time for its lyrical qualities. It is fact made from wood with a brass-type mouthpiece and slightly curved. It requires incredible pressure and control from the lips and was one of the truly virtuoso instruments of the day.
Three keyboard instruments feature on the recording. A Renaissance pipe organ (which had to be transported by removal van to the studio), an ornate and beautiful 17th century French harpsichord and the ‘virginals'. The virginals was the favoured instrument of Elizabeth I herself and looks like a small box with a keyboard. Like the harpsichord its strings are plucked rather than hammered. The name virginals indicates a young lady's instrument. Robert Hollingworth and his wife Catherine Pierron play these instruments on the album.
The originals of these instruments are in museums and often unplayable, so modern replicas are now handmade to order by makers who have rediscovered this ancient art. A harpsichord and virginals can be worth £20,000 each: lutes, harps and theorbos £10,000 each. All the instruments benefit from stable temperatures with no air conditioning, often problematic in modern life. Strings on the instruments are made from animal gut, unlike modern instruments that rely on nylon/metal mixes. Also featured are sackbuts (the old name for a trombone meaning ‘pull-push': ‘shagbolt' is another of its contemporary terms), curtals (early bassoons) and dulcimer (which dates back to the Old Testament).
A feature of this project is its blend of early instruments and playing styles with modern recording techniques and the very modern groove. Percussion is played by famed drummer Geoff Dugmore who can usually be found playing with Rod Stewart and Tina Turner, as well as helping out modern day X Factor winners like Matt Cardle.
February 6th seems like the perfect day to launch the project, the day in 1952 that Elizabeth II became queen. Words composed in the time of one Elizabeth, re-imagined in the time of another. The album ‘The Sonnets' will be officially released in the UK this year on Shakespeare's birthday, April 23rd.
The album features: lirone, viol, cornett, sackbut, curtal, shawm, lute, theorbo, harpsichord, virginals, dulcimer and early trumpet.
The Lirone: a 13 string cello-like instrument with a flat bridge that allows the player to play chords. Leonardo Da Vinci played a version of it and was initially introduced to the Milanese Court in 1494 as a player). Despite the resurgence in playing Renaissance instruments, the complexity of the fingering of this instrument means that there is only a handful of professional players of the lirone in the world. Erin Headley from the USA is undoubtedly the maestro and plays on 4 of the album tracks.
The Theorbo: The original that Lynda Sayce's instrument is based on was made by Magno Dieffopruchar III in Venice in 1608. It is now in the Donaldson collection in the Royal College of Music, London. The copies used on this album were made by David Van Edwards. This is a very big instrument with string lengths of over 170cm. It has 6 double courses and 8 single full length diapasons. Lynda Sayce is a world renowned virtuoso, a leading scholar on the theorbo and features on 8 of the album tracks.
Virginals and Harpsichord: Both keyboard instruments in which the strings are ‘plucked' (originally by feathers) rather than ‘hammered'. The virginals takes its name from the fact that this was a young ladies instrument for ‘virgins' to play. Robert Hollingworth and his wife Catherine play the instruments on the album (they have two children).
Musical Director: Robert Hollingworth Won the Gramophone Award last year with his incredible solo-voice ensemble, I Fagiolini. He has been a judge on the UK's Choir of the Year and worked on a number of films. With I Fagiolini has recorded 18 CDs and 2 DVDs, toured internationally and undertaken many innovative productions such as The Full Monteverdi and Tallis in Wonderland. The group was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society's Ensemble Award in 2005 (the only time the award has been made to an early music ensemble). He has also directed other ensembles, notably the Academy of Ancient Music, English Concert, BBC Concert Orchestra and many European ensembles. In 2004 Robert directed a ground-breaking new music-theatre project (Faust) set in startling venues such as an Amsterdam vast ship-building yard and a disused station. Robert also writes and presents programmes for BBC Radio, notably ‘The Early Music Show' and ‘Discovering Music'. In 2011, his world première recording with I Fagiolini of Striggio's (until recently) lost Mass in 40 Parts was released on Decca with an all-star UK line-up, remaining at the top of the specialist classical chart for nearly four months and even making it into the pop charts, winning 2011 early music disc of the year in Gramophone (UK) and Diapason (France). He claims Monteverdi and Monty Python are equal influences.
The album features vocal ensemble I Fagiolini on ‘Love is a babe' as well as additional vocals from Robin Scott, Eliza Carthy and Megan Henwood (Radio 2's Young Folk Musician of the Year). Also: Soprano: Anna Dennis who has been performing at Milan's La Scala as well as with Damon Albarn in his new opera Dr. Dee and composer Adrian Williams who not only is world renowned as a prodigiously gifted musician but has also won the famed Menuhin and Guiness prizes.
1) Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore. Sonnet 60
2) Against that time - If ever that time come. Sonnet 49
3) Who will believe my verse in time to come. Sonnet 17
4) How oft, when thou, my music, music play'st. Sonnet 128
5) O, never say that I was false of heart. Sonnet 109
6) Love is too young to know what conscience is. Sonnet 151
7) No longer mourn for me when I am dead. Sonnet 71
8) Thou blind fool love. Sonnet 137
9) Those lines that I before have writ do lie. Sonnet 115
10) When I do count the clock that tells the time. Sonnet 12
11) Shall I compare thee to summers day? Sonnet 18
Lynda Sayce and David Williams play the Theorbos: The giant lutes from the Renaissance