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Music Inspired by Poetry - "The Lover and His Lass"

Nicholas Hilliard's portrait of Elizabeth I of England playing the lute, no doubt playing songs based on Shakespeare's poetry.

Gerald Finzi's "Let Us Garlands Bring" is just one of the many pieces of classical music inspired by Shakespeare's poems.

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass, In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.

(from As You Like It)

April 23rd, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Personally, I prefer to celebrate birth dates...but we Shakespeare fans have always looked for any excuse to hang a celebration around the Bard’s name. Since April 2016 also marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month and I’ve been blogging about poems that inspired classical music, it’s a case of “cosmic convergence.” Yes, some of Shakespeare’s poems have also been set to classical music. In fact, 90 of his poems are listed as lyrics in the 1992 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Opera.

I’m drawn to Gerald Finzi’s settings in particular:  He wrote a song cycle, “Let Us Garlands Bring,” for baritone and piano, based on five of Shakespeare’s poems. They premiered at the 70th birthday celebration for the dedicatee, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in October 1942. The songs run the gamut of emotions from reflective and elegiac, to lighthearted and joyful. They are:

1) Come away, come away, death
2) Who is Sylvia?
3) Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun
4) O Mistress Mine; and
5) It Was a Lover and His Lass.

Some people say the more melancholy the poem, the better the song. Maybe, but since it’s spring, let’s listen to the love-inspired, as sung by Bryn Terfel:

Laura Carlo is the Morning Program Host for CRB.