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Ensemble Galilei

Come, Gentle Night: Music of Shakespeare's World

(Telarc)

With this recording, the six-woman Ensemble Galilei had their work cut out for them. While many artists and compositions have been associated with Shakespeare’s work, there appears to be no historical record of the incidental music that must have accompanied performances of the Bard’s plays and poetry.


Faced with a lack of historical data, the Ensemble members sifted through hundreds of country dances, hornpipes, reels and similar tunes, searching for music that embodied the mood of specific Shakespearean “moments”. To this assemblage, they added their own original works, highly emotional musical narratives frequently tied to specific portions of text.


Effectively, they’ve created an ancestor of the “Music From and Inspired By” soundtrack.


As a piece of research, or a portion of sonic scenery, Come, Gentle Night works well. I’m not a music historian by any means, but these pieces evoke a cod-Shakespearean mood as well as anything I’ve ever heard. Many of them draw my mind to particular scenes and sonnets. And if that’s all that Ensemble Galilei hoped to achive, they’ve succeeded. Their combination of viola da gamba, harp, fiddle, wind instruments and percussion is spirited and well fleshed-out, but never becomes overly orchestral.


However, if you perceive the Ensemble’s goals to include the recreation of an authentic Globe Theater mood, they fall short. This is a research-intensive work, and it shows. It’s about finding just the right song, and locating the optimal “sweet spot” on a recording stage, and about reading Shakespeare’s works in libraries and bookshops. The atmosphere at the Globe, by contrast, was bustling and vibrant—a place where musicians probably struggled to keep up with each other, ignoring the distractions of the bustling crowd while trying not to drown out the actors. And it was a place in which actors sometimes performed with more passion than skill. They even—God forbid—got the words wrong sometimes. And it didn’t matter to the audience.


Perhaps Come, Gentle Night would be a bit more lively and engaging if Ensemble Galilei got a few words wrong, too.

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