To listen to him rhyme? About nothing and everything all at once? Setting Shakespeare to music.
For the past few months, I have been setting a group of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Opera North. The sonnet form has a long history of being set to music, starting with composers in the Italian renaissance. To set a sonnet or series of sonnets – as with writing operas, string quartets or symphonies – almost inevitably and unnervingly, means writing within a historical perspective. The form itself, though, is particularly satisfying to work with, because of its sense of balance and its elegant and apparently simple formal structure. It lends itself to love poetry, but also to introspection and philosophical reflection. In the hands of its greatest writers, the sheer beauty of the language can be both a constant stimulus and a daunting challenge. In writing sonnets, poets generally speak in the first person, or at least from an individual viewpoint, which draws the reader deep into their world. For a composer this has the advantage of a very direct emotional link to the poet.