I. Full fathom five, The Tempest, Act 1 scene 2 - Andante misterioso
II. The Cloud-Capp’d Towers, The Tempest, Act IV scene 1 - Lento
III. Over hill, over dale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II scene 1- Allegro vivace
These three gems have been overlooked by most writers on Vaughan Williams. They were composed in 1951 as a test-piece for the national competitive festival of the British Federation of Music Festivals and first performed in the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 21 June 1951 conducted by Dr C. Armstrong Gibbs during the Festival of Britain. Gibbs had been asked to invite Vaughan Williams to compose a special test for the BFMF of which he was president. The response was unpromising. Vaughan Williams did not agree with the idea at all and thought it would be much better to give the choirs an established test.
Gibbs tried to explain why they wanted fresh tests but his letter was unanswered. He recounted: “We decided to defer a decision... Soon afterwards I was stricken down with some illness and was in bed when a fat envelope, registered and bearing the Dorking postmark, was brought up. Inside was the MS of the Three Shakespeare Songs dedicated to me and the briefest of notes which ran: ‘‘Dear Armstrong. Here are three Shakespeare settings. Do what you like with them... Yours ever R.V.W”
They last under ten minutes but there is mastery in every bar. In Full fathom five, the effect of voices under the sea imitating the “ding-dong” of bells, is magically conveyed. Over hill, over dale is airy and fairy and The Cloud-Capp’d Towers contains Prospero’s lines: ”We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded by a sleep” which Vaughan Williams associated with the enigmatic finale of his Sixth Symphony, but set here with moving tranquillity.
© Michael Kennedy 2008
Three Shakespeare Songs
1. Full fathom five, The Tempest, Act 1 scene 2
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them, - ding-dong bell.
2. The Cloud-Capp’d Towers, The Tempest, Act IV scene 1
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
3. Over hill, over dale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II scene 1
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire
I do wander everywhere.
Swifter than the moonè's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.