1 May 2017

STEPHAN PROCK: Shakespeare Bitters

From NZ Composer Sessions, 12:40 pm on 1 May 2017

Stephan Prock: Shakespeare Bitters

'Shakespeare Bitters' was commissioned by Australian soprano Lisa Harper Brown who premièred the piano-vocal version in Perth on 27 April 2013. It is always a challenge for me to find “settable” poems or lyrics. In my search I am always on the lookout for a number things: poems that are the right length for the tempo of the music, that suggest a musical mood, and that have the right kind of rhythmic and lyrical potential to mesh with my own musical sensibilities. This usually means reading lots of poems. In the case of 'Shakespeare Bitters', however, this was not the case because I went immediately to Shakespeare’s plays and to lyrics that were originally designed to be sung in them. Shakespeare is not only a master of the English language but he is possessed of an incredibly musical ear. 

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Lisa Harper-Brown (soprano), Hamish McKeich (conductor).

The title of the cycle, Shakespeare Bitters, reflects the dark, plaintive or bitter aspect of the three songs. Ariel sings “Full Fathom Five” from The Tempest to the shipwrecked Ferdinand, describing the “sea-change” of his drowned father. In Twelfth Night “Come Away Death”, sung by Feste to Orsino, is the lament of a person who has died from unrequited love (reflecting Orsino’s desire for the unresponsive Olivia). Most straightforwardly ironic and bitter of the Bitters is “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” with its cynical perspective on feigned friendship; that cynicism is especially apparent in the way the jarringly “jolly” chorus contrasts with the aggrievement more directly voiced in the stanzas.” 


Recorded by RNZ Concert for the 2014 NZ Composer Sessions.