The music of Measure for Measure

By show composer Daniel Beilby

Writing music that creates a mood or atmosphere, but that also says something about the characters or themes in a play, is what I enjoy, and on Measure for Measure it has been a particularly satisfying experience.  

Long before rehearsals had started Paul Collins (the director) and I met to discuss the music, and adjectives such as 'claustrophobic', 'repressed' and 'ambivalent' popped up.  Probably because the play is originally set in Vienna Paul sent me some Viennese expressionist music by Webern - which seemed to capture the emotional turmoil and dilemmas of a play which asks so many questions and without any real sympathetic characters.  

But added to that, I felt as the play had a contemporary (and sometimes seedy) setting, the music needed a modern 'twist'.  It turned out that adding jazz instrumentation (saxophone quartet, piano, bass & drums) to dissonant harmonies and atonal melodies was the perfect fusion of angst and steaminess - pitching the play in a debauched film noir world, where danger lurks in the shadows.

So there is a fugue for saxophone quartet, which represents the playful ambiguity of the Duke's character.  There is a chromatic twelve-tone motif (a technique borrowed from serialists Berg and Webern) which reflects the depravity of Angelo, whilst a piece in 5/4 time evokes the intellectual agitation of Isabella. 

But my favourite of all, I think, is the song sung by Mariana at the start of Act Four.  Paul was very keen that this should be different from all the other music as Mariana is probably the only figure we empathise with.  One day it hit me that a slow, soulful 'blues' would provide the ideal mixture of a modern setting with the requisite pathos of such a forlorn, tragic character.  Amazingly Shakespeare's words (not always easy to set to music) fit naturally with the lilting rhythms of a blues.

My appreciation to Paul for his encouragement, Nicole Williamson for her beautiful singing, and the entire cast and crew for providing inspiration for such a fruitful collaboration.  I hope you enjoy the show.

 A soundtrack CD, featuring original music from the show, will be on sale after the performances.

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