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Shakespeare: The Music Behind the Movies

Full Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, May 22, 2021 - 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0092
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Ross Alexander, Dick Powell, Jean Muir, and Olivia de Havilland in the 1935 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set to music by Felix Mendelssohn and Eric Korngold

“The play’s the thing” declared Hamlet, but nowadays he could easily have substituted “the film.” Since 1900, this haunted Dane has been the star role in more than 50 movies. From Macbeth to Othello, Romeo and Juliet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, virtually every play by the Bard has enjoyed multiple productions on celluloid. But along with groundbreaking acting and camera work, many of these films are driven by superb music.

Popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin combines lecture and piano demonstration to explore the ways in which master composers such as William Walton, Nino Rota, and Patrick Doyle illuminate Shakespeare’s texts while helping us relate emotionally to his astonishing stories.

When we watch Shakespeare films with our ears, concerns about ornate language melt away as the music opens his works’ extraordinary passion, drama, and comedy for us. Classical, jazz, psychedelic, ethnic, rock and roll: It’s all on the table when musically portraying the stories of the greatest of all storytellers.

British-born Franklin has been a featured speaker for organizations including the Library of Congress and NPR, exploring intersections among classical and jazz music, film scores, and the fine arts.

10:30 a.m.–12 p.m.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…”

Kingship is a fearsome burden for most of Shakespeare’s monarchs, and with the exception of Henry V, their relentless intrigues and battles often end badly. Since the earliest days of dramatizing Shakespeare through film, composers have relished the dramatic opportunities opened up by this uniquely flexible medium. Films showcased include two version of Henry V (composed by William Walton and Patrick Doyle), Julius Caesar (Miklós Rózsa), Richard III (Trevor Jones), Titus (Elliot Goldenthal), and Ran (Toru Takemitsu).

12–1:30 p.m.  Break

1:30 p.m.–3 p.m. “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains…”

Love, witchcraft, madness, ghosts. How have composers reflected the immense complexity of Shakespeare’s overlapping layers of natural and supernatural worlds? From Mendelssohn to hip-hop, the virtually limitless interpretive possibilities of his plays continue to inspire an extraordinary range of musical styles made possible through the magic of celluloid. Films showcased include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Felix Mendelssohn), Hamlet (Dmitri Shostakovich), Macbeth (The Third Ear Band), The Tempest (John Aaron Lewis, Brian Hodgson, Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Patrick Doyle), Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon), and two versions of Romeo and Juliet (Nino Rota and Nellee Hooper, Marius de Vries, and Craig Armstrong).

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