*SHAKESPEARE SONGS (for tenor and string quartet) op.378 (July 1987)

A song-cycle commissioned for Chester Festival
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Chester Festival
Note on Lyrics: Text: William Shakespeare
Duration: 25 mins
First Performance: Martyn Hill/Medici Quartet/ Chester Festival. July 21st 1987
Sheet Music Available
Full score for sale
Study score for sale
Instrumental parts for sale
A piano score is available in a lower key see op.414
Recordings Available
Howard Blake Chamber Music
Released: 2005
Recorded: 30th October 2005
Artists: Martyn Hill (tenor) with the English Serenata: Gabrielle Byam-Grounds (flute), Stephen Bingham and Anne Bradley (violins), Brenda Stewart (viola), Joseph Spooner (cello), Rowena Bass (harp)
Available from: Amazon UK Meridian

Recorded on HOWARD BLAKE: CHAMBER MUSIC: MARTYN HILL (tenor) and English Serenata 2006 MERIDIAN CDE 84553


    Under the greenwood tree
  • 2: THE WIND
    Blow,blow thou winter wind
  • 3: THE SEA
    Full fathom five
  • 4: SPRING
    It was a lover and his lass
  • 5: WINTER
    When icicles hand by the wall
    Hymn to Hymen
  • 7: LAMENT
    Come away, death
    When that I was but a little tiny boy
    Fear no more the heat o' the sun


Some of the songs started life on the stage in simple versions composed for the RSC's 1985 production of 'As you like it'. Howard re-worked them into concert pieces for voice and string quartet. Key E major.


31st May 2013 Tenor and string ensemble, The Friday Morning Music Club of Washington DC (founded 1886) Director John Turner McLean
17th April 2012
- 18th April 2012
Talisker Players Muse of Fire,
4th December 2009

Michael Calmes & String Quartet led by Lynn Chang, Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, December 4, 2009, Christ Church, Cambridge, MA

27th November 2006 University of Nebraska, Kearney, NE USA
31st October 2005
- 1st November 2005
Martyn Hill, English Serenata, St Lawrence's Parish Church, Mickleton, Gloucestershire

First recording for Meridian by Richard Hughes,produced by Susanne Stanzeleit

19th November 2003 Patricia Rozario, Schubert Ensemble, Wigmore Hall
6th April 1989 Ian Partridge, Coull Quartet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
3rd March 1988 Martyn Hill, Coull Quartet, Recording for BBC Radio 3, Birmingham
21st July 1987 Martyn Hill / Medici Quartet, Chester Festival


Howard Blake (1938- ): Shakespeare Songs, opus 378, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, (1987)

British composer, pianist, and conductor Howard Blake has produced a substantial body of choral and orchestral music, although he is best known for his film music, including the scores for The Duellists, The Snowman, A Month in the Country, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Several of his Shakespeare Songs began life in simple settings for use in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1985 production of As You Like It. The first published version was for tenor and string quartet; this performance has been adapted for mezzo-soprano.

The songs combine a gentle lyricism with restrained syncopations and metrical variety to point the text, and Blake employs dissonance with similarly effective economy to create atmosphere, as in the interaction of the voice with the violins in the sparser sections of "Lament". The overall tonal palette is reminiscent of some of Benjamin Britten's works in the same genre. Blake has described his own philosophy of composition:

I believe … that the composer's function is to try to balance and reconcile the conflicting elements of society within his music, and that by doing so in an accessible and comprehensible language he may then hope to have the vision to uplift and inspire society at large. I believe that the composer can only achieve this function by working with humility as a craftsman responding to the requirements of the day.

Programme notes by Andrea Budgey and Laura Jones., Talisker Players, 17/4/2012

Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international, 9/9/2009

HOWARD BLAKE (b.1938): Flute Quintet, Op. 493, Trio for Flute, Cello and Harp, Op. 559, Pennillion for Flute and Harp, Op. 448, Farewell My Gentle Harp for Tenor and Harp, Op. 517, Shakespeare Songs for Tenor and String Quartet, Op. 378.

Catalogue Number: 02I074

Label: Meridian

Reference: CDE 84553

Format: CD

Price: $17.98

Description: Any of these pieces would be perfect background music for a film, TV show or play set in the lush green, pastoral English countryside which is so much a part of Anglophile minds that it will exist forever, even after everything is paved over. But it’s not film music or incidental music - except for the Shakespeare songs, which are adapted from songs written for performance during stage performances of plays - it’s finely crafted, tuneful and utterly enjoyable professionalism which will appeal to all lovers of English chamber music. Texts included. Martyn Hill (tenor), English Serenata.


'Of the various works especially commissioned by the Chester Summer Music Festival this year's Shakespeare song cycle would musically and artistically speaking seem to be the best....Blake has achieved true sensitivity, originality and innate musicianship with all the technical skills of modern song-writing to breathe fresh life into familiar stanzas. The songs are crafted with much perception. Devices such as suddenly-soaring intervals to give emphasis, sense of movement with changing time-signatures, and the manner in which lines are phrased to make literate as well as refined musical sense are some of the ways that help underline the significance of the texts...the composer acknowledged the prolonged ovation that was given the first performance.'

Chester Standard, 31/7/1987

'...a big success in the Festival..a work which received a stamping ovation...Blake's appreciation and comprehension of the poems was expressed precisely, passionately and descriptively...music utterly fitting to each mood, modern in sound, classical in impact.'

Chester Chronicle, 24/7/1987

'...the odd faint passing hint of Britten in some of the textures, and the more obvious debt of Stravinskian neo-classicism in the recurring motif of trills in the string accompaniments, the Shakespeare Songs hark back to Peter Warlock in their blend of rhythmic regularity spiced with the occasional irregularity and almost embarassingly direct tunefulness...the audience was duly enthusiastic.'

Paul Dewhirst, Daily Telegraph, 23/7/1987

Rarely does one witness so warm and prolonged a reception for the premiere of a new composition as greeted Howard Blake's Shakespeare Songs...the English folk song tradition permeates every nook and cranny. Britten (in his Serenade style) seems to have been a particularly strong influence but the writing is at once highly skilled and conceptually fresh

Chester Post, 22/7/1987

Related Works

'FEAR NO MORE THE HEAT OF THE SUN' op.411 (March 1990)
Song for counter-tenor (extract 'Shakespeare Songs')
Arrangement in D major by the composer transposed from the original for tenor and string quartet in E
''DIRGE FOR FIDELE' for clarinet and string quartet' op.458 (August 1993)
Arrangement created for Jack Brymer and The Medici String Quartet
''WEDDING IS GREAT JUNO'S CROWN'' op.490 (August 1996)
Song for soprano and organ

Related Autobiography Chapters

Three Choirs Festival commission, 8-part FESTIVAL MASS a cappella. (1987)

[Back to top]