Sonnet 116


My friend Richard invited me to set Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 116 to music on the occasion of his wedding : “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”. Needless to say, I immediately thought of several impediments. Where were we going to find musicians? Would there be space for a piano in the wedding venue ? If not, what would we use instead? A guitar? (my secret nightmare, I find it almost impossible to write for) Accordion ? (which many contemporary composers write brilliantly for, but I have yet to get the hang of). I even attended a whole lute concert just in case.

After a while Richard recalled a former art history student of his who had become a singer; Tristan Hambleton. Following Tristan around by email, we noticed what a busy singer he was, visiting some rather grand venues. When he mentioned that he would be bringing Gary Matthewman along to perform with him, the project gained even more grandeur. In the end, space was found for a conveniently sized electronic piano amongst the crowded wedding reception tables. (Those who take musical authenticity literally will be glad to learn that it was almost the same kind of instrument on which the song had been composed. Although do remember, this isn’t always a reliable guide to what the composer might have ideally wanted…)

During the little group of songs (Sonnet 116’s world premiere included) beautifully performed at the wedding reception by Tristan and Gary, I was struck, I always am, by how a large group of people, starting to converse rather loudly after a few glassfuls, calmed down quite naturally to listen to the human voice extending itself in this exceptional way. I thought of another famous line of poetry (by William Congreve) which I will quote in full since it’s so marvellous: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

PICTURED – L to R musicians Tristan Hambleton, Gary Matthewman, myself. (And congratulations to newlyweds Richard and Wayne.)

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020