‘Henry V’: In search of an ending…

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Birmingham University Ph.D. student Val Brodie explains how she benefitted from The Louis Marder Shakespeare Centre Scholarship:

‘I was thrilled, surprised and delighted to be awarded the Louis Marder Scholarship in 2010. I was just about to start the detailed research at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on the theatre producer Charles Calvert for Chapter Three of my PhD (part-time) at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.

My research topic is theatre music in performances of Henry V and I had already narrowed down my field to 1859 -1916. Deciding on the starting point had been easy once I had established that the earliest surviving music for Henry V is the full score from Charles Kean’s 1859 revival. The score had long languished in the Folger Library, Washington D.C. with no attention from theatre historians so it was pertinent to work on it. Very little other music has survived from the other numerous nineteenth-century revivals and an in-depth search and countless phone calls to helpful librarians and archivists produced only tiny snippets of manuscript extracts. But in choosing my subject I knew that The Shakespeare Birthplace Library and Archive had two elements of Henry V music that remained largely unexplored and that these were of sufficient importance to frame and shape the research topic.

First were two heavy, leather bound and gold inscribed commemorative volumes, created to celebrate Charles Calvert’s 1872 Henry V which transferred to New York in 1875 and then toured widely. In the final section of volume two, following the crisp original designs for the set, costume and armorial, were 47 pages of piano music, evidently transcriptions of music used in the production. These pages appear to have received no analytical attention and were an enigma; they lacked headings or any cue line indicators in the original copyist’s hand, although faintly pencilled on each was a brief note of their occurrence in the play.

My Chapter Three research has allowed me to marry up these pages with a full score from Calvert’s New York version of the play which I was able to view on microfilm courtesy of the New York Public Library. With these scores I have shown that the production was a diverse multi-sensual experience, indeed I have suggested that Calvert who used heavy infusions of Italian opera in transcription, created a hybrid that found favour with worldwide audiences in the 1870s.

The second element to be explored at the SBT I had noted whilst working on Sir Frank Benson’s music for my M.A. dissertation. I had noted a greasy and dirty collection of music that had seen service in the gas-lit orchestral pits up and down the country for two decades. It was an incomplete collection of the music for Henry V used by Benson at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and touring, from 1897-1916. Theatre music is fascinating to hold and study because it was there – it was used in performance, handled nightly by performers and was part of the very fabric of the show. The parts in some sense hold a record of what happened. Changes are pencilled in and, as productions evolve year on year, sometimes extra bits get added.

Little did I realise that as I slowly pieced together the fragments I would find a lost piece of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams O.M. RVW came to the Shakespeare Festival in 1912 and 1913 and introduced new music for Henry V and others of the histories. Out went some of the well-worn Victorian incidental music and he brought in music that reflected his own cerebral approach.

The music that had ended the play, it was said by RVW’s official biographers, was lost. But stuck onto each of the orchestral parts, written in RVW’s hand, was a new short piece to end the play. What emerged when I assembled the parts into a score is an ending that banishes triumphalism and ends the play with a prayerful questioning. It is music that responds to the moral issues of Henry V at a time when Europe was increasingly in the shadow of a coming war. It was for me a eureka moment.’

To find out more about The Louis Marder Shakespeare Centre Scholarship that helped to support Val’s fascinating study, click here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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