Music was a huge part of Restoration Shakespeare adaptations, and thanks to the talents of Folger Consort, is a key aspect of the current production of Macbeth on at the Folger. But what are those eerily haunting (and sometimes oddly upbeat) melodies patrons are being treated to on a nightly basis? Musical Director Robert Eisenstein provides insights on the music performed in the production (as well as a handy track list). Curious to hear more? Check out our Spotify playlist for a sampling of the 17th- and 18th-century tunes discussed below.
Although there were many Restoration performances of Davenant’s version of Macbeth as early as 1664 and continuing into the next century, we have no complete music for the play from any of these productions. The early Restoration performances may have had some music composed by Matthew Locke. They most likely also used earlier settings from before Cromwell, since some of the song texts for Davenant’s musical scenes were already present in the 1623 First Folio and were taken from another play, Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (1615-16).
We do have music for later productions by John Eccles (ca. 1668-1735) and Richard Leveridge (ca. 1670-1758), and for this production we have elected to use most of Eccles’s surviving settings. His music is more interesting than Leveridge’s and is closer in time to our setting of the play in 1666 Bedlam.
Top of the show, as the audience is arriving:
The band will start with a Chacony by Henry Purcell (c. 1659 – 1695). Purcell, the greatest composer of his generation, composed much music for the London stage. Then, as the audience gets settled, we move to theatrical music by Matthew Locke (c. 1621 – 1677) from a manuscript held by the New York Public Library, The Rare Theatrical. It is a difficult manuscript to read, with many mistakes, and to my knowledge no more than one or two of these pieces have ever been performed in modern times. Webb Wiggins, who plays harpsichord in this production, and I transcribed and edited the pieces played. Matthew Locke was probably responsible for much of the music for the first Restoration version of Macbeth, so many of these pieces might be very appropriate indeed. Each evening the sequence and number of these dances will be different.
Prelude, as the action in Bedlam commences:
Fantasy from a suite in G minor by Locke (from the Consort of Four Parts), followed by a brief selection from The Rare Theatrical.
Throughout the show you will hear drones and harmonics from the strings, often accompanied by a modern instrument, the waterphone. These underscores are designed to respond to the action and are improvised. You will also hear period bells and percussion, primarily tambourine and tabor.
For the Witches in Act 1, Scene 2 and into Scene 3:
The Witches’ Dance from Dido and Aeneas by Purcell. Then the Jig from Purcell’s well- incidental music for the play Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge.
For Macbeth in Act I, Scene 3:
A Scottish song, originally sung by women working, called A Mhairead nan Cuiread.
Before Act 1, Scene 4:
The Rondeau from Abdelazar, made famous by Benjamin Britten in his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Before Act 1, Scene 5 and throughout the play for Lady Macduff:
A tune from the English print Apollo’s Banquet called Long Cold Nights. This beautiful melody, like many late 17th-century English tunes, is fashionably Scottish in character.
Before Act 1, Scene 6:
A Scottish bagpipe tune, played on the pipes by Dan Meyers, called Highland Laddie.
For Act 1, Scene 7 (Duncan’s banquet for Macbeth):
The famous Scottish fiddle tune The Reel of Tulloch. This reel was known as ‘The King of Tunes.’
In the same scene, for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth:
A tune from the Scots Musical Museum called Parcel of Rogues. Those who remember the folk-rock band Steeleye Spanand their wonderful recordings of electric traditional music in the 1970s will recognize it. This tune comes back later in the show as well. The song is by Robert Burns.
In Act 2, scene 1, for the murder of Duncan (and again later for the murder of Banquo):
The Conclusion, A Canon 4 in 2 from Matthew Locke’s music for The Tempest. This is followed by the Scottish bagpipe tune Flowers of the Forest.
In Act 2, scene 3, after the murder of Duncan is discovered:
Purcell’s Funeral March for Queen Mary.
Before Act 2, scene 5:
Another pipe tune, Highlander’s Farewell.
In Act 2, Scene 5:
Here we use two of the songs and an instrumental Symphony written for a 1690s production of our play by John Eccles (1668 – 1735). The songs, both for the witches and intended to be performed with effects and grotesque gestures are an intentional (and entertaining) interruption of the action of the spoken play. They are Speak, Sister, Speak and Let’s Have a Dance.
At this performance you will hear Eccles’s music for the four witches’ songs: Speak, Sister, Speak; Let’s Have a Dance, Hecate; Oh, Come Away; and Black Spirits and White. Apart from a couple of short instrumental symphonies, that is all that we have of Eccles’s settings, and in whichever London theater this version was first performed there would have been an overture and most likely a set of pieces following before the curtain, then a curtain tune. There would also have been instrumental music separating all the acts. Restoration theater audiences were fond of lots of musical interpolations in their plays, ‘in the manner of an opera.’ Some examples more well known today than Davenant’s Macbeth are versions of The Tempest with music by Matthew Locke (referenced above) and, of course, the wonderful music by Henry Purcell (1659-95) for The Fairy Queen, King Arthur, Abdelazar, and Diocletian, which we refer to today as semi-operas.
Before Act 3, Scene 3:
A tune from an early 17th-century source, Jane Pickering’s Lute Book, called the Scottish Huntsup, arranged for bagpipe by Tom Zajac.
Before and during Act 2, Scene 4:
An English country dance printed by John Playford called Moll Peatly, followed by the slow beginning of the Overture to Dido and Aeneas by Purcell. This music is repeated just before intermission.
Act 3, Scene 5, underscoring Macbeth’s coronation banquet:
Various grounds by Henry Purcell for harpsichord
Prologue to Act 4, Scene I:
Here is the most substantial musical interlude of the evening, right after intermission. We have inserted Purcell’s wonderful and absolutely appropriate song From silent shades, also known as Bess of Bedlam. This is followed by Eccles’s two other songs used in this production, both with choruses, solo witches, Heccate and orchestra. They are Hecate, Oh Come Away; and Black Spirits and White. Later in this scene we return to the refrain of Purcell’s Rondeau from Abdelazar.
Before Act 4, Scene 4:
You will hear the Gregorian Marian antiphon Salve Regina, first sung and continued as an underscore on viola da gamba. You will hear it again at the end of the scene rhythmicized on bagpipe.
Before Act 5, Scene 3:
Before this scene and throughout the ensuing battle scenes we use another pipe tune with a rather unsavory title that remains better left unwritten here. It is from the William Dixon Border Pipe Manuscript, collected in 1733 (most of the tunes are probably much older, though).
At the end of the play:
After Macbeth’s death, the band returns to Purcell’s Funeral March for Queen Mary. During the curtain call, the tune is the Hornpipe from Purcell’s Abdelazar music.
It was not our intention to shape the relationship between music and speech in our production exactly as it would have been done in the Drury Lane or Lincoln’s Inn Fields theaters in the 17th century, with lavishly staged musical entertainments interspersed with the actual spoken play. Rather, we are inspired by the Restoration enthusiasm for ‘semi-opera’ to integrate 17th-century words and music in an organic way that we hope will please our modern audience.
Thanks to Robert for the insightful peek into Macbeth‘s music. Stay tuned for more insight into Macbeth, on stage until September 23. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.