Sounds and Sweet Airs : Shakespeare and his World of Music-by Paula

Our special guest  is musician Paula. I wanted Paula to share her musical thoughts. It was a random thing and it’s totally up to her what to write about. And this is what she handed me. What a surprise! The Tempest is  my favorite play. Enjoy!

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.”

(Caliban, The Tempest, 3.2.135-43)

Caliban’s description and reassuring guidance provides us with insights into a strange and remote island. During the years 1610-11, when Shakespeare is thought to have written the play, he imagined such a place when he penned these lines. Perhaps even as the ink was drying on the paper on his desk, he could hear these imagined sounds inside his own mind, so delicate and of such unheard harmonics that a spirit of the air was designated to be their creator, an illusive composer all but invisible except to the eyes of Prospero the magician whom he serves.

In these lines, Shakespeare portrays the magical nature of Prospero’s island with its sweet, enchanting soundscape, so beautiful that it conjures a dreamlike state even upon the primitive, wild nature of Caliban. The French painter Odilon Redon (1840-1916)  found inspiration from this aspect of the play and painted his work “Caliban’s Dream” depicting Caliban in his dreaming state. Commenting on art and music, Odilon Redon expressed the indefinable quality of creative expression: “My drawings inspire and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”

Caliban's Dream by Odilon Redon (French painter)
Caliban's Dream by Odilon Redon (French painter)


In Caliban’s case, to be embraced by such sounds is an ethereal experience which gently seduces the senses in a delightful, aural hypnotism. An appropriate score for the island of a magician. Pure, harmonious enchantment.

Shakespeare’s passion for music is well documented. Rutland Boughton wrote in a published article in 1916 that “ Shakespeare’s great love of music is witnessed by many exquisite passages of his finest poetry; and it has been noted by all his chief commentators and critics from Samuel Johnson to Bernard Shaw. But I do not think it has been properly recognised that Shakespeare has himself recorded his ideas upon music as distinct from his love of it. There is, however, sufficient evidence to show that Ariel is his deliberate personification of the spirit of music.

Ariel’s very name is a play upon the common word for that medium

through which sound works.”

(The Musical Quarterly: Vol 2, No 4, Oct, 1916) .

William Hamilton Prospero and Ariel

Perhaps this personification of music is part of a more ambitious   intention for the play. It is interesting to consider Jonathan Holmes’ supposition in an interview published last year in which he suggests that the play might have even been intended as a unique, musical production: “The innovative use of incidental music in The Tempest worked like a film score,… The norm in the play, I now believe, was continuous sound, though there is nothing else like this in Jacobean drama.”

(Jonathan Holmes, Artistic Director of Jericho House discussing his new production of The Tempest, Barbican Theatre, cited in The Observer, 21 August 2011).

Whatever the creative destination of the play, the sounds of Ariel and his songs continue to entertain down the centuries. From the audiences of the play relating to Caliban’s delight during its first performance at court on 1st November 1611 (All Hallow’s Day), to the global audience today, Ariel, as music personified, weaves his magic upon us all. For those of us who have a strong, deeply personal relationship with music, it resonates within us and is part of our very essence. It remains infinite and innovative, universal and integral to the human spirit.

We all have our own soundtracks to the landscapes of our lives which evoke a myriad emotions : music of such potency, so innately beautiful and meaningful to us, that in spell-like fashion, it summons  a seemingly dreamlike state, and when it fades, we cry to dream again….


4th April 2012

More on Paula here:!/paulasynthmusic


Collaboration track : music and spoken vox by Loic Rathscheck ; vox and vox melody by Paula. Lyrics are quotes from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. © Copyright 2011.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.