Did you know that there is a unique Dewey decimal number just for books written by or about William Shakespeare? A few days ago I went to the library to check out a copy of Twelfth Night, hoping to have the time to read it in the next month before seeing a production in May, but I was blown away by the sheer number of books that have been written about a single man’s works!
Anyway, thinking about Twelfth Night reminded me of poem in the play, “Come away, come away, death,” sung by a clown as entertainment for a duke. In the play, it serves merely as amusement, and it certainly is an over-dramatic lament, but it has been extracted and set to music numerous times by various composers. One setting, by Gerald Finzi, a 20th century British composer, has become one of my favorites. I first discovered it on the album The Vagabond, which also happens to include one of my favorite song cycles by Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel (so many things to love!). This set of songs, with texts by Robert Louis Stevenson, demonstrates Vaughan Williams’ ability to write perfect but playable piano accompaniments. Each one is just suited to the text and supports the singer while retaining its own independent musical value.