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The Search for Ricardian Music

What is a “musical biography”? We know about operas, and their stagings as to certain persons from the past. But, what did composers write about Richard III?

Turns out, it’s rather minimal. Why this is, I don’t know. Verdi wrote about past kings of Italy and about other political dynasties, although he was always careful to disguise them. Does music not lend itself to historical expression? Is music incapable of providing a narrative?

Strangely enough, as I sat in the Church of St. James the Greater, waiting to hear the performance of the Middleham Requiem by Geoff Davidson on the 26th of March, 2015, I reflected on why there is a paucity of musical biography of kings from the Wars of the Roses in our musical canon. It would seem the fodder was there, certainly a good narrative arc, and very fascinating people to give a good aria or two.

To date, I’ve only found two compositions that relate to Richard III, both of which are tied into the Shakespearean narrative. One is by Bedrich Smetana, a Czech composer of great reknown, who composed a symphonic tone poem in 1858. It’s actually rather fantastic if you listen to it:

And, then of course, there is the music written by Sir William Walton, who wrote the cinematic music to Laurence Olivier’s Richard III.

Both are good, but there is still much room to explore the ideas that haven’t quite been given delved into. More on this later.

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6 thoughts on “The Search for Ricardian Music

  1. There is a new opera about Richard written by Karen Griebling. She is trying to get funding.

    Liked by 3 people

    • white lily on said:

      BTW, I just noticed that Karen went to Eastman School of Music when I was there (although she graduated two years ahead of me). What a small world!


  2. white lily on said:

    Thank you for posting that! It’s wonderful to see that composers are now starting to take a look at dramatizing Richard III’s life in a musical format. (I just remembered that there is an opera about Mary Queen of Scots, which has been very well received and is frequently performed. Different time period, of course.)

    BTW, there was also a recent performance of a new musical work called “The Last Plantagenet” in Leicester. I don’t know much about it, but it seemed to include the discovery of Richard’s remains at Greyfriars. There is so much drama in both Richard’s life and discovery that it could keep composers as busy as it does the historical fiction writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bloodofcherries on said:

    If you’re willing to include rock music then there’s also the Legendary Ten Seconds. 🙂 I believe a 3rd Richard III themed album is in the making.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The Legendary 10 Seconds have completed 3 albums celebrating the life and time of Richard 3rd that’s a lot of songs about King Richard!!!!!!!! Check them out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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