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.