One of my favourite Shakespeare plays
is The Winter’s Tale, and I have written music for three completely
different productions during my time as Head of Music to the Royal
Shakespeare Company. One, starring Judi Dench as both the mother,
Hermione and her daughter, Perdita, had a big band Tribal Love-Rock
score; another had a more classical, but timeless feel to it, and the
last was an excellent small-scale touring production, for which I was
allowed only a handful of instruments. It is from this source that the
basic themes for Bohemian Dances, and an earlier version Three Dances
for Clarinet Choir, have emerged. Act IV of the play is set in the
kingdom of Bohemia - hence the title of the work.
Shakespeare calls for “A Dance of
Shepherds and Shepherdesses”, which gives Florizel, the son of
Polixenes, (King of Bohemia) a chance to become better acquainted with
the beautiful Perdita, the lost daughter of Leontes, (King of Sicilia).
This movement is written in seemingly tricky and ever-changing metres,
but is rhythmically quite logical and melodically catchy.
The slower second movement ‘Florizel
and Perdita’ is the lovers’ pas de deux: a gentle, slow waltz-like
tune, initially presented by the principal oboe, is contrasted with a
lšndler-like double time melody, at the end of which a solo clarinet
makes a link to the last movement.
‘Dance of the Satyrs’ is a
rip-roaring, foot-stamping dance performed in the play by ‘three
carters, three shepherds, three neat-herds, and three swine-herds’, who
enter in outrageous costumes representing the lecherous half-man,
half-goat of Greek mythology. This dance is referred to as a
“gallimaufry of gambols” - now where have I heard that word before?!
Bohemian Dances was commissioned by
the University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble, St Paul,
Minnesota, which gave the first performance under the direction of Dr
Matthew J George on 6th May 2005.