Globe Theatre Research article

Music at Shakespeare’s Globe: Experimenting with Original Practices

  This #MuseumFromHome Day, we delve in to our Archive & Collections to take a look at Claire van Kampen’s approach to music under ‘Original Practices’

13 minute read

As we delve in to our Archive & Collections as part of BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine event #MuseumFromHome, we’ve unearthed some treasures from our theatrical experiments with Original Practices (OP), and in particular, music at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Music at the Globe is synonymous with Claire van Kampen. As Director of Theatre Music (1997-2005), she has shaped the soundscapes of our Globe Theatre since its inception. As Master of Theatre Music and Composer, she has provided music for a series of productions under OP, including our all-male Richard III in 2012. Get an insight in to how we approached this theatrical experiment in the below Q&A with Simon Smith and Claire van Kampen, as part of our Globe Research Papers.

Richard III in 2012 was a brand new Original Practices production. Is it a show which you’ve done music for before?

Yes, in 2003, when I was Director of Music here, I worked with Director Barry Kyle on the musical sources and references and style of the all-female Richard III, though I brought in Keith McGowan to arrange all the instrumental music for the band, and Belinda Sykes to find, arrange and teach songs – which had a Macedonian basis – to the company. Belinda also led the all-female band on shawms and sackbuts, so was very key in shaping and leading the music on that very pioneering production – the first all-female Shakespeare production in the Globe Theatre. That was its own particular experiment, and worked wonderfully well, I thought. The principle was pretty similar, in that it was to be no scenery or settings on stage, clothing from the period (which was done by Jenny Tiramani), but for all women. There were some slight elongations, and introductions of things into the text. Like for example, the staging of the battle, which of course isn’t there in Shakespeare’s play, and which our contemporary productions nearly always do, as they do with the Battle of Agincourt in Henry V.

A woman with a red crown and wearing a golden ermine cloak reaches to kiss the hand of another woman wearing black traditional Elizabethan dress.

Kathryn Hunter as Richard and Amanda Harris as the Duke of Buckingham in our all-female production of Richard III in 2003. Photographer: Donald Cooper.

But this production that we’ve done here, we decided to make some major cuts. We wanted to bring it in well under three hours; we wanted it to be fleet-footed, fleet of story. We didn’t want a lot of ‘family tree-ing’ in it: ‘if you don’t know about the Dorsets you’re going to be stuck on this scene’. We cut Margaret; because it’s an all-male company, we felt that—and I think some of the lines went to the other female characters—that was a good cut. Because you’ve actually tracked Margaret through the earlier plays, the Henry VI’s, she just comes on as a kind of loony. You think, it should be a bravura performance, particularly in our modern culture for a older female actor—of which we have many wonderful ones— and that’s the cameo role; people probably go to see Richard III to see who’s playing Richard, and who’s playing Margaret. But in an all-male production, you’ve already got an issue with men playing the older women in it, because it’s not our theatrical tradition any more. You could end up being a kind of ‘buffa’ character, a bit like the Duchess of York becomes in Richard II when played by a man. Maybe that’s intentional in that play, but in Richard III we felt that wouldn’t be the right way to go, and it could be that way. So we decided to take her out of it, and I think that was a very good decision actually—to just focus on the ‘Richard’ story much more.

So, you’ve done this show before. You came to do it again in OP terms; what were your starting points in terms of where you were getting your musical sources from, and the types of music that you were using in this show, for that specific approach?

I actually thought of them [Twelfth Night and Richard III] together, because apart from being done together here within the repertory season, they’re then going on into the West End, where people will buy a double ticket to see Richard III in the afternoon, and Twelfth Night at night. So my starting point was that I really wanted them both to be instrumentally very different—to have two very different kinds of bands, because I think people who don’t know about Elizabethan music think it’s all ‘shawmy’, and it’s rather out of tune, not played very well, and a few natural trumpets. And I just wanted to do something a bit different, that if we were going to use shawms, we’d put them with sackbuts, we’d make it a proper consort, and we’d make it very solid in that way. And so I thought for Richard, shawms were so appropriate because it’s an earlier play than Twelfth Night, and shawms also have this connotation with an Elizabethan audience of being with malevolent intent, or marginalised instruments. These instruments are not particularly heralding a great outcome. So I thought that was a very good palette to use, and I thought rather than have just one sackbut, we’d support three shawms with two sackbuts, and make that low sackbut a bass sackbut, which we’ve never used here before. I think that was a very successful idea.

A lady sits smile with a semi-circle of musicians holding traditional Elizabethan musical instruments.

Our Original Practice production of Richard III later transferred to the West End and Broadway. Here, our Master of Theatre Music, Claire van Kampen, sits with the musicians Arngeir Hauksson, Sam Budish, Greg Ingles, Daniel Meyers, Emily Baines, Elizabeth Hardy and Priscilla Herreid, at the Belasco Theater. Photographer: Victor J. Blue for The New York Times.

So then I thought, well I always start with the jig, because the company have to learn that first of all, and we usually record that pretty early on. So I wanted to find something—I took a risk really, because I picked something that was instrumentally very challenging for the players, because you can often just end up parping away with a lot of drumming. Because the audience at the Globe claps very loudly, you can hardly hear it, unless you’re near it. So I thought, well, I’m going to take a risk, and I’m going to pick this piece by [Claude] Gervaise, which is one of the dances in a collection of his. It was actually for four instruments and I put a fifth in there, which is quite difficult really, to try and actually stick with his style and see what he’s doing, to try and make sure that line really works. So it’s very challenging [to play], and so I thought, at the end of an evening it’s very exciting for the players to have that. And the odd thing about this jig is that, actually, more times than not the audience doesn’t applaud. So I think on the first preview, it was ‘rabbit in the headlights’ for the musicians, because I’d said ‘they probably won’t hear it anyway—everyone will be clapping’, but suddenly it was dead silent and everyone was listening to them, and there’s a really, really difficult sackbut section, it’s very fast semiquavers, and thank goodness he’d practised it! But it is challenging, and I’m pretty thrilled about that.

So then after that piece, I then worked backwards really. I also wanted to stick with dance forms, because dance was such an important part of the Elizabethan world, particularly the royal world, the courtly world. And even though we were using shawms, I didn’t want the music to be street music, I wanted it to be noble, in a sense, because you don’t really move out of that noble world, apart from to go to battle. So I found a collection of galliards (mainly). That is a collection by [John] Dowland, but it’s probably printed in Germany. And it must have been after Dowland—or when Dowland—went to the court of Christian IV of Denmark, because there are a lot of composers like [William] Brade [in the collection], that went with him. I found some very fascinating pieces in there that are very unknown, and we’ve never played. So I thought, that gives us a freshness of approach, and there are also very, very good shawm consort pieces. So, then I went to the pre-show, and I thought, that’s what we’ll do. There’s a wonderful galliard—there’s two actually—one is by ‘Anonymous’, whoever that is, and the other one is by [Michael] Praetorius. I really felt that with these two pieces, a lot of the music for the rest of the play could come.

Five musicians stand in the gallery of the Globe Theatre, playing their musical instruments.

‘Even though we were using shawms, I didn’t want the music to be street music, I wanted it to be noble, in a sense, because you don’t really move out of that noble world, apart from to go to battle’ — our Musicians play a selection of instruments, including shawms, during Richard III. Photographer: Simon Annand.

Now I don’t know if that’s an Original Practice; there’s nothing to say it couldn’t be, we don’t really know how incidental music was used throughout the show at the Globe, other than people playing where it specifies, for a song or a dance. But I felt that this is very justified where we needed to bring on a table, for example. There’s that nice long tract of ‘anonymous’ Galliard, that people may have heard if they’ve got to their seats a bit early, and if they haven’t heard it, it would be fresh. So I thought, let’s just use that material as much as we can. So that’s where the basic sources for Richard came from. Of course we don’t have any trumpets in the band, but we do have sackbut players who use a cut-down version of a natural trumpet mouthpiece that is organised for them by a member of the band, Nick Perry. And they play the trumpet calls that we need, and all the fanfares in battle. So we’re very covered on all bases with that kind of consort. But the players, too, felt that they’d never played in a consort like that at the Globe, and they really look forward to it, it’s a very, very challenging ensemble. The other big diversion was that we decided to use Renaissance timpani with it, and we’d never used that before, and why I decided was again, to just give that edge of royalty. There’s only a couple of moments really, when kings come on. One of them is Edward IV, and he’s clearly on the way out, so he doesn’t get quite as much of royal pomp as Richard does when he comes on after the coronation. But it’s almost like for Richard’s pomp march, the ante has been upped for that one, because it’s as if he’s said ‘I want it to be irrefutably royal—I don’t want anyone to have any truck with me being king’. So it’s out in full force, sackbuts and drums and timpani and shawms. So the timpani is a revelation, it worked very, very well; it’s in the pre-show and it’s in those places where you are announcing a royal personage, so it differentiates from the other nobles in the play. That’s often quite a problem because to the public, everyone’s coming on in what looks like incredibly rich clothing, and there are little details which Elizabethans would have been incredibly aware of, to do with colour for example, as well as the material people wear, to say what their status is. Modern audiences don’t know that, they only know if someone’s wearing a crown that they’re king, so the music really does have to demonstrate that we’ve moved up a notch in terms of people’s deference and status on the stage. So for Richard, all of those things became very vital; the kind of status play that you’re giving characters on stage, as well as the narrative of the story. The music’s responsible for that.

A man wearing an ermine royal cloak and golden doublet smiles.

Mark Rylance as Richard III in 2013. Photographer: Simon Annand.

Now the other thing on Richard is that of course it’s very natural for them to double on recorders, and there are quite a few recorder moments. Recorders signify death and the supernatural in the Elizabethan world picture, and that works very, very well on Richard, particularly in that long ‘ghost scene’ the night before the battle, where all the ghosts come back. They’re in the discovery space, so a lot of people in the theatre can’t see them, but they hear this beautiful recorder cue that plays over and over again. So you get, very distinctly, the fact that Richard’s asleep and you know it’s a dream, and you know it’s a dream about people who have died, as you hear their voices, but it [the recorder cue] supports the supernatural world. It’s the same music—that’s French again—that we use for the scene where they’re setting up the bed for Clarence in the tower. So it links beautifully with Clarence being killed, and murders and so on.

The other thing that I thought was an interesting musical moment in this play is when the drums are on stage, and Richard is getting his drummers to shut up his mum.

Yes, again a demonstration of great power. To do this to a parent in Elizabethan England, a former queen, the dowager queen, is a terrible act, and the audience would have been horrified by that. But the use of trumpets and drums, the most powerful military force that you can have, is again reinforcement—bringing musicians on stage who are entirely justified as characters then in the story, in his [Richard’s] world. As we know that trumpets and drums—certainly, we know that there were lots of trumpeters on the roll of the royal household, more trumpeters than could ever be used were on that roll—and they used to play in the play houses to supplement what income they (weren’t) getting from the royal household. So it would be wonderful to know more about that actually, more records if there are—more evidence—about who they were, and where they came from. But they were all people that knew battle calls. So all the calls we use—all the trumpet and drum calls—are from real battle calls of the period. Mersenne, [Magnus] Thomsen, and some Italian calls [by Bendinelli] in there as well. They’re all actual calls—I haven’t made any of them up. Again, an Elizabethan audience would have known that, and what they meant. Our audience doesn’t, but they get the general idea I think, because the story marries beautifully with what the calls are.

An actor wearing a black Elizabethan gown addresses another actor wearing a golden doublet and crown, before a group of onlookers.

By using the drummers to silence his mother, Richard III is demonstrating great power, and an Elizabeth audience would have been horrified by that. Kurt Egyiawan as Duchess of York and Mark Rylance as Richard III in the Broadway transfer of Richard III. Photographer: Joan Marcus.

I’ll just ask you a little bit about location of musicians—could you just say a bit about where musicians are in this play, in terms of when you’ve got them out on the stage, and when they’re not on the stage, where they are?

Well there are three positions in this show. They share being onstage and offstage. So, unseen music is quite important in this play, simply because (again) of the supernatural, and the atmosphere of death that surrounds the play, really from the end of the first soliloquy, when he says, ‘I’m going to kill him’, and you think, well here we go! So, for all the unseen music, which is mainly recorders, recorder consort with bass sackbut, that’s played just behind the music gallery, offstage. And what we do at the Globe to try and deal with the fact that recorders can’t modify their volume, they’re either on or off, we have do that by how we use their location. So we can’t move them further off, because they’re sitting down to play, but what we can do is open the doors at the back of the music gallery when they start, and then close those doors if we want it to feel that the sound has become softer, or they’ve moved further off. There are some cues that we do—its very effective—particularly, there’s an underscore cue where Queen Elizabeth has come out and is talking about her children that have been killed. Again, I felt that I wanted these recorder pieces to stitch under that. It comes in from another scene from before that has a higher, more volatile energy, and she has to come on stage and bring everyone to this place where she, a mother, has lost her children, and her power, really. Which is an incredibly dangerous place for a royal woman to be in, in that period. And so, I underscored by keeping the doors shut, and then it doesn’t necessarily interfere with the text. So that’s one place.

They also play backstage in that position when Richard is actually in the music gallery as a monk, and they’re singing a Catholic chant—which is unusual, to ask a band to do that, and they were very happy to do that. And of course, it becomes a wonderfully comic energy in the scene, by having that happen. So the music gallery is also of course an acting space, so it’s interesting: if you need music at the same time, what would happen? It would be interesting to look at texts and see, if music is happening at the same time as a character is up there, usually it seems to me that music happens from the stage. But if it’s unseen, that would be a fascinating discovery. So the other place that musicians play in Richard is at the front of the music gallery, and they play in a line. So they come out wearing livery, as if they belong more to the theatre, or to a society of waits, than characters in the story. So they’re behaving more like house musicians, who can then dive into the story by going on stage, or just provide incidental music. The other place they play from is onstage, as we discussed. No other places than that, in this show.

A man wearing armour stands smiling before a group of actors on the Globe Theatre stage.

The Musicians positioned in the music gallery during Richard III. Photographer: Simon Annand.

You did Henry V as well this season. Do you find that there’s anything useful or interesting about having something like Henry on the one hand where you are able to look in slightly other ways, and then having OP shows at the same time?

When we use this term OP, it’s a consensus that you’ve made a decision that we will look at somewhat of a snapshot, of 1602, from our perspective. From everything that we know, and as I said before, we don’t do anything without sources or references. We don’t make anything up, in other words. If we can’t find the reference for it, then we don’t do it. That’s how that consensus has been built up. But what it ignores is the fact that, to this audience, it’s archaic. There’s nothing modern about it. Yet what’s very modern and liberating about OP is it’s so fabulous and exotic, particularly an all male cast, in some ways the audience finds it easier to lift totally into their imagination. Imaginary forces work on them in a very magical way, and I think that’s the virtue of OP. I’m not saying that it always works best all male, I think that we could have done Richard with women, and it still may have had that magic, but there is something so exotic about the all-male that it helps that process even more. It’s so extraordinary, you feel, ‘I’m in an Elizabethan world, and therefore I’m nor worried about anything; the swords are there, all the references are there, the hats are there, the bowing’s there’. It’s a world that’s entire and complete, from the way people come on and bow, the way they take their hats off. Enormous work (and care) has been done by the actors; the way they speak the verse, huge attention to detail, and I think the audience recognises that.

Listen to the music from Richard III

Performing music that Shakespeare would recognise on a wide array of rare historical instruments, the Musicians of Shakespeare’s Globe perform over two dozen short masterworks from the period that featured in Richard III and Twelfth Night. This includes works by Morley, Holborne, Dowland, Gibbons, Mundy, and others, arranged by Claire van Kampen.