Macbeth Music Director's Notes

The Folger Consort has of course mounted several Restoration music theater projects in the past, including The Fairy Queen, The Tempest, and most recently the Charles Gildon revision of Measure for Measure which contains all of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. These pieces, which featured semi-staged readings by Richard Clifford, Sir Derek Jacobi, and other fine actors along with our period music, were wonderfully satisfying projects. Here, though, with Davenant’s Macbeth, we have the unparalleled opportunity to stage fully one of the most popular works of Restoration music theater with the participation of scholars, musicians and actors.

Although there were many Restoration performances of Davenant’s version of Macbeth as early as 1664 and continuing into the next century, we have no complete music for the play from any of these productions. The early Restoration performances may have had some music composed by Matthew Locke. They most likely also used earlier settings from before Cromwell, since some of the song texts for Davenant’s musical scenes were already present in the 1623 First Folio and were taken from another play, Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (1615-16).

We do have music for later productions by John Eccles (ca. 1668-1735) and Richard Leveridge (ca. 1670-1758), and for this production we have elected to use most of Eccles’s surviving settings. His music is more interesting than Leveridge’s and is closer in time to our setting of the play in 1666 Bedlam.

At this performance you will hear Eccles’s music for the four witches’ songs: Speak, Sister, Speak; Let’s Have a Dance; Hecate, Oh, Come Away; and Black Spirits and White. Apart from a couple of short instrumental symphonies, that is all that we have of Eccles’s settings, and in whichever London theater this version was first performed there would have been an overture and most likely a set of pieces following before the curtain, then a curtain tune. There would also have been instrumental music separating all the acts. Restoration theater audiences were fond of lots of musical interpolations in their plays, ‘in the manner of an opera.’ Some examples more well known today than Davenant’s Macbeth are versions of The Tempest with music by Matthew Locke and, of course, the wonderful music by Henry Purcell (1659-95) for The Fairy Queen, King Arthur, Abdelazar, and Diocletian, which we refer to today as semi-operas.

In a way, the paucity of early Restoration sources for the music for Davenant’s Macbeth gives us leave to draw on some of this other roughly contemporary theater music. This borrowing and reuse are entirely in the spirit of Restoration theater. We’ll begin, for instance with some theatrical music by Matthew Locke that only survives in a manuscript source. Before the play begins, you will hear the Curtain Tune from Locke’s music for The Tempest. There is plenty of music here by Purcell, the greatest English composer of his time. Listeners might recognize the Rondeau from Abdelazar, the Act IV Symphony from The Fairy Queen, the Overture to Dido and Aeneas, his famous mad song for Bess of Bedlam, From silent shades, and the Funeral March for Queen Mary.

The rest of our music this evening is drawn from the wonderful 17th century repertoire of English and Scottish country dances, and from various Scottish sources of fiddle and bagpipe music. You will mostly hear this music when the action of the play takes place out on the moors. Consort listeners and lovers of Scottish music might recognize tunes like The Scottish Huntsup, Highland Laddie, and the Reel of Tulloch. From Playford’s dance collections we have appropriated Moll Peatly and a lovely and haunting tune we have come to regard as Lady Macduff’s theme, Long Cold Nights.

It was not our intention to shape the relationship between music and speech in our production exactly as it would have been done in the Drury Lane or Lincoln’s Inn Fields theaters in the 17th century, with lavishly staged musical entertainments interspersed with the actual spoken play. Rather, we are inspired by the Restoration enthusiasm for ‘semi-opera’ to integrate 17thcentury words and music in an organic way that we hope will please our modern audience.

– Robert Eisenstein


Above right: Photo of the Folger Consort by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet.