About this Recording
8.572501 - CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny)

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968):
Shakespeare Overtures • 2


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, born in Florence, Italy, studied composition and pianoforte at the Istituto Musicale Cherubini and later at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. His mentors were Pizzetti and Casella, members of the influential and progressive Società Italiana di Musica, a group of composers (including Malipiero and Respighi), with whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco became closely associated.

In 1938, as a result of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts, Castelnuovo-Tedesco decided to leave for the United States. From Switzerland he wrote to Toscanini and Heifetz who both promised him friendship, lodging and the possibility of further work in the film studios of MGM. On his arrival in New York in July 1939 he was met by Heifetz who also commissioned a violin concerto which was fulfilled straightaway. Toscanini performed the overture The Taming of The Shrew later that year “more admirably than I ever heard it before.” After settling in California Castelnuovo-Tedesco became a prolific writer of film music between 1940 and 1956, in the same period composing more than seventy concert works. As a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, he numbered among his pupils Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn, and the composer John Williams. His works include operas, ballets, film scores, orchestral works, a quantity of choral pieces and songs, chamber music, piano compositions, and over a hundred pieces for guitar, ranging from concertos to many solos and duos.

The art of William Shakespeare was a recurring fascination for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In the early 1920s he set to music 33 songs from the plays as well as 35 sonnets. In addition to the six Overtures on this recording and the five on Volume 2 (Naxos 8.572501), he also wrote two Shakespearean operas, The Merchant of Venice (1956) and All’s Well That Ends Well (1957).

The eleven overtures¹ were composed in the following order:

La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew), Op. 61 (1930)
La dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), Op. 73 (1933)
Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice), Op. 76 (1933)
Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar), Op. 78 (1934)
Il racconto d’inverno (The Winter’s Tale), Op. 80 (1935)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 108 (1940)
King John, Op. 111 (1941)
Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 (1947)
The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 (1947)
Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 164 (1953)
As You Like It, Op. 166 (1953)

Throughout his eleven overtures Castelnuovo-Tedesco creates impressions of specific aspects of the drama rather than following closely the details of the plot. Direct quotations from the texts introduce musical ideas, continuing through the score to signify new sections or change of mood. The works are written for large orchestra, though the first, The Taming of the Shrew, being less ambitious, uses strings, double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, one trombone (no tuba), timpani, piano and harp, and a generous percussion section including xylophone and glockenspiel.

Throughout his eleven overtures Castelnuovo-Tedesco creates impressions of specific aspects of the drama rather than following closely the details of the plot. Direct quotations from the texts introduce musical ideas, continuing through the score to signify new sections or change of mood. The works are written for large orchestra, though the first, The Taming of the Shrew, being less ambitious, uses strings, double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, one trombone (no tuba), timpani, piano and harp, and a generous percussion section including xylophone and glockenspiel.

As You Like It begins with the Duke’s comment towards the end of Act II, Scene 7, Give us some music; and, good cousin, sing, leading to the well known song, Blow, blow, thou winter wind. The two main sections are Introduction and The Forest of Arden. An arresting opening with the composer’s characteristic parallel fourths and fifths, progresses to a hunting horn call from the Forest and the discourse before the Duke Frederick’s entrance in Act I, Scene 3:

Rosalind. Look, here comes the duke.
Celia. With his eyes full of anger.

The cor anglais theme heralds a contrasting woodwind episode and a witty dance using castanets follows. Quotations abound on the score throughout, including the song performed by the Page for Touchstone (Act V, Scene 3), It was a lover and his lass, and also Under the greenwood tree / Who loves to lie with me, sung by Amiens at the start of Act II, Scene 5. An episode reminiscent of Wagner emerges as murmurs from the forest are inspired by another song, What shall he have that kill’d the deer? / His leather skin and horns to wear. / Then sing him home, introduced by the second Lord in the habit of a forester. The quotations inserted here are not in chronological dramatic order, for this overture is no straightforward account of the ingenious plot but rather a cumulative series of atmospheric images.

The Merchant of Venice, dedicated to Toscanini², begins with a commanding unison figure on the strings, repeated and developed throughout the orchestra. The predominant mood of this section and the next are indicated by the only quotation provided, when Shylock rages, in Act II, Scene 8, My daughter! – O my ducats! – O my daughter! / Fled with a Christian? – O my Christian ducats! / Justice! The law! – My ducats, and my daughter! An ingenious rhythmic device, whereby the eight quavers are played in a pattern of 3:3:2, precedes a prominent violin and viola dialogue, followed by an extended violin solo (quasi Barcarola). The final section, Largo, pesante e tragico! offers further repetition of the opening with a vivid cinematic quality.

Much Ado about Nothing, dedicated to Robert Whitney and The Louisville Orchestra, who made the first recording, is divided into easily recognisable sections. First, Introduzione, in classical mode, invokes images of pipers and dancers. The next episode, Badinage, is prefaced with the speech from Leonato, Governor of Messina, of Act I, Scene 1, You must not, sir, mistake my niece: there is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her: they never meet but there is a skirmish of wit between them. Finally an oboe melody brings matters to a conclusion. Next comes the Funeral March, based on Claudio’s invocation (Act V, Scene 3), Now, music, sound; and sing your solemn hymn. This is introduced by the bass clarinet (as in the funeral march of Julius Caesar), steadily increasing in volume. The final part, Love Duet, features the interaction between Benedick and Beatrice (Act V, Scene 4):

Benedick: Do not you love me?
Beatrice: Why, no; no more than reason.

This moves on quickly to Benedick’s remarks to Claudio, Come, come, we are friends: let’s have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts, and our wives’ heels. A variety of themes now merge to provide the most romantic of finales, with a brief reminder of the opening, fourteen bars from the end, and Benedick’s joyful command, Strike up, pipers. (Dance. Exeunt).

King John, dedicated to John Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic Symphony³, takes as its text the drama’s final declamation, delivered by the Lord Bigot:

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
An we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.

After the highly charged opening, the composer’s unique voice remains distinctive throughout, despite affectionate references to Elgar and Walton in the use of triplet and fanfare. This overture, rather than being preoccupied with any dramatic structure, offers instead a strong statement on behalf of the quoted speech, reflecting the fervent hopes for allied victory at the height of the war in 1941.

The Winter’s Tale starts with woodwind and harp, followed by a theme on solo cello, expressing the feelings of Polixenes, King of Bohemia, concerning his relationship with Leontes, King of Sicilia in Act I, Scene 2:

We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d
That any did.

This melody was also the second theme in the slow movement of the Guitar Concerto (1939), presented in that context as a farewell to the Tuscan countryside. Since The Winter’s Tale was written four years previously, it seems that the use of this theme in the concerto was in itself a kind of reminiscence. This aspect is given a fuller treatment on the strings in the overture but includes a new section, indicated by Leontes’s jealous fit, delivered as an aside shortly after the previous quotation:

Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy, – not joy…

Here the composer deploys the opening theme more powerfully to establish the changed mood. In a quieter moment, based on Hermione’s regretful words in Act II, Scene 1, having been accused of adultery, Adieu, my lord: / I never wish’d to see you sorry, a poignant cor anglais intercedes, followed by a vigorous close to the section.

The scene (Act III, Scene 3) changes to Bohemia, A Desert Country near the Sea. In this pastoral environment a dance of Shepherds and Shepherdesses takes place. Autolycus, ‘a Rogue’, enters singing Lawn as white as driven snow, rounding off the song with, Come buy of me, come; come buy, come buy; Buy, lads, or else your lasses cry: / Come buy. Here Castelnuovo-Tedesco, with muted trumpets, quotes from his vocal setting of The Pedlar (1924). The previous cor anglais theme returns, in a passage marked Florizel and Perdita. The next quotation reverts to Act II, Scene 3, and the jealous folly of Leontes, Nor night, nor day, no rest: it is but weakness / To bear the matter thus. A brief harp cadenza leads on to the final section, where the initial cello theme is reprised by the strings in a rich setting, inspired by the chapel scene, where Paulina, wife to Antigonus (Act V, Scene 3), introduces Hermione’s miraculous return to life, Music, awake her; strike! / ’Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach. The work closes with a display of vivid orchestral colour and distant bells intoning over a reminiscence of all the themes heard throughout this overture.

Andrew Penny and Graham Wade

With grateful acknowledgement to Vi King Lim, National Music Library Manager at Symphony Services Australia Ltd, for extra research into the dedications and quotations on the scores of four of these overtures.


¹ The five Overtures with Italian titles – La bisbetica domata, La dodicesima notte, Il mercante di Venezia, Giulio Cesare and Il racconto d’inverno – were engraved by Casa Ricordi in Italy. The remaining overtures were titled in English and for this recording the manuscripts were sent to the library of the ABC in Sydney and copied there. A Midsummer Night’s Dream also appears in some Ricordi catalogues under its Italian title Sogno di una notte di mezza estate.

² Toscanini conducted much of the music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In her book Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – His Life And Works For Guitar (Ashley Mark, 1999) Cerazon Otero recounts how Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Toscanini met in 1933 for the first time in Milan when Toscanini was to conduct the Second Concerto for Violin and Orchestra which was dedicated to Heifetz. In 1935 Toscanini conducted the first performance of The Winter’s Tale in Vienna. The bells at the end of this performance were a little strong for the composer who was asked to attend another performance in Budapest the following week. Apparently the Maestro achieved a better balance this time, the bells “dissolving almost ethereally into the ears of the audience.” Live recordings of The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream conducted by Toscanini were issued ‘privately’ on LP.

³ Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s arrival in America coincided with John Barbirolli’s tenure as permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Symphony of New York, (1937–43) later known as the New York Philharmonic. In November 1939 Castelnuovo-Tedesco appeared as soloist in his own Second Piano Concerto with Barbirolli and his orchestra. A live recording exists from March, 1942 of Barbirolli conducting King John, dedicated to the conductor when it was written in 1941. This piece was written expressly for Barbirolli (who was later dubbed Glorious John by Ralph Vaughan Williams rather than King John) in recognition both of his qualities as a conductor and as a fellow expatriate of Italian origin in New York.

Close the window