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New Shakespeare Songbook: Switzerland

Anahì Traversi performs Povera anima (Poor soul) - Shakespeare's Sonnet 146.

On the 400 anniversary of his death, the BBC and Austrian broadcaster ORF, with the support of the European Broadcasting Union, have decided to commission a New Shakespeare Songbook, offering today’s composers and musicians across Europe, the chance to respond afresh to these timeless texts.

New Shakespeare Songbook: Switzerland

Povera anima (Sonnet 146) - performed by Anahì Traversi

Sonnet 146 (Povera anima - Poor Soul)

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?

Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?

So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:

So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Interview with Zeno Gabaglio - Composer and cellist

To talk about Shakespeare today suggests two things: on the one hand a look into a remote past around the time of Shakespeare's work, and on the other the awareness – also in the region of Italian culture south of the Alps – of a reality common to all locals.

Each time you stroll through Verona, it is inevitable to think about Romeo and Juliet’s balcony.

We tried to solve this ambiguity while respecting the past and also in the awareness that, by using Shakespeare, we turn to someone whom Shakespeare already knows the identity of.

The idea of writing a song for a Shakespearean text, with the purpose of creating a piece of contemporary music and nothing more, opens a whole universe of possibilities.

We decided to limit the choice of instruments to the instrument I play, the cello, both acoustic and electric, and to a few inserts of other electronic instruments, and to omit common pop music clichés such as drums, guitar or electric bass. The result is a creation somewhere between pop music and classic music.

To compose a song for a Shakespearean text raises the question of how to use it. Back in those days the music composed to texts usually focussed on emphasizing single nuances of a text, a characteristic classical approach. I’m referring to the so-called madrigalisms, in which a musical passage was created to express a single word’s meaning.

Pop music is very different because it almost never emphasises a single word. It prefers to create a flow, a global musical sensation that does not fragment the text’s narrative or emotional aspects.

We took this challenge and opted for a harmonious, rather uniform development of sound, an arrangement aiming at joining rather than at breaking up the individual parts of the text.

About the New Shakespeare Songbook

Peter Maniura - BBC Shakespeare Lives:

"If music be the food of love, play on..."

Shakespeare is a great songwriter; songs permeate the tragedies, comedies and histories and have provided a source of inspiration for composers, lyricists and performers for four centuries.

On the 400 anniversary of his death, the BBC and Austrian broadcaster ORF, with the support of the European Broadcasting Union, have decided to commission a New Shakespeare Songbook, offering today’s composers and musicians across Europe, the chance to respond afresh to these timeless texts.

But this isn’t just music to be heard, it’s meant to be seen as well. Composers and performers worked with film-makers and directors to produce new songs which were also conceived as films.

The teams were free to use any Shakespeare text from his plays and sonnets and to set them in English, or in their native tongue. There was no restriction in terms of musical genre. The British songs were co-commissioned by BBC Shakespeare Lives and BBC Radio 3.

We hope you enjoy the imaginative, diverse and poetic results – welcome to the New Shakespeare Songbook!

Behind the scenes - with singer Anahi Traversi

New Shakespeare Songbook: Anahì Traverse interview

Swiss singer Anahi Traversi discusses Shakespeare

Other countries' music videos