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New Shakespeare Songbook: France's Sonnets 91 and 94

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: France

Sonnet 91 - performed by Oxmo Puccino

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, France Televisions has offered two of France’s most recognized artists for an original creation based on Shakespearean poetry.

Oxmo Puccino is the leader of a French rap movement, and nicknamed the Jacques Brel of French rap. Yaron Herman is one of the brightest pianists of his generation, born in Tel-Aviv and based in Paris for 13 years.

Together, they have chosen Shakespeare's Sonnets 91 and 94, two romantic and enigmatic pieces. The result of this first encounter between Oxmo Puccino, Yaron Herman and Shakespeare was recorded at the Ferber studio in Paris, on 17 December 2015.

The two short films consist of sequences that were filmed during the recording session, of a visual game around the sonnets written in calligraphy (a projection of the poem on different media, and a projection of filmed sequences on an old edition of a Shakespeare poetry book), but also of sequences filmed in Paris and showing a few men and women, representative of the French population, “saying” the sonnets 91 and 94, as Oxmo Puccino would. These images are synchronized with Oxmo Puccino’s voice.

The two main ideas behind those two films are:

  • to give one voice and a thousand faces to Shakespeare’s word, and
  • to place his poetry in the 21st century

Behind the scenes

New Shakespeare Songbook: Oxmo Puccini interview

French rapper Oxmo Puccino and composer Yaron Herman discuss Sonnets 91 & 94

Sonnet 91

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

Sonnet 94

They that have power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself, it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.

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!

New Shakespeare Songbook: France

Sonnet 94 - performed by Oxmo Puccino

Other countries' music videos