There seem to be many alternative histories bouncing around this universe. In 1580 an inquest was held in the town of Warwick in England to determine whether the death by drowning of young Katherine Hamlet, fifteen at the time, was due to suicide or misadventure. It was rumored she was distraught about the dissolution of a romantic relationship, but the verdict was accident. Even earlier, in June of 1569, a child by the name of Jane Shaxspere drowned in a pond not far from where Katherine Hamlet would meet her demise. She was not yet three years old, and some researchers have speculated that the little girl was picking marigolds by the water just prior to her death. Then there are the Cloptons, one Margaret who drowned herself around 1590 and around whom there has been much speculation about her being the actual model for Ophelia. Though Charlotte Clopton, also of the Warwickshire Cloptons, was credited as being an inspiration for Shakespeare as well. One report on Charlotte Clopton has her entombed, Juliet Capulet like, in the vaults beneath the Stratford church. She is approaching death, suffering from the “sleeping sickness,” and buried, apparently, alive, accidentally. Mourners, visiting the tomb upon the death of another Clopton, discover to their horror, the recently deceased Charlotte, standing, in her burial shroud, and it is reported that she had apparently eaten part of her own shoulder while trapped inside. I am just repeating Stratfordian research, that describes many dubious Clopton/Bard associations from The Taming of the Shrew (the Clopton family represented by the Minola family) to Henry the Fifth (in which the husband of Joan Clopton, Thomas Erpingham, is addressed by the young King Henry prior to the battle of Agincourt; Henry suggesting that the lord is too old to sleep upon the ground.) Though there are many more claimants to the title of Ophelia’s real life inspiration (not just the zombie Clopton women), I find the case for Anne Cecil, daughter of William Cecil Lord Treasurer Burghley utterly convincing, as supported by the history of the two families of Edward DeVere and Burghley, no members of which have been reported as having been buried alive and reduced to autosarcophagy.
My settings of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and the sonnets are contained in eight books so far, (each book containing as many as twelve pieces) which I title Oxford Songs because I subscribe to the unorthodox opinion that Shakespeare is the pseudonym of Edward DeVere, the 17th earl of Oxford. The doubts regarding Shakespeare’s ipseity have a long history. At one time those who doubted the Man from Stratford as the author flirted with the idea of Francis Bacon. Mark Twain wrote, “I only believed Bacon wrote Shakespeare, whereas I knew Shakespeare didn’t” in his essay “Is Shakespeare Dead?” Twain assailed the orthodox authorship view (known as the Stratfordian), writing, “since the Stratford Shakespeare couldn’t have written the Works, we infer that somebody did. Who was it then?” The view that it was Oxford wasn’t hypothesized until several years after Twain, first in 1920 by J. Thomas Looney. I share my Looney belief that the Stratfordian Shakespeare is not the author of our language’s greatest works with many predecessors.
Shakespeare dominates the literary landscape. Much that is written is nothing but exegesis of the bard. I come to Shakespeare in the same way as the wordsmith. My music is my commentary on the text. Like an actor, too, I impose upon you my interpretation of the words with gesture and timing, though my gestures are musical and my timing (thanks to the temporal distortion possible through music) can be quite exaggerated. You don’t have to agree with my perspective, but I hope you find it worth considering alongside the other Ophelia variations presented in this recording, crafted by diverse composers: Brahms, Schumann, Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, and John Cage.
My principal métier as a composer is opera. I’ve written four grand comic operas based upon Boccaccio's Decameron (1: And The Dead Shall Walk The Earth, 2: Courting Disaster, 3: Their Fate in the Hands of the Friar, 4: Also Known As; and three tragic operas: Hamlet, Hippolytus and The Tenor’s Suite. My chamber opera, The Tempest, is being completed as I write this text. (I plan on finishing a trio for Miranda, Ferdinand, and Prospero during my trip to China next week.) In addition to the operas and Oxford songs, I compose chamber music. Prior recordings, still available, of my music include What A Piece Of Work Is Man, an album of Shakespearean settings with an emphasis on arias from Hamlet for voice and piano; Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day, which features sonnets set to string quartet, harp, and other ensembles, as well as the string quintet Dance Of The Mechanics; So Many Journeys, containing my cello sonata, and excerpts from The Mousetrap with mezzo Kellie Van Horn as the Player Queen and Gertrude as well as her husband bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as the Player King; The Garden of Forking Paths, string quartet in C major with the Kalmia string quartet; and Shakespeare’s Memory the first in a series of recordings released by Navona, a series which will continue into the foreseeable future. The past is easier to see and the history of The Shakespeare Concerts began in 2003, with performances in Massachusetts and the US Virgin Islands, with recitals of music inspired by the immortal bard – from original English text settings, purely instrumental homages, to settings in translation – by composers contemporaneous with Shakespeare to those working today. But my first foray into setting the music of Edward DeVere was in 1990 when, exiled on an island in the Caribbean, I inked To Be Or Not To Be. The Shakespeare plays have to top everyone’s desert island book list.