Ariel (1998)

For unaccompanied Soprano   18 minutes

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a play suffused with music, and has always been inviting to composers.  The magic of the island has a musical aspect (“the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not”) and in any production of the play, there are also songs which must be set to music.  Ariel has three songs, and several settings of them have entered the concert repertoire.

Ariel includes these songs, but also sets passages which Shakespeare did expect to be sung, to create a character portrait of this elusive, magical creature.  I was interested in his changeable moods, sometimes playful, sometimes vengeful, and in his difficult relationship with his master, Prospero, who has promised him freedom but takes until The End of the play to let him go.

There are five movements.  The first includes Come unto these yellow sands.  The second begins with Ariel’s account of his actions during the storm, and leads into Full Fathom Five.  The third is a mournful vocalise.  An exchange with Prospero follows.  In the last movement Ariel is freed, and sings Where the bee sucks.

The cycle was written for soprano Katie Tearle in 1998.  (Two years later, I wrote incidental music for a production of The Tempest at the Almeida Theatre.  The songs were for an actor, Aidan Gillen, and so were completely different.)

The first performance, at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill in 1998, was staged: Katie Tearle performed with dancer and choreographer Clare Whistler, in an installation created by Alasdair Middleton.

Text: William Shakespeare from The Tempest

First performance: 15th May 1998, Katie Tearle, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill.