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Programming Shakespearean Song Settings in Recital Context: The Wigmore Hall 1901–2001

Muse, Pamela Ann Waddington


Pamela Ann Waddington Muse


Christopher Wilson

Lee Tsang


Song recitals for solo voice and piano begin to appear in London in the 1880s. Gradually, various public venues accommodate such events so that, along with a mix of other entertainments, by the turn of the century they are an integral part of concert life. The Bechstein Hall in London (which opens in 1901 and is renamed the Wigmore Hall in 1917) proves to be a significant venue, in which song recitals come to flourish. Thus, with its unrivalled reputation as Britain’s foremost venue in this genre of performance, the Bechstein/Wigmore Hall is chosen to be the focus of this study.
While poetry in languages other than English (notably French and German) is to be found in song recitals, Shakespearean settings appear not infrequently as being particularly representative of ‘Englishness’. During the later nineteenth century, Shakespeare becomes the principal national literary and cultural icon, a pre-eminence reflected in singers’ and composers’ predilection for his lyrics. The Bechstein/Wigmore Hall’s extensive archive reveals that around six hundred and fifty programmes contain Shakespeare items during the period 1901 to 2001, all of which are recorded by the present writer in a separate, searchable database in the possession of the author, thus facilitating a study of the various ways in which Shakespeare settings are integrated into a wide spectrum of concerts.
A study of secondary literature reveals that little exists on the subject of song-recital programming; as Ridgewell (2003) contends, recital programming in the twentieth century is not considered in any systematic way. This situation is partly remedied by Bashford, Cowgill and McVeigh in the Concert Life in Nineteenth-Century London Database (see Dibble and Zon, eds, 2002 for the project overview). Websites offering sample programmes for song recitals (such as ‘The Myriad Song’, created by McGreevy and Gould, 2010) are useful for practitioners, but do not provide much historical perspective; nor, indeed, do books with a similar intent (Emmons and Sonntag, 1979; Kimball, 2013; Olson, 2015). Singers of the twentieth century variously cover repertoire and programming in their writings (Plunket Greene, 1912; Schiøtz, 1971; Henderson (Faulkner, ed.), 1983; Manning, 1994 and 1998). Johnson (1996) does not aim to provide specific advice to performers; his erudite essays relate to the programming of a selection of concerts given by The Songmakers’ Almanac over a period of twenty years. Nonetheless, these seminal events result in changes in British song-recital programming promulgated almost single-handedly by Johnson in the late twentieth century.
The period covered exhibits both significant changes and continuity for the song recital. In narrowing the focus to those recitals featuring settings of Shakespeare’s iconic texts, I concentrate on a series of ‘snap-shots’ taking in a wide variety of recital styles.
The programmes here viewed through the lens of Shakespearean songs are miniature historical documents, not only informing us as to how these songs are absorbed into concert strategies, but also serving to point to cultural, social and historical shifts over a period of a little over one hundred years. The programming of musical events, hitherto a neglected area of study, should certainly be considered worthy of further exploration.


Muse, P. A. W. (2019). Programming Shakespearean Song Settings in Recital Context: The Wigmore Hall 1901–2001. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2023
Publicly Available Date Oct 18, 2023
Keywords Music
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Music
University of Hull
Award Date May 29, 2019


Thesis (9.7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Pamela Ann Waddington Muse. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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