Monday, September 24, 2012

Generation "Anonymous": A fresh new voice revives a long-lost composer (hint: "Shakespeare"?)

Earlier this month, I received an email from a cellist based in New York state who has developed a "narrative concert" based around the music of the Elizabethan composer Thomas Weelkes. Her band, Rasputina, are musically rediscovering and reinterpreting Weelkes' canon -- and reconsidering the argument first put forward by Oxfordian researcher Eric Altschuler in the early 2000s that Oxford wrote Weelkes' music and/or lyrics.

Here's the video trailer for Rasputina's "Fa La La": 

Melora Creager, "directress" of Rasputina -- with a sheaf of musical credits including playing with Nirvana on their final 1994 European tour -- says "Fa La La" is slated to be premiered in New York in the fall of 2013. She hopes to tour the show around the country (the world?) thereafter. 

Still to come, a transcript of my interview with Creager. 

In the meantime, after the jump, her brief description of her vision for "Fa La La" and how the Shakespeare authorship controversy, among other things, provides grist for some tremendous music. 

In a narrative concert (music/song/spoken-word), alternative cello/vocal ensemble Rasputina performs the music of Renaissance madrigalist Thomas Weelkes. Representing Ladies of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, the players explore textual connections between Weelkes, Shakespeare and the 17th Earl of Oxford, and challenge concepts like classical/popular, man/woman, and true/false. With reverence to the original manuscripts, the ancient arrangements are modernized through rearrangement, live looping, the addition of percussion and use of natural voice. A slick and austere visual design contrasts the complex density of the lives discussed and the music itself.


I love discovering game-changing cultural concepts. I'd never heard of the authorship controversy, and hadn't been interested in Shakespeare. As an artist myself, I often get excited about an historical artist by being able to connect their work to their life - Emily Dickinson, for example.

I saw Anonymous at the Columbia County (NY) film festival before its release. We were late, so we had to sit in the front row. [Screenwriter] John Orloff was there to explain and answer questions afterwards. It was a fantastic way to discover this subject! I read everything I could find after that - on a Kindle in the back of the tour van by flashlight. I just kept reading and reading, going deeper and deeper. (Still am.)

I read a student-paper by Christopher Wang about DeVere's possible connections to madrigals and Thomas Weelkes. As I searched out the music and began playing it, I was stunned by its combination of beauty, originality, cleverness, succinctness, ...oh I could go on and on. It's also appealing to me how the structure of these short madrigal songs relates to a pop-hit and that most of Weelkes' songs are unknown and unheard- for 200-400 years!

As a musician/artist, this is my way of sharing delight in the work and creatively exposing the injustice.


Weelkes/DeVere is the same straw-man story as Shakespeare/DeVere, but pretty much unexplored. It's 100% impossible that an unknown, uneducated teen-ager wrote these songs. As far as I can discover, besides Weelkes, DeVere and Shakespeare, no one else was tossing-off falconry metaphors (and frequently). Madrigal music was a new form, and an exclusively aristocratic past-time.
I think the bulk of this music (3 books, 60 songs) was written in the 1570s when DeVere was putting together looser shows, like masques and pastorals. It was published in the late 1590s, when DeVere seems to have been perfecting and releasing earlier work. The publishing of this music lines up well with the beginning of DeVere's annuity and of plays being published under the Shakespeare name.

The plays and poems are so full of musical reference. Just like law, Italy, horticulture, soldiery, etc. because DeVere was intimate with the subject. This might be his music.


Bill Shakespeare said...

Hi Mark, I have written a book about James I's Master of the Ceremonies, Sir Lewes Lewkenor, which covers much of the same ground as your book and many of the same characters. I would appreciate your opinion of my work. Please visit my website
for more details,


William Corbett

mitevision said...

Shakespeare is still hero in drama history.


Luke said...

Hi, when will this interview be up, please?