To celebrate the 450th birthday of The Bard, Tempesta di Mare joined the Folger Consort for their program Brave New World: Music of The Tempest. In Washington DC’s magnificent National Cathedral, we performed incidental music by Matthew Locke, Robert Smith and songs from Thomas Shadwell’s 1674 production of The Tempest, James Primosch’s Songs and Dances from ‘The Tempest’ and our namesake, La Tempesta di Mare by Vivaldi.
Prior to boarding the Amtrak to DC, I re-read The Tempest. The last time that I read it, the view from my window was of Wells Cathedral, where I was a sixth-former studying the play in preparation for A-level examinations. Proustian moments abounded as I read the play this time around. Tears sprang to my eyes at the searing beauty of the poetry, and at the happy memory of being overwhelmed by it at age 17.
The Folger Library generously arranged for musicians of Tempesta to tour their music collection during our stay. Laid in front of us were Byrd partbooks, lute songs bearing Dowland’s signature, Purcell’s King Arthur, Thomas Morley’s ‘textbook’ in the form of a dialogue and… Locke’s The Tempest. We read Queen Elizabeth 1’s patent to Tallis and Byrd, granting them permission to print and sell copies of their works during a time of religious turmoil, and Dryden’s glowing words about Purcell’s genius.
During the concert, I looked up at the gothic interior of the National Cathedral. If I squinted just a little, I could imagine myself in an England of times past, contemplating the themes of The Tempest, as relevant to a person of the early seventeenth century as they are to us today. The dawn of the Age of Information makes it easy for us to access images and form opinions in the time it takes for us to blink. Great works of art such as The Tempest demand that we engage our intellects when considering profound questions of humanity and our co-habitation on this strange sphere, and the fact that they endure for centuries teaches us to lean on and learn from our collective wisdom. The power that art has to articulate our most profound emotions and experiences, regardless of our place in time or space, is what makes it so important that we stand and listen to it when it speaks. As it has been said, if we experience it, Shakespeare probably wrote about it – and that’s just Shakespeare. Listen, look, read, and participate in art. It is humanity in its essence.
There is not anything of human trial
That ever love deplored or sorrow knew,
No glad fulfillment, and no sad denial
Beyond the pictured truth that Shakespeare drew.