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Best Shakespeare texts set to music

My school is putting on a Shakepeare event and I would like my high school to sing some pieces with Shakespeare text. Does anyone have any favorites to recommend? Modern or classical. Thanks!
Replies (30): Threaded | Chronological
on October 28, 2012 3:39pm
oh, so many.  What a great idea.
Emma Lou Diemer Three Madrigals
Nils LIndberg Shall I compare Thee - sumtouosly gorgeous
William Schuman, Orpheus with his Lute  - so simple and so moving
Vaughan Williams, Three Shakespeare Songs - Cloud-Capped Towers is my favorite
I'll stop there - for now!
I once put Shakespeare into a musica search and come up with DOZENS of pages of responses.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 29, 2012 6:17am
Check out very do-able SATB settings by myself of The Sweet of the Year from The Winter's Tale and the Fairy Song from A Midsummer Night's Dream, published by Canasg Music.  
Canasg also publishes a setting by UK composer Phil Wood of Full Fathom Five from The Tempest, for SSA piano.   
I also recommend that you look at Matthew Harris's Shakespeare settings (published by G Schirmer)
on October 28, 2012 9:34pm
Here's a contemporary SSA setting of "Full Fathom Five."
Choral. Secular; contemporary. Octavo. Composed 2001. 4 pages. Duration 1:30.
The above sheetmusicplus link includes "look inside" images, so you can peruse the score.
This is a popular choral text; there are many settings.  For example:
on October 28, 2012 9:35pm
Rutter's, Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind
Eugene Butler, Four Shakespeare Songs (Lyrics?) are, surprizingly, very high quality
Vaughan-Williams, Seranade to Music
on October 29, 2012 3:20am
hello Ross
I have a setting of a Shakespeare sonnet, "Music to hear", for treble voices and piano (optional SATB parts too) - there are several YouTube performances available (see below) 
Paul Ayres (London UK)
Cantate Children's Choir, Virginia

Jeugdkoor Academie Brasschaat, Belgium

Bradford Youth Choir, UK (starts at 2'50" - abridged version)

Kiliana Youth Choir, Belgium
on October 29, 2012 4:20am
The Birthday Madrigals, John Rutter, Oxford
on October 29, 2012 7:48am
I really like Juhani Komulainen's settings of Shakespeare (Sulasol), but they require a pretty advanced choir to perform them.  ("Three Sonnets" are rather dark, but "Four Shakespeare Songs" have a nice variety of texts.)  Another piece I have done which has been a favorite with both my choir and audiences is Stefan Kalmer's "When Shall We Three Meet Again?" with forces of SSA/SSA/TBB, representing the three witches in Act I, Scene 1 of Macbeth.  It is challenging but worth the effort.
on October 29, 2012 7:55am
Ward Swingle's setting of It Was a Lover is always fun. 
on October 29, 2012 7:56am
Check out "Songs and Sonnets" by George Shearing for SATB, bass and keyboard.  The set is published by Hinshaw  (HMB226).  Lovely settings in a contemporary style to Shakespeare favorites!
All best,
Bob Boyd
on October 29, 2012 8:22am
I love the Emma Lou Diemer settings--love, love, love them!  In fact, we drag them out if I need something with piano for this kind of thing. 
But my favorite settings are the Matthew Harris settings.  He has Five Books full of Shakespeare settings--I think they are called "Shakepeare Songs" and there are every kind of setting--unaccompanied--you could wish.  From a "Gladys Knight and the Pips" version of "Who is Sylvia"--funky!--to a very sweet, delightful "There was a Lover and His Lass" and a lovely "Tell Me, Where is Fancy Bred."  These are not especially easy settings but there should be several appropriate for your group among the five books.  The first book was written about 2001,  I think.
on October 29, 2012 5:05pm
I have a setting of the famous sonnet *My Mistress' Eyes (are nothing like the sun...)* for SATB (A & B divisi) a cappella which might be of interest. I have scores and recordings (of a previous version) if you wish to see and hear!
Robert A.M. Ross
on July 4, 2013 7:10am
And now video as well!
on October 30, 2012 7:20am
Consider performing Sir David Willcocks' The Glories of Shakespeare,  published by Oxford. Excellent SSA settings of
"Who is Sylvia?", "Under the Greenwood Tree," "Fear No More the Heat O' the Sun," and "It was a Lover and His Lass."
Also- consider Tony-Hewitt-Jones setting of "Full Fathom Five," written for SATB divisi, from his Seven Sea Songs. Published by Novello.
Hope these suggestions help. I have sung all of them. When I sang the Glories of Shakespeare,  under Sir David's baton, the men sang the lower lines of the SSA ones, I think. The Tony Hewitt-Jones number is for a balanced divisi chorus! Fun to sing, and set as a strict canon- to me, highly evocative of the ringing of buoy bells.... Regarding performance suggestions of the "Full Fathom Five," I would be happy to share performance tips with you, learned from Sir David.  Email me:
csmith95 (at)
Carl Smith
on October 30, 2012 7:33am
Hi Ross, 
My winter concert last year was "A Winter's Tale" Here are some of the Shakespeare settings I used: 
Take, O Take, Those Lips Away         J. Edmund Hughes TB
Sigh No More, Ladies          from “Much Ado About Nothing”     Gary Walth  SATB
How Like a Winter Hath Your Absence Been              Matthew Harris (b.1956) SSAA w/divisi
Titania’s Lullaby           from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”         Nancy Hill Cobb SSA
Tell Me Where Fancy is Bred               from “The Merchant of Venice”      Matt Harris (b.1956) SATB
Sonnet 97. How like a Winter Hath Your Absence Been       Joseph Prestamo SATB
I Think On Thee                 Sonnet No. 30                 Daniel Gawthrop (b.1949)SATB
Take, O, Take Those Lips Away          from “Measure for Measure”   Matt Harris (b.1956)SATB
Hope that helps, 
Bruce Lengacher 
Acalanes High School
Lafayette, CA
on October 30, 2012 7:52am
I suggest Finnish composer Jaako Mantyjarvi's Four Shakespeare Songs, with some challenges but definitely doable by a youth or high school choir.  There is an excellent all-Shakespeare recording on Chandos of the Phoenix Bach group with Charles Bruffy that has these pieces on it, and a few YouTube recordings as well.
Len Ratzlaff
University of Alberta
on October 30, 2012 9:33am
You might like my a cappella SATB setting of Sonnet 43, which my unauditioned community chorus premiered last year. Here is an excerpt of the beginning, which is mostly vocalese. Please contact me if you'd like a complete recording and perusal pdf score. Here are the lyrics:
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
 All days are nights to see till I see thee,
 And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

good luck with your search,
on October 30, 2012 10:17am
A couple of works by Robert Young:
After Sunset
How Sweet he Moonlight Sleeps
Two Love Songs  #1, For Thy Sweet Love ("When in disgrace with fortune...")
on October 31, 2012 6:31am
Theron Kirk, especially "Honor, Riches........" There are five- haven't heard them in quite a while, so I hope they're still in print.
on October 31, 2012 8:22am
If you have a women's chorus in your school, you might consider my
Three Shakespeare Songs for SSA, trumpet, and piano.
    1.  Hark, hark the lark
    2.  Blow, blow though winter wind
    3.  Orpheus with his lute.
You can find a score and recording at the Composers Showcase.
These were originally written for children's chorus, but they will
suit women's voices.  Orpheus with his lute was spotlighted
recently on Choralnet.  Click here for details.
Another work worth considering is Music of the Spheres.  This
is SSA, horn, and piano.  I have also written a version for mixed chorus,
horn, and piano.  The text is from the Merchant of Venice

        How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

        Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music

        Creep in our ears.......

This is the same text Vaughan Williams used in Serenade to Music.



Brian Holmes

Winner, 2012 American Prize in Choral Composition

on July 3, 2013 7:48am
Chapel Hill High School recently commissioned me to compose The Tempest for SATB choir and piano to be premiered in January, 2014. The 4' work sets Scene I from the play, the shipwreck scene; it is a powerful concert-opener.To see a perusal copy, contact me via e-mail.
Ryan Kelly
West Chester University
on July 4, 2013 3:59am
To go through many of them, go to Musica database ( ), click on the "More criteria" button, and in the field "Author of text", type Shakespeare.
=> 301 answers.   Enjoy!
on July 4, 2013 6:28am
For an easier alternative to RVW's 'Shakespeare Songs' you could look at his 'Elizabethan Songs'. The last 2 are Shakespearean - The Willow Song and O Mistress Mine. SATB, and straightforward - bur as always with RVW, effective!
Alex Murchie
on July 5, 2013 6:50am
"Come Away Death" by Brian A. Schmidt, and "Tell me where is fancy bred" (or perhaps it's just called "Fancie") by Benjamin Britten are both nice octavi.
-Jerron Jorgensen
on July 5, 2013 11:30am
I would offer "Blow,Blow Thou Winter Wind" (SATB divisi) as a lively setting of this text. 
Recording and score here:
on July 5, 2013 4:46pm
Consider my work "Shakespeare's Kiss" for SATB and piano from Romeo and Juliet.  Very accessible work for a mixed choir.  Here's a youtube performance  You can currently obtain the music directly from me if you are interested. 
Best of success.
Rick Bartlett
on July 6, 2013 7:26am
I am workiing on just such a program.    Here is what I have at this point:
                                                      “Musical Shakespeare”
Serenade to Music     (from “The Merchant of Venice” Shakespeare) ….. R.Vaughan Williams   10-11’
                                                                        Piano / Violin                                                                        OPU
Blow, blow, thou winter wind     (from “As You Like It” Shakespeare)…..John Rutter                        3’
            From “When Icicles Hang”                                                                        Oxford U.Press   52.024
I Think On Thee   (Sonnet No. 30   Shakespeare) …………………………..Daniel Gawthrop            3’
                                                                                                                                                Satb    Dunstanhouse
How like a winter hath my absence been  (from       Shakespeare) ....Matthew Harris (b.1956)             3’
                                                SSSAAA                                    (1997)                                    Hal Leonard HL 50483325
Take, O take those lips away    (from “Measure for Measure” Shakespeare)….Matthew Harris              2’
                                    SATB                                                                                                            (1990)
            From SHAKESPEARE SONGS      BOOK II (1990)   HL50482647                                        8’
                        Take, o take those lips away                        2’
                        Tell me where is fancy bred  (Merchant of Venice)
                        Under the greenwood tree
                        Come away, come away, death   (Twelfth Night)   5’15
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day   (from  Sonnet No.18  Shakespeare)……Nils Lindberg    3-4’
            Satb                                                                                                                                    (b.1933)
                                                                                                                                    HL 08500344 (Walton)
I can easier teach twenty    (from “The Merchant of Venice”  Shakespeare) ……Jean Berger            2’
It was a lover and his lass  (from “As You Like It”  Shakespeare) ….
                                                                                    R.J.S.Stevens  (1757-1837)
                                                                        Thomas Morley      or  jazzy John Rutter                                    4’
“Songs and Sonnets”  by George Shearing   SATB bass, keyboard    Hinshaw HMB 226
            “live with me and be my love….”     3’
            “when daffodils begin to peer”    1’45
            it was a lover and his lass”            2’10
            “who is silvia                        5;00
            “fie on sinful fantasy”                        1:00
            “hey, ho, the wind and the rain”            (Twelfth Night)                        2’20                                                            6’
Who is Sylvia?    (from “Two Gentlemen of Verona”  Shakespeare …………….PDQ Bach                 2’
            From “Liebeslieder Polkas”  S. 2/4   piano 5 hands
                                                                                                                                                                        Total estimated 50’
on July 9, 2013 6:40am
Have you consulted "A Shakespeare Music Catalogue" by Bryan Gooch.  This is a five volume comprehensive work on this topic.
Good luck with your quest.
Myron Patterson. DSM, ARCCO (CHM), ATCL, LTCL
Adjunct Associate Professor of Music
School of Music
University of Utah
on July 10, 2013 5:25am
Please consider my SATB Shakespeare setting "That time of year" composed in 2010, ECS Publishing #7740.
Kindly follow this link
to hear the wolrd premiere performance by the Saint Joseph Valley Camerata, David A. Seitz, music director.
A couple of other titles in the publisher's catalog that come to mind are
"Dirge from Cymbeline" by Conrad Susa (SATB, Trumpet), ECS Publishing #4405, and
"Shakespeare Madrigals" by Gregg Smith (SATB), ECS Publishing #5453.
Thank you for your consideration.
Stanley M. Hoffman (distributor)
on July 11, 2013 9:25am
I agree with the Diemer and the Rutter and would like to expand on the Hughes.  Ed wrote a trilogy of pieces based upon Shakespearean texts.  One, It Was A Lover And His Lass, is SATB in a jazzy style, and my kids LOVED it. Take, O Take Those Lips Away is for TB, although it does break into TTBB for a section, and my men really liked this piece--very slow and expressive.  The third piece is for SA, and I did not use that one and for the life of me can't remember the title!  Anyway, if you like the idea of letting your women do one, your men do one, and then they combine, you might consider these.  Santa Barbara Publishing.
on July 11, 2013 3:04pm
Great suggestions above.  There's a ChoralNet list with suggestions from 1998-2004, fyi:
Best for our choosing from among these riches and for your concert! 
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