Romeo and Juliet in Classical Music
The "love theme" from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture is one of the most famous themes in the history of Western Classical Music. The story it accompanies might be the most famous Western play ever written. Just like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik seems to define the powdered wig era of classical music to the general public, the passionate theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet seems to define romanticism in music because Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy captures Shakespeare’s masterpiece with a roiling and unstoppable intensity. But Tchaikovsky’s setting of Romeo and Juliet, while probably the most famous, is by no means the only reimagining of the play by classical composers. There have been nearly a dozen adaptations of Romeo and Juliet by classical composers, including overtures, ballets, suites, and operas. Romeo and Juliet, just like it has been for actors, directors, and the audience, is an inexhaustible source for composers in a way that few pieces of literature or dramatic theatre have been in history. So today we’ll compare just some of them for you - I’ll be looking at Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Prokofiev’s Ballet Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz’s choral symphony Romeo et Juliette, a brief look at Gounod’s opera Romeo and Juliet, and Leonard Bernstein’s Westside Story. We’ll take a look at how these 5 composers inserted their distinctive personalities onto the music, leaving no doubt that this was Shakespeare, and Romeo and Juliet, through their eyes. I’ll do this by giving a general overview of each piece, and then I'll zero in on two ideas - the portrayal of Juliet, and the portrayal of Tybalt’s Death(or fighting in general). This way we can see how these composers handled these pivotal characters and moments, all in markedly different ways. Join us!