Sonnets to Music (Or, Who Is Rufus Wainright And Why Is He Awesome?)

So I got my hands on When Love Speaks this week.  For those that haven’t heard, this CD is a collection of 5o+ readings and interpretations of Shakespeare, mostly the sonnets with some other passages thrown in, primarily from The Tempest.  You’ve probably heard a recording of Alan Rickman (now most famous as Professor Snape) doing “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” I was finally motivated to buy this when I found an MP3 of Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”) by somebody named Rufus Wainright.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few million times I have Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee”) by David Gilmour, guitar god legend of Pink Floyd.  It is my ring tone, it is the song I sing my children to sleep with, it…is….awesome.  I don’t know anything about Sonnet 29, or who this Rufus Wainright guy is, but dang, I like it.  It made me run out and get the CD in the hopes that there’s more like this on there.  Unfortunately, there’s not. In 53 tracks, only 8 are put to music (the rest being dramatic readings, ala Rickman). Of those, only 4 are sonnets.   One is Rufus, one interestingly is Bryan Ferry doing Sonnet 18 to the exact same piano music as David Gilmour. I wonder what the story is with that? The other two sonnets are Sonnet 8 by Ladysmith Black Mambaso, and a funky Sonnet 35 by Keb’ Mo’.  I care for neither.  I’m sure that is at least in part because they are too over produced.  I can’t imagine singing them to myself or my children. Anybody else got some good sources for me to check out?  I’m specifically looking for sonnets, to music.  Ideally stuff that is not highly stylized (i.e. don’t screw with the words), just put it to music and sing it straight.  I’ve had good results so far with Gilmour and 18, and I would love to live in a world where I can come home to the sounds of Shakespeare like others listen to classical music.   

10 thoughts on “Sonnets to Music (Or, Who Is Rufus Wainright And Why Is He Awesome?)

  1. I’ll have to go find that CD and hear what has you raving so happily. And yes, I’m on Facebook, and will go friend you.

    Do you ever go on MySpace? There are a lot of Shakespeare focused people there. One who friended me is Shakespeare Rocks – they’re in London, and are setting R&J to decent rock music.

  2. Hi Ann,

    The CD is still growing on me, the only one I can really rave about is the David Gilmour thing, and that’s not on When Love Speaks :).

    Thanks for the Romeo and Juliet link. Have you ever heard “Hamlet in Space”? Rock opera. They have a lengthy sample download.

  3. Rufus Wainwright is the son of Loudon Wainwright, who was a big alternative folk/rock songwriter (with an emphasis on the writing) in the 70’s. And you’re right, he is awesome. Love the cd – am playing bits of it to my class this afternoon! I love Ralph Fiennes doing #129 as if he were having an orgasm…

  4. My middle son was in a production of HAIR a couple of years ago, and had the “What a Piece of Work Is Man” solo.

    I was ultra-pleased.

  5. Want to hear something funny? He actually gets the words wrong, I just noticed that. Line 8, “With what I most enjoy contented least”, Wainright actually sings “What with I most enjoy..”

    Ok, sorry, I’ll stop babbling.

    (In an odd twist, my playlist has just kicked in the HAIR soundtrack. During the climactic final number, the background singers can be heard singing “Eyes look your last, arms take your last embrace, and lips, oh you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss….” as well as the refrain “The rest is silence” over and over again.)

  6. Anonymous says:

    I just bought an album called “Bard Americana,” which is Shakespeare set to a folksy/bluegrass tune. I love music I can sing to, and this definitely falls into that category. My only beef with it is that one of the songs is wrongly attributed to Shakespeare. “Live With Me” is actually a combination of Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd to His Love” and Raleigh’s “Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd.” It’s very good though, and it’s actually the song I’ve been walking around singing. I’m probably going to use it the next time I teach those two poems.

  7. Hi, I've found your blog by accident and can see this post is quite old but if you're still interested in Shakespeare's sonnets put to music by Rufus Wainwright, you can check youtube:
    I find Rufus' musical interpretations of the sonnets really wonderful, heartfelt and soothing. Pure and simple human voice and piano. Just amazing. … You can find them in Rufus' latest album All Days Are Nights – Songs for Lulu.

  8. Don't know if this thread is still active. The Shakespeare Trio, a Brighton (UK) based group are setting ALL the sonnets to music, one CD at a time. Volume 1 is available now. Style is folk-blues.

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