If it wasn’t for Shakespeare 6 works of classic musical art

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O! it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour.
(Twelfth Night, 1.1.1-7)

Shakespeare often spoke of music in his plays, and for good reason. Poetry and music go hand in hand. So it is no surprise that composers looked to the world’s most beloved poet for inspiration.

If it wasn’t for Shakespeare we wouldn’t have these 6 great works of classic musical art.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mendelssohn

First written as a concert overture, Mendelssohn wrote his Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old. In 1842, 16 years later, the composer wrote incidental music to the play, including the famous ‘Wedding March’.

Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky

A passionate Russian composer meets a tragic Shakespearean love story, and the result? A turbulent orchestral fantasy, featuring angry violins, crashing cymbals. Written in 1870 it was a flop, but not one to let failure get the best of him, Tchaikovsky rewrote the ending and in 1880 gave the world what is now arguably one of the most enduring pieces of music to date. The music has been used several movies and television shows. If you’ve seen Wayne’s World, Moonraker, Clueless, and A Christmas Story, you’ve heard this music.

Ophelia-Lieder, Brahms

Brahms wrote these five songs, based on Ophelia’s poetry in Shakespeare’s play, for an 1873 performance of Hamlet.


Macbeth, Verdi

This was Verdi’s tenth opera, written in 1847. Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that Verdi adapted for the operatic stage.

Othello, Verdi

Verdi began composing Othello in 1884. He had just recently come out of retirement and was convinced by two friends, Giulio Ricordi and Franco Faccio, that Othello would make an excellent opera because it is one of Shakespeare’s most straightforward plays. Othello would be Verdi’s most celebrated work during his lifetime.

Falstaff, Verdi

Verdi was inspired by The Merry Wives of Windsor. The opera was his second comedy, and his third work based on a Shakespeare play. Written in 1893 when Verdi was 80 years old, Falstaff would be his last opera. Though the critics praised Verdi’s balance of comedy and serious undertones, the public was underwhelmed. Contemporary audiences love the play. In 2012 the Metropolitan Opera’s production in both London and New York played to sold out crowds.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

2 thoughts on “If it wasn’t for Shakespeare 6 works of classic musical art”

  1. Good choices, Sari. I prefer the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet myself. I ought to be familiar with the Brahms songs but I’m ashamed to say I’m not.

    Racking my brains to think of other Shakespeare-inspired classics but failing miserably.


  2. Thanks Chris. I am ashamed that I am unfamiliar with Prokofiev. You are always expanding my world. I will go look him up.
    There are a few more, but the names may be unfamiliar to most people so I chose the most recognizable ones.


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