Author Topic: Plays about classical music  (Read 1232 times)

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Plays about classical music
« on: September 19, 2015, 04:46:43 PM »
Having recently myself completed the third or fourth major overhaul of a play about a classical radio station, I once again realized that there seem to be relatively few stage plays in which classical music is a central subject. I can think of the following:

- Peter Schaffer’s “Amadeus,” about the life of Mozart and, more centrally, the envy of genius by one who is merely talented.
- Michael Hollinger’s “Opus,” about the musical and interpersonal relations of a celebrated string quartet rehearsing Op. 131.
- Itamar Moses’s “Bach at Leipzig,” a farcical treatment of the jockeying for position at the Thomaskirche following the death of Johann Kuhnau.
- Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet,” about aging opera singers.
- Moisés Kaufman’s “33 Variations,” about the creative process behind the making of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

And that’s about it. Do you know of any others? I am not interested in films, which was a subject of another thread, or plays in which classical music is just played sometime or other. I mean specifically, and only, stage plays in which classical music is the central focus.
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Sean

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2015, 04:52:48 PM »
Music as reflecting deeper impulses of the mind is a feature of the Tempest but indeed the focus is elsewhere.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2015, 10:10:08 PM »
Pushkin's short "Mozart and Salieri" was the inspiration for Shaffer.

Another one I have seen on German TV about 25 years ago is the farcical "Beethoven's 10th" by Peter Ustinov

I guess there is probably quite a bit by lesser known authors as well as later dramatizations of novellas with important references to classical music (like Tolstoi's Kreutzer Sonata).
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2015, 02:13:04 AM »
Thank you. The Ustinov reference is useful, nothing else so far. I take the point about the Pushkin, though I was looking more for contemporary work.

I will add also Alan Bennett's "The Habit of Art," concerning an imaginary encounter between W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten.

And stretching a point is David Ives's "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," though that very short play is less about music than a verbal imitation of Glass's style. And so it fails to qualify under my own criteria.
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Offline ritter

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2015, 03:42:45 AM »
Then there's Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata and Masterclass, which perhaps are (particularly he former)  less about music per se than about gay life and operatic obsessions.

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2015, 03:58:22 AM »
Then there's Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata and Masterclass, which perhaps are (particularly he former)  less about music per se than about gay life and operatic obsessions.

Ah yes, and I've seen them both (LT with Nathan Lane and MC with Zoe Caldwell in the original New York productions). I think MC qualifies, LT not so much - though MC is less a play than a set of three vignettes loosely held together. Thanks.

And Richard Nelson also wrote a play called "Nikolai and the Others," depicting Stravinsky, Balanchine, and some of their associates, which I missed when it played in NY but which (in the words of the NY Times reviewer) "lasts only two and a half hours, but feels closer to nine." But he said he meant that "in the nicest possible way."
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 04:49:33 AM by (poco) Sforzando »
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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2015, 01:47:59 PM »
An interesting one is Master Class by David Pownall. There are four characters: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Zhdanov, and Stalin. It's based on the Zhdanov decrees of 1948, when the two composers were condemned for "formalism."

It works well on the radio. On stage, it would be hard to get right, because not only do the actors need to look somewhat like the historical figures they play, they also need to be able to play the piano pretty well.
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2015, 12:08:29 AM »
I think a stage play faces particular difficulties when dealing with classical music. This might be a reason why there are many more films and also more novels, novellas etc. with (classical) music. As long as one has only written descriptions, music will not "threaten" the artistic impact of a novel. It is also easy to come up with all kinds of fantastic imaginary music, e.g. in Alejo Carpentier's Concierto Barocco Handel, Bach and Scarlatti "jamming" at a Venice Church or the music of a "forgotten Genius".

A film nowadays has lots of music anyway.
(And here I do think that films about or with a lot of classical music often involuntarily illustrate their mediocrity. A few months ago I saw a German TV movie (some crime mystery) where the night janitor or the police building played classical music loudly while the detectives were brooding about some case in their offices. It was the beginning of Mozart's d minor concerto and in another scene Brahms's 4th symphony. I almost immediately wanted to switch off the TV because I thought I should rather not watch such mediocre stuff when I could listen to Brahms or Mozart instead...)

With a stage play you either have to rely on some familiarity of the audience with the music in question or you have to play a lot of music during the play.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2015, 12:38:15 AM »
Samuel Beckett, Nacht und Träume.

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2015, 04:18:54 AM »
Samuel Beckett, Nacht und Träume.

Yes, in its use of the Schubert song.
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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2015, 04:19:22 AM »
An interesting one is Master Class by David Pownall. There are four characters: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Zhdanov, and Stalin. It's based on the Zhdanov decrees of 1948, when the two composers were condemned for "formalism."

It works well on the radio. On stage, it would be hard to get right, because not only do the actors need to look somewhat like the historical figures they play, they also need to be able to play the piano pretty well.

Hadn't known that one. Thanks, Archaic.
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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2015, 06:00:34 AM »
I think a stage play faces particular difficulties when dealing with classical music. This might be a reason why there are many more films and also more novels, novellas etc. with (classical) music. As long as one has only written descriptions, music will not "threaten" the artistic impact of a novel. It is also easy to come up with all kinds of fantastic imaginary music, e.g. in Alejo Carpentier's Concierto Barocco Handel, Bach and Scarlatti "jamming" at a Venice Church or the music of a "forgotten Genius".

With a stage play you either have to rely on some familiarity of the audience with the music in question or you have to play a lot of music during the play.

These are good points. Reading an early draft of mine, a theater professional commented that the plethora of musical references was designed more to show the prowess of the author than address the needs of the audience. While I can see taking it that way, my response was that I needed to show my characters speaking as they would to each other, and I didn't see what I had done as any different from the discussion of art in John Logan's "Red" (his fictional play about Mark Rothko), or that of history in Alan Bennett"s "The History Boys." His big thing was "inclusivity," which apparently means dramatizing either family or romantic relationships. It is a commonplace to note that in American theater, the dominant theme is the family (as one playwright has put it, "three white people sitting in a room talking about Mom"). Or someone expiring from a dread disease. Even Margaret Edson in "W;t," her superb play about a professor of 17th-century metaphysical poetry, had to have her protagonist dying from ovarian cancer.
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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2015, 07:08:25 AM »
I just learned of a play by Julian Mitchell, "After Aida," which dramatizes the period in Verdi's life following Aida and preceding the composition of Otello. Improbable as it sounds, it first starred Richard Griffiths.
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Offline DaveF

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Re: Plays about classical music
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2015, 07:23:27 AM »
Another one from Ronald Harwood is Taking Sides, about the de-Nazification of Wilhelm Furtwängler.  And, although I've never seen it, there's a play by Anthony Burgess, Napoleon Rising, reworked from his novel Napoleon Symphony.  It's not really about music at all, just happens to be based structurally on the Eroica.
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