Imaginative, original and evocative a cappella settings of three songs from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, recorded by the accomplished Sofia Vokalensemble, conducted by Bengt Ollén.

Composer’s Notes

These three contrasting songs for a capella choir take their words from Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy play, As you like it. They were commissioned by the Lewes-based Esterházy Chamber Choir in 2008, and performed there in concert alongside other Shakespeare adaptations from his exact contemporaries, such as Thomas Morley, to modern interpretations by George Shearing.

‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind’ is a song that appears in Act two, scene seven of the play (shortly after the famous lines “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”). In the song, the character Amiens compares the bitter winter wind with the ingratitude of humans. A general air of melancholy is contrasted by several utterances of ‘sing heigh-ho’ and ‘this life is most jolly’. This setting starts with menacing chord clusters to introduce the wintry wind before setting up various imitative entries between the tenor and soprano parts. The song ends without any real resolution as the sopranos sustain their last note.

After the bleak mood of the first song, ‘Under the greenwood tree’ is introduced by the warm tones of a male voice choir before being joined by the upper voices in a melody that is broadly romantic in style. Alluding to the sounds of the ‘sweet bird’s throat’, a solo soprano line is then added to the texture. The song ends looking back to the wintry mood of the first song. The text appears in act two scene five of the play, sung again by Amiens.

The mood continues to lighten with the last song of the set. In partial homage to the wonderful jazz-inspired Shakespeare interpretations by George Shearing and John Rutter, ‘It was a lover and his lass’ is in a popular jazz style with swung rhythms and blues harmonies. The song, from act five of the play, is written for double choir with moments of call and response. After several refrains the song eventually builds to a climax with the sopranos reaching a top ‘B’ before resolving on a final G major chord.

Recording session gallery

The gallery section has a video of ‘It was a lover and his lass’ from the recording session at Sofia Kyrka, Stockholm, on the 18th of October 2023. It features the Sofia Vokalensemble, conducted by Bengt Ollén.

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