Educational Focus
Students explore the ways composers make musical connections between text and mood.

Materials
Image asset: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, by William Blake c. 1786.
Text asset: Violet Archer, Prelude- Incantation
Text asset: Fairy Poems from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Audio assets: Excerpts I and II of Prelude-Incantation by Violet Archer

Lesson Map

I. Interpreting Text
• Distribute student copies of the text asset: Fairy Poems from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Show the image asset: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing as interpreted by William Blake.
• Discuss: how many Read More
Educational Focus
Students explore the ways composers make musical connections between text and mood.

Materials
Image asset: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, by William Blake c. 1786.
Text asset: Violet Archer, Prelude- Incantation
Text asset: Fairy Poems from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Audio assets: Excerpts I and II of Prelude-Incantation by Violet Archer

Lesson Map

I. Interpreting Text
• Distribute student copies of the text asset: Fairy Poems from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Show the image asset: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing as interpreted by William Blake.
• Discuss: how many different moods are represented in these three poems? How could we describe these moods? (Answers will vary, but identify at least four – perhaps frenetic, lyrical, creepy, lullaby – using whatever labels students suggest.) Note on a chart.
• Discuss which of these moods are present in the Blake painting. What orchestral instruments or sections of instruments, tempo, dynamic level, and melodic idea could you use for each of these moods? Add student suggestions to the chart.
• On the copies, using an agreed code for four colours of highlighters, ask small groups to mark where the four moods are represented. (Divide the text amongst the groups so each works on a short section.)
• Post the copies and hold a gallery walk.

II. Listen and Link
• Listen to Excerpt I of Prelude-Incantation by Violet Archer. Does this music fit one of the identified moods better than another? Were Violet Archer’s choices like or unlike the class choices?
• Now listen to Excerpt II of Prelude-Incantation by Violet Archer, repeating the process.

III. Compose
• Divide the class into groups to compose music for one of the four identified moods in the poems. Each group should incorporate (as Archer does) a repeated note motif, a melodic idea that moves up and down by small skips, and some kind of ‘shimmer’ or tremolo. Use any instruments or found sounds available.
Teacher hint: You may wish to add specific criteria relating to your music curriculum (such as the use of particular instruments, tone sets, musical form etc.). Post the criteria for all to see.
• Share the performances, and decide how to combine them into a final class performance. Consider whether to include a whole or partial recitation of the text.
• (Optional) Listen to the song settings for these poems in the incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn and/or the Benjamin Britten opera, as well as the complete piece by Archer. You may also wish to investigate the many visual arts images of the subject with your students.

IV. Reflect
• Reflect in discussion or in writing: How did the composer use the literary text to inspire the final composition? Does it add to your enjoyment of the music to know the poetry behind it? Compare Archer’s composition with the class creation (and any other versions listened to).

© 2010, National Arts Centre. All Rights Reserved.

Violet Archer (1913-2000)
Violet Archer, a prolific and very successful Canadian composer, was born in Montréal and died in Ottawa. This twelve-minute piece was written in 1964 for the Edmonton Symphony in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Archer was inspired by the fairyland world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as so many other composers have been. The music has two sections – a fast prelude followed by a slow incantation section. The two parts share some melodic and harmonic ideas, tying them together thematically. Archer specifically directed the listeners to Shakespeare’s three fairy poems reproduced here as the source of her inspiration.
Violet Archer (1913-2000)
Violet Archer, a prolific and very successful Canadian composer, was born in Montréal and died in Ottawa. This twelve-minute piece was written in 1964 for the Edmonton Symphony in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Archer was inspired by the fairyland world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as so many other composers have been. The music has two sections – a fast prelude followed by a slow incantation section. The two parts share some melodic and harmonic ideas, tying them together thematically. Archer specifically directed the listeners to Shakespeare’s three fairy poems reproduced here as the source of her inspiration.

© 2010, National Arts Centre. All Rights Reserved.

These famous lyrics have been set to music by a number of composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Carl Orff and Benjamin Britten. They provided the inspiration for Violet Archer’s Prelude–Incantation, a work commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Act II:i
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Act V:i
Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy Read More
These famous lyrics have been set to music by a number of composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Carl Orff and Benjamin Britten. They provided the inspiration for Violet Archer’s Prelude–Incantation, a work commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Act II:i
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Act V:i
Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate’s team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow’d house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.

(Fairy Lullaby) Act II:ii
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.

Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.

Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.

Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.

William Shakespeare

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, by William Blake c. 1786

This image of Shakespeare's fairy world from A Midsummer Night's Dream was created by the renowned English poet, philosopher, artist and mystic William Blake. Bake communicates the magical delight and mischief, as well as the evanescent beauty of the dream world. Above all, the image suggests movement and dance. We find these features in the music of Violet Archer's Prelude-Incantation inspired by the same literary source.

William Blake

William Blake


An excerpt from Prelude Incantation by Violet Archer (0:00-1:50).

Violet Archer

© 1964, Violet Archer.


An excerpt from Prelude-Incantation by Violet Archer (6:30-8:30)

Violet Archer

© 1964, Violet Archer


Learning Objectives

From Words to Music is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives.
  • Gain an understanding of how music can be used to capture the spirit of a story, heighten the telling of a story or to inspire the mood of a musical composition.
  • Consider why literature is an important source of inspiration to composers.
  • Create compositions in response to a literary stimulus.

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