Comparison of the reading of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by S. Prokofiev, P. Tchaikovsky and H. Berlioz.
Romeo and Juliet is a play by William Shakespeare which was written in 1595. Romeo and Juliet has been performed in music, dance, and literature. The story focused on two young lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who were born into different families and how they had disputes. They married secretly, although they were unable to live together. Unfortunately, they finally died as great lovers1. The three significant composers of Romeo and Juliet are Sergey Prokofiev, Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky, and Hector Berlioz. This paper is going to explore how these composers used orchestra, ballet music, and piano to tell the story.
Karen Bennett, Star-Cross’d Lovers: Shakespeare and Prokofiev’s ‘pas-de-deux’ in Romeo and Juliet (Lisbon: University of Lisbon, 2003), 16.
2.Andrew Davis, PROKOFIEV ROMEO ; JULIET (Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2018), 34.
Prokofiev was nearly twenty years old and he was already a composer. In 1938, he received a commission to compose a complete dance from the Kirov Theater. Prokofiev decided to choose a romantic theme, Romeo and Juliet. He quietly premiered on Brno Czechoslovakia.
Moreover, he developed and completed the symphony of the ballet music. In the music, he utilized complex rhythm patterns, clearly depicted character, and broke traditional harmony techniques. The transcriptions of the piano sets were extracted from his ballet music Romeo and Juliet2. He used his main work to derive the new idea from the ballet music.
The differences in Prokofiev R and J
The piano version of first piece: Folk Dance is full of an intense, passionate melody. Prokofiev used a 6/8 fast rhythm to compose this piece. This type of rhythm can show the characteristics of this piece. In example 1, Prokofiev used stack chords to improve music stability. Modulation is the highlight of the whole piece. Prokofiev didn’t follow traditional Western music techniques, and he put effort into modulation in his music. For instance, in example 2, he changed the key from A major to F major to E major, which is very novel, beautiful and full of energy in this piece.
(Example 1: Romeo and Juliet Folk Dance )
(Example 2: Romeo and Juliet Folk Dance measure 102-107)
In fifth movement of Mask, Prokofiev used so many dissonance melodies to depict different characters of the piece. From example 3 measure 14-17, he used a lack of harmony way to develop the music content and he also used many non-harmonic tones to make his music full of drama and color. Therefore, we know that Prokofiev’s composition is significantly different from other composers, such as Berlioz and Tchaikovsky.
(Example 3: Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet measure 14-17)
The same point in Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet
In ballet music, composers often use concord tones and natural notes to represent pure and beautiful music content. Prokofiev was the same way. He used major key and traditional music techniques to make Juliet’s theme vivid and pure.
(Example: Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet measure 27-30)
Compared with other composers, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is full of sarcastic tones, dissonance sounds, bitter and strange harmonies. Prokofiev made music that represented characters vividly.
Berlioz was a French composer, conductor, critic, Romantic music composer. He admired Shakespeare’s work very much. He thought Shakespeare’s work was full of personalized expressions which was different from other writers. Berlioz watched the performance of Romeo and Juliet in Paris, which was produced by David Garrick as opposed to Shakespeare. Later, he added in other melodies in 18399 when the performance of Bellini inspired him. He began to compose Romeo and Juliet, which he started a symphony with choral.
Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky
In 1840 in Russia, Tchaikovsky showed his interest as a pianist at a young age and started his musical career in 1861. Berlioz’s music inspired Tchaikovsky, which he developed in his Romeo and Juliet overture. Tchaikovsky wrote the music for Romeo and Juliet because he was interested in the story of love. The musical themes were used to relate to the performers in a Shakespeare play, which expressed personalities, feelings, relationships, and situations. The first performance of Romeo and Juliet was in 1870.
The first part and the second part were the young people’s love. The orchestra played sadly. In the last part of the story, listeners heard that the couple died. A short chord joined the full orchestra to express the death of Romeo9. The tones died out and there was a timpani playing to show Juliet’s death. Over a gloomy drum beat, tortured memories of the love music were heard. Finally, the music disappeared at the end.
5. Bennett, 34.
6. Davis, 60.
7. DeLeone, 73.
The music differences between Tchaikovsky and Berlioz
Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet is a sonata form. Tchaikovsky’s music genre is the symphonic poem. The theme is full of diversity. Different music instruments play together to make the motive theme repeat again and again. On string instruments, there is a tone full of sadness. The main idea of Shakespeare’s tragedy can be reflected through the comparison of the different musical themes.
Tchaikovsky’s music theme:
(Example 4:Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet)
Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet’s music structure is extremely large and unprecedented. The harmonic language is full of complexity. Berlioz employs vocal soloists, orchestra, and chorus. Every musical language has its own performance space. Musical language plays a unique role in the whole piece. He put the battle of two families in his overture and the tragedy was reflected. In Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, the most different part is the piece’s genre, which is “symphonie dramatique”. In example 5 measure 1-4, there is a basic theme represented in the piece. The same rhythm pattern runs through the entire movement.
Berlioz music theme:
(Example 5: Berlioz Romeo and Juliet)
The differences between the two composers are showed in structures, tempo, texture, and instrument of tone. Berlioz’s music structure seems like fugue, while Tchaikovsky’s music structure is a sonata form. Berlioz used 2/2 tempo and Tchaikovsky used 4/4 tempo. Berlioz’s texture is polyphony, but Tchaikovsky is homophony. Berlioz preferred to use more lower range sound to represent dramatic conflicts, however, Tchaikovsky preferred to use strings and winds together to make huge sound. Berlioz also started putting vocal music into his symphony, but Tchaikovsky only used instrument to express the content of music.
Berlioz was an extremely fearless, creative and passionate composer. He fully maximized the advantages of vocal and orchestral music. He used different musical instruments to describe harmonic language. For example, he used instruments to imitate the battle and heart beat sound. He used different musical instruments to show different characters.
Tchaikovsky still preserved nationality’s feature. He tried to use different instruments to represent different characters of Romeo and Juliet.
The similarities between Tchaikovsky and Berlioz
From the examples 4 and 5, we can discover that two composers’ pieces are all b minor tonality of the beginning. Both tempos are same from the beginning. The content of the two pieces created are same, and all the pieces grab the two pieces’ attention. Both music pieces are program music which they composed.
The pieces of Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and Prokofiev established varieties of techniques for the originators to symbolize the same story. However, they have the same theme of love to talk about the story. The love refrain of Tchaikovsky is a famous fantasy approach. It also explains why Tchaikovsky called it “Overture-Fantasy”. Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet is an undoubtedly remarkable example for future generations. When we enjoy Berlioz music, he can bring us a long series of music thinking. Berlioz had accurately shaped the artistic image of a Romantic period. Prokofiev was among the successful composers who were much inspired by the music of Tchaikovsky. The ballet music Romeo and Juliet is the pinnacle of Prokofiev music composition and also is the most recognized. Prokofiev’s The Knight’s Dance was famous and is known today as The Apprentice. Berlioz and Tchaikovsky pay special attention to personal expression during Romantic period. Because of this, they can present us with a colorful musical world. The composer’s aesthetic inclination make us to face wonderful music. Without these greatest composers, we don’t have chance to listen the finest pieces. Their music pieces were full of the spirit of heroic and revolutionary passion and there music were full of complex dramatic and intense tragic. Three composer’s music represented the conflict between good and evil, love and hatred, life and death, joy and suffering, ideals and reality, light and darkness.
1.Bennett, Karen. Star-Cross’d Lovers: Shakespeare and Prokofiev’s ‘pas-de-deux’ in Romeo and Juliet. Lisbon: University of Lisbon, 2003.
2.Davis, Andrew. PROKOFIEV ROMEO & JULIET. Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2018.
3.DeLeone, Carmon. Romeo and Juliet: The Star-Crossed Lovers. Boston: Cengage, 2017.
4.Lewis, Courtney. THE MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Orchestral
7.Cairns, David. 2000. Berlioz. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
8. Weinstock, Herbert. 1943. Tchaikovsky. New York: A.A. Knopf.