The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Cobweb, Moth & Mustardseed

Specially Commissioned byThe Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

It is impossible for me to describe the feeling I had when I first walked through the archway at the beginning of the woodland walk at Anne Hathaway’s cottage, knowing that I would be writing some music specifically for that wood.

My first thought was, that if that wood could have a memory, even if not those particular trees, certainly that area of land would have witnessed many things to do with the life and love between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.

The music I have recorded and played is with that in mind.  Voices from the past that still linger there, and thoughts and feelings that have survived to this day.

I am so pleased that I was asked to be involved in this project, and during the research and the writing and playing of the music, I realised more and more just how important the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust really is.

My Studio is surrounded by woodland, and there is no doubt that this environment played its part. At the very least, it was a constant reminder that this music had to feel compatible with the innocence and beauty of nature. If the studio had been in the middle of a town, I'm sure the music would have been of a different nature.

My Heartfelt thanks to Saul Hughes and Marion Fleetwood for their "whispers from the green world", and to my wife Deborah who placed those whispers just where they needed to be in the music.

This has proved to be a very rewarding and enlightening experience for me.

Peter Knight

To listen to sound samples, click here

The Brief

"From 23 March 2013, visitors will be able to listen to a new musical composition as they follow the Woodland Walk to focus their minds on nature, Shakespeare and the peaceful surroundings of the Cottage gardens.

Commissioned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and composed and recorded by Peter Knight, composer and violinist with Steeleye Span, the music will be inspired by Shakespeare’s works and include readings of his plays and poetry.

Visitors will listen to this soundtrack on either their own Smartphone device using QR codes or through a preloaded MP3 player loaned to them for the duration of their visit. Music and poetry have a proven effect on people’s wellbeing and combining this with the natural surroundings of the Woodland Walk we believe it will create strong feelings of calm and happiness in our visitors – whether they are local residents or have travelled across the world to visit the Cottage".

An Overview of The Album

By Dr Peter Merchant, Principal Lecturer at the Canterbury Christ Church University

The musical career of Peter Knight continues with this CD to develop in surprising new directions. But it’s the nature of music itself that it should continually take off in directions which weren’t expected. Although it runs on staves, it loves to loop the loop. Like recreational walking, it aspires – and can afford – to be excursionary. It conducts you to a destination that you might not foresee; and it leads you back again, to the point from which you started, with an enhanced sense of your whereabouts in the world.

The uniqueness of this commission is that it finds two ways of creating those extraordinary effects. First, it is Music While You Walk composed and performed by Peter Knight. And Peter’s writing and playing have always lent themselves to glorious circuitous journeys. A piece like “Eb English,” from An Ancient Cause (1991), passes through the most evocative of places, reaches them by the most exhilarating of routes, and at the end of all its exploring manages a breathtaking reinstatement of the theme on whose trail it set out. The present piece matches its own qualities of beauty and roundedness to those of the woodland walk which it was written to accompany. This is programme music (music whose very processes reflect what it represents, and whose inner dynamics reveal its subject) for an enchanted sylvan space.
Second, the commission was carried out for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In its sampling of the sonnets and the festive comedies, which form the perfect ground for the “sweet division” that the soaring music makes, Peter Knight’s new piece contains fitting recognition of that fact. Beginning with A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, it weaves in whispers from the green world which Shakespeare so intensely imagined, and in twenty minutes has put Puck’s girdle round about that world.

If you hear it in the wood and through headphones – or can imagine yourself hearing it there – it has the same magic power that Shakespeare exercised in The Tempest, of transporting you as if to an isle “full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.” 

What this commission finally, and very finely, combines are among the strongest and strangest kinds of magic in Shakespeare: the magic of music (felt by Orsino in Twelfth Night as a breath, freighted with fragrance, across a bank of violets), and the magic of woodland. Not only would woodland, in the supersensitive “acoustic world” – as Bruce R. Smith describes it – of Early Modern England, have seemed to stir and rustle with a multitude of melodies to which our ears are now no longer attuned, but the woods were traditionally a place of wonder and of transformation. Instead of Carterhaugh Wood, where two of Steeleye Span’s songs are set (“The Wee Wee Man,” 1973, and “Tam Lin,” 1992), Shakespeare has the Forest of Arden and a wood near Athens. Typically, in Shakespeare, the faraway wood is a place where people go to be refreshed and restored. The musical walk in the woods devised for us by Peter Knight is to be savoured for similar reasons.

Back to the woods I got againe,
in minde perplexed sore:
Where I found ease of all this paine,
And meane to stray no more. 
(Anthony Munday, writing as ‘Shepherd Tonie,’ “The Wood-mans Walke,” 1600)

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