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Opening up (and hearing) the Guy Woolfenden Archive

A research update from Dr Leah Broad, Christ Church, Oxford

What did twentieth-century Shakespeare sound like? Throughout the whole of the twentieth century, music was written for productions of Shakespeare plays in Stratford. The Royal Shakespeare Company archives are a wealth of treasures, containing the scores for Stratford productions stretching right back to the days of the Benson Company in the 1890s — a whole history of Shakespeare sounds that we never get to hear.

Guy Woolfenden Score

Composer Guy Woolfenden (1937-2016) was Head of Music at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) from 1963-1998, and wrote scores for every single Shakespeare play – at least once. This music gives us a fascinating insight into the sounds of the RSC’s history but it is currently lying in the archives, unplayed and unrecorded. 

I am currently embarked on a project to bring Woolfenden’s music to life by creating an online resource which aims to put Woolfenden’s music back in the context of the production it was originally intended for. The resource combines music, text, photographs, reviews, and designs, showing when the music was played, and how it shaped the overall design and atmosphere of the production.

The range of music that Woolfenden wrote was extraordinary. He didn’t just write songs and dances, but also music to accompany speeches. Resource visitors will be able to hear recordings of the speeches with the original music, as well as accessing copies of Woolfenden’s manuscripts and a newly prepared edition for performance.

The resource will launch with the 1978 production of The Tempest, starring Michael Hordern as Prospero, Ian Charleson as Ariel, David Suchet as Caliban, Alan Rickman as Ferdinand, and Sheridan Fitzgerald as Miranda.


Leah Broad

This research is being made possible by the generosity of Dr Sue Powell, in memory of her parents, Olwen and Edwin Powell.

Dr Leah Broad
Christ Church, Oxford

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