We commission and perform all the music that you hear when you come to a performance in our theatres.

Musicians rehearsing The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2014, directed by Simon Godwin
Musicians rehearsing The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2014
Photo by Simon Annand © RSC – Image Licensing

Live music

Shakespeare's plays are filled with music: they include more than 2,000 references to music, over 400 separate musical terms and around 100 songs. What many people may not realise, is that our music is always performed live by our own musicians.

Theatre is a special experience because each performance is a unique event. Music is crucial to any theatrical performance – the unique power of music helps to establish location, period, status, and mood; it also reinforces emotional atmosphere and tension, and drives the narrative.

Composers who have written music recently for us include:

RSC Recordings  

We've  started recording the newly composed scores from each production as we work our way through the canon of Shakespeare's plays. The recordings are available to buy on CD or via download. They include music from the current production, selections of music for the same play from a previous production by significant 20th Century composers and speeches performed by members of the current cast. So far we have produced Music and Speeches CD for the following plays: 

Eventually, we'd like to offer you a complete collection of music for Shakespeare's plays. We're also aiming to provide a glimpse of our historic archive of scores, dating back well over a century. 

RSC musical archive

The music that's composed for each of our productions is archived once the shows come to an end. At the moment, our archive holds about 426 scores composed for Shakespeare plays, written by around 110 different composers. More recent scores have been produced and archived digitally, but going back further in time, the music was hand written. 

The RSC and Shakespeare Memorial Theatre archive of music dates back to the original opening of the theatre in 1879, and we have scores in the archive composed for productions in Stratford-upon-Avon by many significant composers of the 20th Century. 

Musical productions of Shakespeare

There are of course many well-known Musical Theatre pieces inspired by Shakespeare, not least perhaps one of the most widely celebrated of all musicals, Leonard Bernstein's classic West Side Story. Here in Stratford, we've produced several original musical interpretations. 

In 1985, we collaborated with Cameron Mackintosh to produce a musical adaptation of a 19th Century novel by Victor Hugo, which opened to bad reviews. Now in its 29th year, Les Miserables is currently the world's longest running musical, and has played to 65 million people in 42 countries and 22 languages.

Matilda The Musical

More recently, we asked Australian comedian and musician Tim Minchin to collaborate with playwright Dennis Kelly on a new musical adaptation of one of Roald Dahl's well known children's stories. 

Matilda The Musical has now enjoyed over 1000 performances in London, and is also playing on Broadway. It has received a huge number of awards, including seven Oliviers, setting a new record previously held since 1980 by another RSC production, Nicholas Nickleby.

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