Musical Notes

John Wooldridge

August 12, 2014

The 1951 production of The Tempest at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon directed by Michael Benthall and starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Burton as Ferdinand, featured music by John Wooldridge.

handwritten sheet music for The Tempest

Wing Commander John Wooldridge with his planeWing Commander John De Lacy Wooldridge, DSO, DFC and Bar, DFM, flew Lancasters and Mosquitos in the 1939-1945 war, and spent time as adjutant to Guy Gibson's 617 squadron, the Dam Busters.

At the same time he was writing orchestral music that was played by the Hallé and New York Philharmonic Orchestras, and wrote film scores for the Boulting Brothers.

Once, when flying himself back from the USA, in a Mosquito, he broke the Atlantic world speed record. Read more about Wooldridge on MusicWeb International.

How did this Renaissance man end up writing music for The Tempest for us?
This was the only occasion when Wooldridge worked in Stratford-upon-Avon. Perhaps then, as now, composers tended to come with directors, and Benthall seemed to be gradually working through some famous film composers of the day. He used Brian Easdale in The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet, Roberto Gerhard in his Cymbeline, Ernest Irving for The Taming of the Shrew and Leslie Bridgwater in King John.

Benthall became Artistic Director of the Young Vic between 1953 and 1962, and so possibly his emphasis (or his budget!) changed.

One of the great pleasures of the RSC Music Archive is discovering stories like this, but of course we also have the music, unperformed for nearly 60 years, since the show closed.

There are great quantities of music awaiting rediscovery. The problem is finding the time to input it into the Sibelius music programme, so that we can play it back and see just what was going on in the Music Department in 1951.

As part of our project to record the new scores and to supplement those recordings with glimpses of the archive, Wooldridge's music will be looked at and considered amongst the other Tempests that have been written for us down the years which, as you can imagine, are legion, The Tempest being such a very musical play. Much better, though, to be spoilt for choice!

Title page of Tempest sheet music with Johnn Wooldridge's name

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