Silence is Golden


Music theatre for violinist-actor and electronics | 8'

First performance: Oliver Lewis (violinist-actor), Great Hall, Dartington International Summer School, 2002.


Silence is Golden has evolved from a live, musico-theatrical event into an outdoor performance disseminated on DVD. The project was initially conceived for a recital given by violinist-actor, Oliver Lewis, at Dartington International Summer School in 2002. It is based on the prison soliloquy from Shakespeare’s dramatization of the life of King Richard II, who granted Dartington Manor to his half-brother, John Holand, in 1384.

During the original event, Oliver began his performance between the nylon walls of a child’s play tent, situated to one side of the great hearth at Dartington Hall. A video camera was located inside the tent and its signal fed to a television set, which faced the audience: the performance began when one of its members switched it on. But not all of the original score was realized inside the play tent. The line, ‘Music do I hear?’ provided a reason for Oliver to exit and present the second half of his performance, centre stage, before returning to confinement for the epilogue.

The serendipitous use of televisual mediation remained influential in post-Dartington revisions, not least since the soliloquy finds Richard comparing the restricted world of his incarceration with the real one outside his cell.

Score excerpt from Silence is Golden by Nicholas Brown

Programme notes

Silence is Golden is based on the prison soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard II. Scored for violin, voice & electronics, it is a performance of––and commentary on––the soliloquy simultaneously. At the same time as the original text is recited – either spoken live or in pre-recorded/fragmented form – an additional text is presented, offering a disquisition on various levels.

Richard II has been imprisoned by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and compares his solitary existence with the real world. In Silence is Golden, each line of the first half of the soliloquy has been fragmented and the words reassembled into two, pre-recorded groups. During their recorded delivery, Richard makes live interpolations from within his quarters. For the second half of the soliloquy, Richard comes out of confinement and recites the rest of the verse in its original form, whilst the commentary switches to the pre-recorded track.

Shakespeare’s text has been fragmented during the first half of the soliloquy in response to Richard’s speaking of ‘still-breeding thoughts’ begotten by his brain (the female) and his soul (the male. Accordingly, each of the first 41 lines of text has been shattered into two groups of words and each half has been channelled into one of two speakers, placed at either side of the stage. The two groups comprising each line thus interact with each other, allowing the original text to be ‘reborn’ during the performance as a single entity.

The whole performance is backed throughout by a pre-recorded electronic track, the sounds of which are computer manipulations of the musical material performed by the violin. In this manner, the electronic music ‘shadows’ the live music, echoing the part of Richard’s commentary in which he speaks of the (real) world casting ‘a shadow for your sleeping..[y]our sleeping in penumbra, lull-lullabying your little world’.