Music based on the works of Oscar Wilde

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This is an incomplete list of music based on the works of Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet, novelist, short story writer and wit, whose works have been the basis of a considerable number of musical works by noted composers. In classical genres, these include operas, ballets, incidental music, symphonic poems, orchestral suites and single pieces, cantatas, and songs and song cycles. Of more recent times, some have been the subject of musicals and film scores. Some are direct settings of Wilde's words or libretti based on them, and some are wordless settings inspired by his writings.

List of works[edit]

The works of Oscar Wilde that have been set to music include:

The Ballad of Reading Gaol[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Gavin Friday, Maurice Seezer Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves song 1989
Jacques Ibert La Ballade de la geôle de Reading ballet 1920 published in a version by Ibert for piano duet in 1924
Donald Swann The Poetic Image: A Victorian Song Cycle song cycle 1991 Swann set certain parts of the Ballad, along with The Harlot's House and other texts by Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, and John Clare
Arthur Wills The Sacrifice of God choral 1986 4-part choir and organ; words from Psalm 51 and The Ballad of Reading Gaol; composed on the death of the composer's young niece[1]
Henri Zagwijn declamation with music in Dutch
King Charles Wilde Love song 2012 Off the Loveblood CD, the song contains several verses from the poem in the chorus

Pete Doherty quotes the stanza beginning with "I never saw a man who looked/with such a wistful eye" in Broken Love Song on his solo album Grace/Wastelands.

Les Ballons[edit]

Les Ballons (The Balloons) is a short poem, the second of the two Fantaisies Décoratives, the first being Le Panneau (The Panel).

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes Les Ballons song c. 1912 Griffes composed a song to this text in c. 1912, revising it in 1915. It was published in 1986.[2]

The Birthday of the Infanta[edit]

Short story

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
John Alden Carpenter The Birthday of the Infanta ballet 1919
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco The Birthday of the Infanta, Op. 115 ballet 1942 premiered New Orleans, 1947; an orchestral suite was produced in 1944
Wolfgang Fortner Die weisse Rose (The White Rose) ballet 1949-50 [3]
Elisabeth Lutyens The Birthday of the Infanta ballet 1932
Miklós Radnai Az infánsznö születésnapja (The Birthday of the Infanta) ballet 1918 premiered Budapest Opera House, 26 April 1918
Franz Schreker Der Geburtstag der Infantin ballet-pantomime 1908 rev. as Spanisches Fest, 1923
Franz Schreker Spanisches Fest (Spanish Festival) ballet-pantomime 1923 revised version of Der Geburtstag der Infantin, 1908
Bernhard Sekles Der Zwerg und die Infantin (The Dwarf and the Infanta), Op. 22 ballet 1913
Alexander von Zemlinsky Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), Op. 17 opera 1919-21 libretto by George C. Klaren based on Wilde (although he took many liberties); premiered Neues Theater, Cologne, 28 May 1922, conducted by Otto Klemperer; in 1981 a new production by director Adolf Dresen was staged in Hamburg - this did away with Klaren's textual changes and was presented as Der Geburtstag der Infantin
Otakar Zítek O růzi (On the Rose) ballet 1941-42 Zítek 1894-1955[4]

The Canterville Ghost[edit]

Short story (1887)

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
George Bassman The Canterville Ghost film score 1944 [1]
Alexander Knaifel The Canterville Ghost opera 1966
Jaroslav Křička Bily pan (The Gentleman in White), Op. 30 opera 1927-29 2 acts, with libretto by Jan Löwenbach-Budin; a 3-act version Spuk im Schloss was produced in 1931
Jaroslav Křička Spuk im Schloss, oder Böse Zeiten fur Gespenster opera 1931 3 acts; a revised version of his 2-act 1929 opera Bily pan
Heinrich Sutermeister Das Gespenst von Canterville television opera 1964 telecast by ZDF, Mainz
Sergei Vasilenko The Garden of Death ("after Oscar Wilde"), Op. 13 symphonic poem 1907-08 Vasilenko's title is sometimes said to have come from one of Wilde's poems, but he wrote no such poem. It comes from a passage in Chapter V of The Canterville Ghost where the character Virginia is speaking with the eponymous ghost and asks it where it sleeps. It talks about a certain garden. She whispers: You mean the Garden of Death, and it answers, Yes, Death.[5] Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he did not meet until 1891, later used The Garden of Death as the title of one his own sonnets,[6] published in 1899 in the collection "The City of the Soul".[7]
Popular music
  • The Austrian metal band Edenbridge recorded two songs on their 2004 album "Shine;" an instrumental intro track, "The Canterville Prophecy," and the song "The Canterville Ghost."

De Profundis[edit]

Letter

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Frederic Rzewski De Profundis speaking pianist 1992 The pianist speaks and sings excerpts from Wilde's letter[8]
Larry Sitsky De Profundis. Epistola: in Carcere et Vinculus monodrama c. 1982 Wilde's words arranged into a libretto by Gwen Harwood; for baritone, two string quartets and one percussion player[9]

Endymion[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Joseph Horovitz Endymion solo voice and chorus 1985 soprano and chamber choir[1]

E Tenebris[edit]

Poem. Included in his collection Rosa Mystica.

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Erwin Schulhoff E tenebris, Op. 15, No. 3 song 1914 No. 3 of Rosa Mystica, three songs to Wilde texts for alto voice and piano, Op. 15 (WV 33). The other two songs are Madonna mia (No. 1) and Requiescat (No. 2).[10]

A Florentine Tragedy[edit]

Blank verse play. Premiered not in England, but at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, 12 January 1906, in a German translation by Max Meyerfeld. The London premiere was on 10 June 1906.

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Sergei Prokofiev Maddalena, Op. 13 opera 1911-13 1 act; his own libretto, after a blank verse play by Baroness Liven (Magda Gustavovna Liven-Orlova), which was based on Wilde's play; composed 1911, partly orchestrated 1912, revised 1913; never performed in Prokofiev's lifetime, despite some attempts; his widow Lina asked Edward Downes to complete it in 1976; concert reading, Manchester, 22 December 1978, under Downes, for a BBC radio broadcast on 25 March 1979; premiere stage performance Graz Opernhouse, 28 November 1981
Alexander von Zemlinsky Eine florentinische Tragödie, Op. 16 opera 1915-16 trans. Max Meyerfeld; premiered Stuttgart 30 January 1917, conducted by Max von Schillings; it was the fifth and most successful of Zemlinsky's seven completed operas and is among the key works of his oeuvre

La Fuite de la Lune[edit]

La Fuite de la Lune (The Flight of the Moon) is the second of the two poems in Impressions, the first being Les Silhouettes.

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes La Fuite de la Lune song 1912 Griffes wrote a setting of this poem as No. 1 of his Tone-Images, Op. 3 (No. 2 was also a Wilde setting, Symphony in Yellow; and No. 3 was a poem by W. E. Henley).[2]

The Happy Prince[edit]

Short story

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Renzo Bossi Il Principe felice, Op. 52 radio opera 1950 1 act; broadcast 11 October 1951, RAI; libretto by Bossi after Wilde
Henry Hadley The Golden Prince, Op. 69 cantata 1914 Soprano, baritone, SSAA chorus, orchestra; libretto by D. Stevens after Wilde; presented New York 1914[11]
Bernard Herrmann The Happy Prince music for a narration 1945 for a recording of the story spoken by Bing Crosby and Orson Welles, with an orchestra conducted by Victor Young
Malcolm Williamson The Happy Prince opera c. 1965 1 act; libretto adapted by the composer
Luis de Arquer The Happy Prince Piano- Music for a Journey c. 2000
Stephen DeCesare The Happy Prince Musical Theatre (published at MTA Publishing) www.mtapublishing.com c. 2013

The Harlot's House[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Ronald Stevenson The Harlot's House – Dance Poem after Oscar Wilde chamber 1988 Free-bass accordion, timpani and percussion
Donald Swann The Poetic Image: A Victorian Song Cycle song cycle 1991 Swann set The Harlot's House, along with extracts from The Ballad of Reading Gaol and other texts by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, and John Clare

An Ideal Husband[edit]

Play

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Arthur Benjamin An Ideal Husband film score 1947 [1]

The Importance of Being Earnest[edit]

Play

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Erik Chisholm The Importance of Being Earnest opera 1963
Vivian Ellis Half in Ernest musical 1958 [1]
Benjamin Frankel The Importance of Being Earnest film score 1952
Lee Pockriss, Anne Croswell Ernest in Love musical 1960
Gerald Barry The Importance of Being Earnest opera 2012[12]

Impression du matin[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes Impression du matin song 1915 Griffes included this song in his Four Impressions, all settings of Wilde poems (the other three were La Mer, Le Jardin, and Impression: Le Réveillon, which he set as Le Réveillon). Four Impressions was not published until c. 1970.[2]

Impression: Le Réveillon[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes Le Réveillon song 1914 Griffes included this song in his Four Impressions, all settings of Wilde poems (the other three were La Mer, Le Jardin, and Impression du matin). Griffes altered the last line of the poem, changing the word "streaked" to "flushed." Four Impressions was not published until c. 1970.[2]

Le Jardin[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes Le Jardin song 1915 Griffes included this song in his Four Impressions, all settings of Wilde poems (the other three were La Mer, Impression du matin, and Impression: Le Réveillon, which he set as Le Réveillon). Four Impressions was not published until c. 1970.[2]

Lady Windermere's Fan[edit]

Play

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Noël Coward After the Ball play with music 1954 play adapted by Coward, who also wrote the music[1]

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime[edit]

Short story

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Geoffrey Bush Lord Arthur Savile's Crime opera 1972 premiered London, Guildhall School of Music, 5 December 1972
Edwin Carr Lord Arthur Savile's Crime opera 1991 1 act, 8 scenes
Alexandre Tansman Flesh and Fantasy film score 1943 only the 2nd part of the 3-part film is based on Wilde's story[1]

Madonna mia[edit]

Poem. Included in his collection Rosa Mystica.

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Erwin Schulhoff Madonna mia, Op. 15, No. 1 song 1914 No. 1 of Rosa Mystica, three songs to Wilde texts for alto voice and piano, Op. 15 (WV 33). The other two songs are Requiescat (No. 2) and E tenebris (No. 3)[10]

La Mer[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes La Mer song 1916 Griffes first sketched La Mer on 29 October 1912. After its publication was rejected by Schirmers, he wrote an entirely new setting in August 1916. It was included in his Four Impressions, all settings of Wilde poems (the other three were Le Jardin, Impression du matin, and Impression: Le Réveillon, which he set as Le Réveillon). Four Impressions was not published until c. 1970.[2]

The Nightingale and the Rose[edit]

Story

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Renzo Bossi Rosa rossa (Red Rose), Op. 18 opera 1910 also seen as L'Usinguolo e la rosa (The Nightingale and the Rose); one act; Bossi described it as a "poemetto lirico"; staged Turin 1938
Hooper Brewster-Jones The Nightingale and the Rose opera 1927 only an orchestral suite survives[11]
Elena Firsova The Nightingale and the Rose, Op. 46 chamber opera 1990-91 to her own English libretto based partly on Wilde's story, and partly on poetry by Christina Rossetti[11]
Harold Fraser-Simson The Nightingale and the Rose ballet 1927 [11]
Margaret Garwood The Nightingale and the Rose opera 1973 [11]
Henry Hadley The Nightingale and the Rose, Op. 54 cantata 1911 soprano solo, SSAA chorus, orchestra; libretto by E. W. Grant; performed New York 1911[11]
Roger Hannay The Nightingale and the Rose stage and mixed media 1986 [11]
Janis Kalnins The Nightingale and the Rose ballet 1938 [11]
Jan Müller-Wieland The Nightingale and the Rose chamber opera 1996 1 act; 7 singers, percussion (3 gongs, 3 tamtams, marimba, vibraphone), cello or piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass; staged Darmstadt 1996[11]
Jonathan Rutherford The Nightingale and the Rose opera 1966 [11]
Friedrich Voss The Nightingale and the Rose ballet 1961 staged Oberhausen 1962[11]
Saltatio Mortis Nachtigall und Rose Medieval metal 2011 [13]

The Picture of Dorian Gray[edit]

Novel (1890)

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Boris Arapov The Picture of Dorian Gray ballet 1971
Lowell Liebermann The Picture of Dorian Gray opera 1996 12 scenes; libretto by Liebermann based on the novel; commissioned by Opera Monte Carlo; premiered Salle Garnier, Monaco 8 May 1996; dedicated to Princess Caroline of Monaco; U.S. premiere, Florentine Opera, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 5 February 1999
W. Arundel Orchard The Picture of Dorian Gray opera 3 acts; performed at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music 11 September 1919; unpublished
Hans Schaeuble Dorian Gray, Op. 32 opera 1947-48
Herbert Stothart The Picture of Dorian Gray film score 1945
Stephen DeCesare The Picture of Dorian Gray musical theatre 2005 Published at MTA Publishing - mtapublishing.com
Popular music
  • Nirvana (UK) released a 1981 single titled "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
  • The Libertines' song "Narcissist", from their 2004 album The Libertines, includes the line in the chorus, 'Wouldn't it be nice to be Dorian Gray, just for a day'.
  • Styx's song "Sing for the Day" references the titular character with the line, 'ageless and timeless as Dorian Gray'.

Requiescat[edit]

Poem (1874), included in his collection Rosa Mystica. Requiescat was written at Avignon seven years after his sister, Isola, died (23 February 1867), less than two months before her 10th birthday. Wilde was 12 at the time of her death.[10]

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
George Butterworth Requiescat song 1911
Luigi Dallapiccola Requiescat choral 1957-58 Chorus and orchestra; the text includes Wilde's poem as well as words taken from the Gospel of Matthew and James Joyce[10]
Otto Luening Requiscat song 1917 [10]
George Frederick McKay Requiescat song 1932 [10]
Ned Rorem Requiescat vocal 1997 Set for SATB and piano; Evidence of Things Not Seen is a cycle of 36 songs to texts by 24 authors, and includes solos, duos, trios and quartets; Requiescat is No. 8 of the "Middles" section of the cycle; the other songs include texts by W. H. Auden, Charles Baudelaire, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Colette, Stephen Crane, Paul Goodman, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Rudyard Kipling, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Theodore Roethke, John Waldman, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth and others; premiered Carnegie Hall, January 1998[14]
Erwin Schulhoff Requiescat, Op. 15, No. 2 song 1914 Set to German words (Still, dass sie es nicht hört ..); No. 2 of Rosa Mystica, three songs to Wilde texts for alto voice and piano, Op. 15 (WV 33). The other two songs are Madonna mia (No. 1) and E tenebris (No. 3)[10]
David Van Vactor Requiescat song 1932 [15]
Raymond Wilding-White Requiescat [14]

La Sainte Courtisane[edit]

Play (fragment; 1893)

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Rudolf Wagner-Régeny La sainte courtisane musical scene 1930 4 speakers and chamber orchestra; premiered Dessau, 24 October 1930
Leo-Neferuaten Boyle / Gavin Kaufman La Sainte Courtisane Song April 1994 Studio recorded at The Lodge Recording Studio Northampton, 6 April 1994, appearing on the studio demo album (Cassette), "The Return of The Topaz Tiger" (April 1994) and at Hot Rock Studio Northampton, 2 December 2005, appearing on the studio demo album (Compact Disc), "The Total Topaz Tiger" (June 2006). In April 2012 the 2005 recording also became an online YouTube video for Leo-Neferuaten Boyle.

Salome[edit]

Play

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Henry Hadley Salome, Op. 55 symphonic poem 1905 this was written after Hadley had seen a production of Oscar Wilde's play, and was a favourite among his own compositions[16]
Richard Strauss Salome, Op. 54 opera 1905 trans. Hedwig Lachmann; premiered Dresden 1905. This opera is by far the best known musical adaptation of a work of Oscar Wilde.
Antoine Mariotte Salomé opera 1905 premiered 1908; he was involved in a debate with Richard Strauss to prove that his music was written earlier than Strauss's version, also written in 1905

The Selfish Giant[edit]

Short story

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Eric Coates The Selfish Giant - A Phantasy orchestra 1925 [17]
Dan Goeller The Selfish Giant orchestra 2011 Official Website[18] Children's book/CD, with illustrations by Chris Beatrice[19]
Jenő Hubay Az önző óriás (Ger. Der selbstsüchtige Riese; Eng. The Selfish Giant), Op. 124 opera 1934 1 act; libretto by László Márkus and Jenő Mohácsi after the story by Wilde
Graeme Koehne The Selfish Giant ballet 1983 choreography by Graeme Murphy[20]
Jim and Dee Patton The Selfish Giant Rock opera 2008 Official Website[21] Performed by Bongo And the Point[22]
Stephen DeCesare The Selfish Giant Musical theatre 2010 Published by MTA Publishing - www.mtapublishing.com[23]

Sonnet on hearing the Dies Irae sung in the Sistine Chapel[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Malcolm Williamson Sonnet: On hearing the Dies Irae sung in the Sistine Chapel chorus a cappella c. 1969 [24]

The Sphinx[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Granville Bantock The Sphinx song cycle 1941 for baritone or contralto with orchestra
Alexander Mosolov The Sphinx cantata 1925 set to a Russian translation of Wilde's poem as a graduation exercise

Symphony in Yellow[edit]

Poem

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Charles Griffes Symphony in Yellow song 1912 Griffes wrote a setting of this in c. 1912, as No. 2 of his Tone-Images, Op. 3 (No. 1 was also a Wilde setting, La Fuite de la Lune; and No. 3 was a poem by W. E. Henley).[2]

Unclassified[edit]

Composer Title Genre Date Notes
Pierre Capdevielle Deux Apologues d'Oscar Wilde
(Two Moral Stories of Oscar Wilde)
recitation for voice and orchestra 1930-32
Francis George Scott Idyll song unpublished

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • Eric Blom ed., Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954