Boyce wrote some of his most successful theatre music for Garrick’s Shakespeare productions in the 1750s. The Dirge from Romeo and Juliet
dates from the autumn of 1750, when Covent Garden and Drury Lane were running rival productions of the play. The novelty of the Covent Garden production was a funeral procession at the beginning of Act V, carrying Juliet’s supposedly dead body across the stage to Thomas Arne’s music. Not to be outdone, Garrick got Boyce to write a similar piece for Drury Lane, also incorporating the continuous tolling of a funeral bell; it survives in an autograph score in the Bodleian Library. This scene was included in Romeo and Juliet
for about a century. Fanny Kemble wrote in 1878 that ‘even in my time [c1830] it was still performed, and an exact representation of a funeral procession, such as one meets every day in Rome, with torch-bearing priests, and a bier covered with its black velvet pall, embroidered with skull cross-bones, with a corpse-like figure stretched upon it, marched round the stage, chanting some portion of the fine Roman Catholic requiem music’. By then, it seems, plainsong had replaced the music by Arne and Boyce.
from notes by Peter Holman © 1997