Full Fathom Five from The Tempest (film 2010), Arranged by Elliot Goldenthal and Performed by Ben Whishaw

Lyrics: “Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.”- The Tempest: Act 1, Scene II

There are four songs written by Shakespeare that Ariel performs throughout The Tempest: Come Unto These Yellow Sands, Full Fathom Five, While You Here Do Snoring Lie and Where The Bee Sucks. While not Shakespeare’s most prolific choral performers (that honor goes to Autolycus of the Winter’s Tale and Feste of Twelfth Night), Ariel is considered the most musical. That may be why Allan Blank was inspired to write about the airy sprite.

While Shakespeare wrote four pieces, specifically musical pieces for performance, Allan Blank composed for a speech.

“All hail great master! grave sir, hail! I come
To answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curl’d clouds, to thy strong bidding task
Ariel and all his quality.” –The Tempest: Act 1, Scene II

This is Ariel’s first appearance in the play, pledging his loyalty and servitude to the sorcerer Prospero. Blank utilized the piccolo to capture the singularly airy nature of the creature. Highlighting each claim made by the sprite: “To fly…to swim…to dive…to ride on the curl’d clouds, filling Ariel with even more music.

Ariel (four sketches for solo piccolo) by Allan Blank, 2000. Courtesy of the Allan Blank Papers Collection, 1954-2014

Light, airy notes that float, just like the sprightly Ariel. Gorgeously plotted, I believe Mr. Blank truly captured Ariel’s nature. A being so full of mischief, power, pride and yet tethered, captured and trapped. Gloating about their triumphs, yet yearning for freedom…all at once singing through the high, clear voice of a piccolo. Ariel.

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