The Hamlet Symphony is a companion to the famous play and portrays a little of its complexity in music. There are a few scenes set to music, but this isn’t a strait forward soundtrack, being meant more as a reflection on the characters and the action. In some ways The Hamlet Symphony is the emotional reaction one might have while reading or seeing the play.
The symphony can be described as visually influenced contemporary tonal classical music covering many moods and emotions, but with an overall dark psychological edge. This music was created as concert music but is suitable as a soundtrack to a tragedy.
Although it is six movements, at the heart is a four movement classical structure which has obviously been greatly modified.
The Hamlet Symphony
I. Introduction: The Midnight Watch – The stage is readied and the mood set for the rest of the symphony. This movement can be listened to as the first two scenes of the play, waiting on the battlements waiting for the ghost. When the clock strikes one, the spirits may talk.
II. Hamlet: To Be or Not To Be – A quick character sketch of Hamlet and his various moods set to music. The main rhythm of the first theme follows the famous soliloquy and shows the philosophical side of the hero. A more heroic, action theme is a contrast to the brooding side of the famous Dane. I previously had a post just about this movement.
III. Scherzo: Mad North by Northwest – Madness seen from various angles and in various incarnations. Some ideas and feelings associated with the fake madness of Hamlet and the real madness of Ophelia are portrayed in music.
IV. Remembering Ophelia – A character sketch of Ophelia from the point of view of remembering one who has already departed. The music is sometimes lovely, sometimes full of life, often sad. The end comes over a liquid sound with a big crash (Ophelia falling in the river) but flows into the next movement.
V. At the Gravesite – This is the closest to a literal translation from a scene in the play, though it is changed to fit the musical needs. It flows out of the last movement, goes into a funeral march, followed by a soliloquy in the voice a solo cello speaking about death. The movement ends with, well, I’ll leave that up to you.
VI. Last Act of Hamlet – After a brief recovery from the funeral scene there is a contrast between the angry Leartes and the calmer, but determined Hamlet. What follows can be thought of as the game of foils between Leartes and Hamlet, a game which leads to the death of the queen, king, Leartes and, finally, Hamlet. The play, and symphony, come to a tragic end.
The whole symphony is based on three 12-tone rows and series of short motifs, yet is mostly tonal in nature. The symphony grows organically, each theme evolving as music continues making the whole hour long composition a single, unified piece of music.
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(I like this picture better than the album cover, but the dimensions are wrong ;)