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Topic: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

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  1. #1
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    Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    The Hamlet Symphony - 1st Movement - The Midnight Watch

    It might seem rather presumptuous of me to write a symphony at this point in my development. You could easily point out how far into their careers any given famous composer was before he wrote his first symphony, be it Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler or about any other 19th or 20th century composer. And given the fact that I have yet to study 20th century techniques or orchestration, well, that makes it even worse.

    Yet this is something I needed to do now. And, really, this is just for me, not really for “posterity” or for any “real” orchestra to play. It’s an exercise.

    I wrote a few very short orchestral pieces in 2007 and decided I wanted to write something a little longer, perhaps a symphonic poem.

    In the autumn of 2007, while studying Liszt’s orchestral works, I had decided I would do a symphonic poem based on Hamlet. I started writing (in English) notes on what I wanted to accomplish.

    After a short while I realized I’d have to do a multi-movement piece – 4 movements with a long introduction to the 1st and 4th movements. This later turned into a 6 movement symphony.

    During the winter of 2008 I started to write motifs and themes. I even came up with 3 12-tone rows (this is not even close to being serial!).

    Inspiration struck the Thursday before Memorial Day 2008 (end of May, for my non-US friends) and I started writing. By Monday I had finished the first movement and was starting on the second. Things slowed down considerably after that….

    As opposed to other multi-movement pieces I’ve composed, I decided to write this straight through without pausing to make nice renderings or posting the results. I was looking for a high amount of continuity between movements.

    And that was one of my goals – I wanted to share motifs and themes throughout all of the movements. Each movement will introduce new material and use the old material in new ways, but I wanted the connections to be even stronger than in my other multi-movement works. Remember, this comes after months of studying Liszt and Wagner.

    Also, as always, I am looking to make a piece of music that seems to grow organically – each new section should sound like it springs out of the last one, and maybe even occasionally have that sense of inevitability, although not predictable, when, after something happens in the music, it seems like it was inevitable and had to happen that way. I also paid close attention to form, but this may be obscured a little to attain this organic nature. Actually, maybe obscured a lot…. Again, remember that this comes after studying Liszt.

    In many ways this is the most harmonically conservative piece I’ve written in well over a year. I’ll get back to harmonic experimentation later, this is about other things. Not that this could be mistaken for anything but a 21st century piece.

    I had many other goals in mind as I wrote this, some of which I achieved, some of which I may have missed. No matter – I hope you enjoy what I have written.


    First Movement – Introduction – The Midnight Watch

    In some ways, this is one of the most programic movements, even though there is no set program.

    One of the purposes of this movement is, of course, to introduce the general mood. Although there may be some bright moments, in general this work will be pretty dark and gloomy.

    It is also supposed to suggest the midnight watch and meeting with the ghost. It doesn’t follow the play exactly, but more suggests the various happenings in the first act.

    I do want to highlight a few key points.

    A little way in you will hear the clock strike twelve. Later the clock strikes one – the hour in which the ghost shows up. The twelve strikes may sound a bit static, but, for the most part, this is supposed to be a very static movement – time is suspended as one hour turns to the next on the long watch; a twilight world where ghosts walk the battlements.

    I did not try to write spooky music or scary movie music – this scene in Hamlet is anything but scary or spooky. I did try to portray at least a little other-worldliness through things like the inverted version of Hamlet’s motif and the muted fanfares.

    Thinking of fanfares – there are a few throughout this movement. In the play trumpets and drums are heard during the midnight shift every time Claudius drains a flagon. That, of course, isn’t the only reason I used fanfares.

    Thinking of Claudius, Hamlet refers to his father as being almost perfect in body and mind while Claudius is somewhat misshapen. Shakespeare knew what he was doing to name him after the lame, stammering (yet brilliant) emperor.

    The Hamlet Symphony - 1st Movement - The Midnight Watch
    Trent P. McDonald

  2. #2

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Very NICE!
    Producer ~ Sound Engineer ~ Musician

    http://www.myspace.com/451525581

  3. #3
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Hippie View Post
    Very NICE!
    Thanks! This is kind of static compared to what’s coming up so I hope I caught your attention enough to catch the next few movements.

    Thanks again for listening.
    Trent P. McDonald

  4. #4

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Hi, Trent - Excellent material for inspiration. "Hamlet" remains my favorite play, my favorite piece of theatre. So I knew exactly the scene and setting that opens the play, the ramparts watch you've scored here. I definitely heard the moods, the weary soldiers, the cold night, and the visions of Hamlet's dead father. Very atmospheric work.

    Allow me to object to one thing you said, "... this scene in Hamlet is anything but scary or spooky..." - As a rule I want to make it clear that I'm always "only" speaking my opinion, making note of my personal reactions etc---But in the case, I have to tell you that this is not at all accurate, and I really think it's a matter of fact, not just my own opinion.

    This scene is precisely both "scary" and "spooky." Perhaps you're reading the text, following the story at an emotional distance and not realizing its potential on stage - But watch any good staging of the scene, and it can be as eerie and hair-raising as any good horror film.

    If you are meaning to say this is no longer scary to a modern audience - that's not an assessment of the material's weakness, but of the dullness of the audience. However, I'm saying that the scenes with the ghost, this opening one, and the one later with Hamlet, could be done in a modern production in a way that would creep out the most jaded in the audience.

    Be that as it may - You conveyed the gloom of the scene and the ominous appearance of the ghost really well. I do only wish that without cheapening what you've done, that a good solid Wagnerian proportioned moment would accompany the ghost's first appearance - because it was written to be the moment when the women screamed and the men jolted in their seats - and so it should always be.

    No reflection on the atmosphere you've created, I found it quite effective.

    Randy B.

  5. #5

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Trent

    One of the things I learned from David and from my studies of other composers and I believe it to be true, is that it is not always a good idea to give too much info about a piece.

    My favorite example of this is Scheherazade. Rimsky-Korsakov gave a brief explanation of the piece, but never went into great detail which provides 2 outcomes. The listener is freer to envision his own ideas about the piece and even better, it keeps people from saying I don't think that particular scene was done right.

    As to when you will or will not be ready to compose a symphonic piece, I can say that I have done a lot of them, but still think my best was the first one I ever did which was when I knew nothing about what I was doing. It has never been posted here, it is waiting until the samples I did it in can be upgraded. And waiting for me to get off my lazy #@# and do it.

    This scene is one of my favorites as well and I think you have painted a fine picture of it.

    Ron
    "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Albert Einstein

    http://composersforum.ning.com/profile/RonaldFerguson

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    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    Hi, Trent - Excellent material for inspiration. "Hamlet" remains my favorite play,
    ...../......
    No reflection on the atmosphere you've created, I found it quite effective.

    Randy B.
    Well Randy, I’m not sure if you’re going to really enjoy the write ups to the further movements or shudder when you read them – I put a lot more about the play in there and some of the interpretations/options are not conventional…..

    When I was talking not scary, I was comparing it to today’s scary movies. I guess what I was trying to say is that I was attempting to portray a cold, gloomy, otherworldly scene here, not a cheap slasher-film scene. I purposely avoided a Hollywood sound and didn’t want too many special effects.

    The pictures I try to paint in the other movements are, I hope, a little more 3-dimensional than what is here. This movement is necessary to set everything up, but I think there is more of interest in the others...

    Anyway, thanks for listening. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it so far.
    Trent P. McDonald

  7. #7
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by rolifer View Post
    Trent

    One of the things I learned from David and from my studies of other composers
    ..../....
    This scene is one of my favorites as well and I think you have painted a fine picture of it.

    Ron
    Hi Ron,

    I understand what you are saying about writing too much about the music.

    In the past I have alternated between putting too little down and too much. For this project I voted for too much.

    One of the first things I posted here was another more programic piece. I found that I spent a huge amount of time explaining what I was trying to accomplish. I also noticed that people don’t always read other responses, so I was constantly repeating myself. I decided to explain things up front to avoid that situation.

    Also, when I was still in the writing process, I let a few people listen. Sometimes I let them read my “little” write ups, other times I didn’t, or at least at first. Consistently I found people enjoyed reading about it and seemed to get more out of it if they read my thoughts.

    As far as timing, I’ve written other symphonic pieces, just not a “symphony”, and all that word implies. Brahms wrote quite a few works before he tried for his first symphony. Of course, Brahms was a little neurotic….

    I’ve read a lot of opinions about not writing a symphony until one is ready, but you are right – it is up to each individual composer to decide when they are ready. I can’t tell you yet if I will call this my Symphony 1 or if I will just always think of it as a learning piece.

    I’m glad you listened and that you’ve enjoyed it so far. As I said on Randy’s post, this first movement is perhaps the hardest to sell – it is needed to set up the others, but it is a little slow (not tempo, but feeling) and static.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Trent P. McDonald

  8. #8

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Nice piece. You switch themes, why not switching tempi at the same time more drastically? That sequence after the piccolo solo, give it a jump in tempo. Now I hear the celli playing with the snares, this demands for a greater rithmic dimension... filling in the full orchestra comes next... go from slow to very fast and back...... repetition of the opening theme with the brass, sounds a bit dull. Make more variation to it, altering the tempi getting to some sort of a climax...next to fade away from the audience. Use some other instruments to make this ending variation?

    By the way, do you have "claves" ? They make wonderful hits, when put with care and really uplift some accents.

    My 5 cents - inflation included,

    Raymond

  9. #9
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond62 View Post
    Nice piece. You switch themes, why not switching tempi at the same time more drastically? That sequence after the piccolo solo, give it a jump in tempo. Now I hear the celli playing with the snares, this demands for a greater rithmic dimension... filling in the full orchestra comes next... go from slow to very fast and back...... repetition of the opening theme with the brass, sounds a bit dull. Make more variation to it, altering the tempi getting to some sort of a climax...next to fade away from the audience. Use some other instruments to make this ending variation?

    By the way, do you have "claves" ? They make wonderful hits, when put with care and really uplift some accents.

    My 5 cents - inflation included,

    Raymond
    Hi Raymond,

    Some good advice that you are dispensing. My big problem now is that I wrote this movement a year ago and it has solidified in my mind – I’ve heard it so many times that changes that I know are necessary don’t sound right.

    I read your post earlier and immediately agreed that tempo is a problem – one of the things that makes this so static is the constant tempo. I change meter on occasion, but not tempo. Even without written changes, a conductor would vary it a bit more than I have here.

    Earlier this morning I went in and played with different tempos at different places, and I’m talking very small changes, and they didn’t seem right – it seemed the mood I am looking for didn’t exist with the changes.

    Oh well, I’ll wait until I have taken some time away before I edit this so I can come back to it with fresh ears.

    Strangely enough, playing with the instrumentation at the end might be easier now than playing with tempo. I’ll experiment a little to see if anything sounds better. If not, I’ll also leave this for later.

    Looking through the list of percussion in CoMB I see claves, so yes I have them. I have never used them. I’ve often used wood blocks, sometimes in a way probably better suited to claves, though not in this. Percussion is an area I know I need to spend a lot more time.

    Thanks for listening and for giving your 5 cents – it is much appreciated.
    Trent P. McDonald

  10. #10

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt 1 - the Midnight Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by trentpmcd View Post
    .....
    Looking through the list of percussion in CoMB I see claves, so yes I have them. I have never used them. I’ve often used wood blocks, sometimes in a way probably better suited to claves, though not in this. Percussion is an area I know I need to spend a lot more time.

    Thanks for listening and for giving your 5 cents – it is much appreciated.
    Claves or woodblock?! Give just the same dimension when proper used. Ravel opens a pianoconcerto with it, marvellous! Prokofiev uses them in the symphonies (as I remember well). Stravinsky... etc. Or this one: (don't know the english word):

    http://www.wereldpercussie.nl/worksh...0perci%202.jpg

    I would do the ???whatever it is called????? thinking about Hamlet, you know the era.........

    Raymond

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