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Topic: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

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  1. #1
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    Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Third Movement – Mad North by Northwest

    Madness, in the Elizabethan sense of the word, is a major theme of this play (loss of mind, as opposed to loss of life). Hamlet was thought by many to be mad and poor Ophelia was, by Elizabethan standards, mad.

    Hamlet, of course, was not mad.

    He did show some strong signs of depression, particularly near the beginning of the play, but most of these were natural.

    His father had died mysteriously just a short time before, his uncle (who he hated) married his mother in a relationship which was considered incestuous and then usurped the throne while Hamlet was away studying. In Hamlet’s mind, his father’s corpse was barely cold before his mother hopped off into another’s bed, an ultimate betrayal by one he loved. To top it off, Hamlet was not allowed to go back and continue his studies (Claudius wanted to keep an eye on him), and so was constantly reminded of the above problems. A little later he was also straining under the additional weight of the ghost’s message and all that it implied.

    And yet he still showed signs of great spirit, even carrying on a major flirtation with Ophelia.

    His “madness” was surely a ruse to try to throw his suspicious uncle off of his trail. He said as much to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, even though he knew full well his uncle hired them to spy on him rather than the stated claim of sending for them to cheer him up.

    Hamlet’s “madness” allowed two things – it allowed him to, unimpeded, investigate the ghost’s validity and, with that, the validity of his uncle’s guilt. It also allowed him to say and do things without being taken to task.

    Hamlet’s “madness” actually showed off his cleverness. He was able to take people’s words and twist them to his own means, usually making a fool of the ones who spoke, using their words against them. He would usually deliberately misinterpret a word or phrase and twist it to his own use.

    Ophelia, on the other hand, really did go mad.

    Or, I guess I should say, had a nervous breakdown.

    There was no mention of a Mrs. Polonius, so the assumption is she had lost her mother at some point. She had also lost a king she had loved. Her brother, and only confidant, left for Paris and so was taken from her. Her beloved queen must have seemed lost to her, going rapidly from widow to bride to royal puppet of Claudius. Her suitor, Hamlet, would quickly go from hot to cold with no explanation. He seemed to have gone to another land where she could not, at first, follow – a land inside his mind. The final blow, of course, was the death of her father, a death at the hands of her lover, who was then quickly banished to England.

    She could not cope with the stress and escaped into her mind, presenting an innocent, almost childish, persona.

    Yet she knew the truth full well and was devastatingly depressed.

    Was she depressed enough to commit suicide? Possibly.

    I’ve never seen this in any analysis, but I find it highly suspicious that the totally ruthless Claudius sent his minions to protect her only to have her, right in front of them, jump into the river just moments later. He was doing everything in his power to turn Laertes against Hamlet, why not add his sister’s death to the grievance of his father’s death?

    Ophelia’s “madness” was a deep seated depression masked by a child-like innocence. She appeared almost oblivious to the world around her, yet, like Hamlet, took cues from that world and stood them on their head. She twisted reality to her own use.

    Which brings us to this scherzo.

    Deep down there is a traditional scherzo form based on the minute form. It might not always be obvious. But it is there. It can be interpreted in other ways… (purposefully I make it sound like |:AB:|A not |:A:||:BA:|)

    I also tried to throw in a few twists here and there – enharmonically re-interpreting chords for drastic key changes, rhythmic “hiccups” (i.e., added or subtracted beats), etc. I didn’t do this as much as I had originally planned – I wanted to occasionally throw the listener off balance, which can only happen if you let them have a sense of balance to begin with.

    In other words, I have written music that is far “madder” in the past, with more twists and turns, but somehow this seemed to fit the themes – it is mad north by northwest, sane enough with a southerly wind, but when the wind shifts…

    You’ll notice themes from the previous two movements, in places acting like a continued development of the second movement. You’ll also hear the foreshadowing of themes to come, i.e., Ophelia’s themes.

    This movement also uses a lot of 12-tone rows. Sometimes they are broken up a little, sometimes used in the harmony and in at least one place, used as a main theme. When first introduced, the main “trio” theme, a slightly more “Romantic” sounding theme, is actually a 12-tone row, the retrograde inverse of one already heard (third phrase of the main “to be” theme from the second movement, also heard in this movement). The second theme of the trio is also based on a 12-tone row. (The other 2 movements used 12-tone rows and based some of the themes and harmonies on them, but I brought it out a little more here.)

    As with the previous movement, nothing in this is programic, it is only meant to suggest some of the ideas expressed above.

    Hamlet Symphony I: Introduction – The Midnight watch
    Hamlet Symphony II: Hamlet – To Be or Not To Be
    Hamlet Symphony III: Mad North by Northwest
    Trent P. McDonald

  2. #2

    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hello again, Trent!

    No long winded lectures/ruminations - whatEVer it was I launched into the last time you posted part of your "Hamlet" symphony.

    I just got through hearing this "Mad" movement, and had a fun time with it. I especially enjoyed the way there was most often a sense of whimsy, of Hamlet's crafty subterfuge. I feel like the piece said what it needed to 'round about the 1/2 way point, and that it didn't need to keep sprawling out for over 9 minutes. Repeated playings would probably reveal to me better why it's of the length you have it.

    Hats off to you again, Trent, for a massive and thoughtfully produced study of the intriguing Mr. Hamlet.

    Randy

  3. #3
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hi Randy!

    I don't mind the long discussions - part of this is the discussion. My thought is that, perhaps, I can discuss things better and in greater depth in music, which is why I compose. That didn't stop me from writing a 15 page synopsis of this music (yes, the whole thing, including a conclusion and instrument list, is 15 pages)!

    Thinking of length.... yes 9 minutes is quite long for a scherzo, even a highly unconventional one.

    When I listen to this it goes by really quickly - I can't believe that 9 minutes of music just came and went. I'm sure not everyone feels that way, particularly on the first listening.

    Anyway, I started by thinking of the idea of what I wanted to go on in the movement (December 2007). Then I settled on the basic form (January 2008). Most of the themes were pre-written (March/April 2008), as were some of the episodes (March/April 2008). With the basic outline, basic themes and a few specifics, I started writing (June/July 2008) and the length came as a direct consequence - the themes just wanted to move in certain directions. At this point I might be able to trim it down, but couldn't half the length without starting over.

    One thing, I realize that the themes and textures of the B section are very similar to those of the A and so it makes it a little to repetitious.

    Anyway, thanks for listening and for your comments. I'm glad you are enjoying this little (or not so little) musical study of the Prince of Denmark.
    Trent P. McDonald

  4. #4

    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    I had to catch up things. First the second movement. Wonderful instrumentation, surprisingly fitting in the music. I had to listen to it twice to grasp an idea of the beauty of it. Strange musical ideas... for me a bit weird, unanswered, but intriguing. It could be "better" (that's my opinion) if you set out some really higher tempi along the piece. Lots and lots of great material in there, for sure.

    Now the third part, oh yes I already hear some simularities with the previous one, but put into a completely different context. Nicely done. Piccolo theme could be a bit higher in tempo, repeating this theme by the violins slower, opposite to the faster piccoli. The second time you repeat a theme by the brass (left ear), can you break up the sequence a bit - let it intervene with some other notes/instruments.

    To tell you this: it is a medieval setting with modern harmonies. And that is rather peculiar and a great achievement.

    Hope you don't mind some critics,

    Raymond

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    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hi Trent,
    I'm just starting the listening process, but a few things stood out to
    me. There are lots of good ideas.
    The instruments seem at odds together. I believe it might be helped with the following suggestion.
    Notes in upper ranges of each instrument should be closer together in their intervals. Low voices need a good space apart. If the high notes are too far away from the lower notes there is a disconnect.

    I always write some silly motif that distracts or covers more important lines. Try to find & experiment with whether it's better to omit.
    The more you repeat a motif, the more important it is. Ask yourself if it's strong enough.

    Gary

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    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hi Raymond - thanks for the comments. No, I don't mind the critique in the least, I actually like to read it.

    A lot of your points in all three movements so far have been about tempo - it is something I will look at closer, maybe play around with a little more. Getting the right tempo is important and not always as easy as I would wish.

    For the most part the tempos are as I wrote them in the score - I changed a lot of dynamics, some phrasing and even many notes when I rendered it - As it sounds better things stick out more - but I didn't change the written tempos. I'll have to revisit them.

    Thanks again for listening - I know this is getting pretty long - and for your comments and suggestions.
    Trent P. McDonald

  7. #7
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hi Gary. Thanks for your comments.

    I'll have to experiment a little with your suggestions.

    When you talk about notes being closer together in an instruments upper range, are you thinking from an instrumentalists point of view (I know from playing the trumpet that notes at the very top of my range are more reliable if I work my way up instead of going by a large leap) or from a listeners point of view - the disconnect you mention between going from very low to very high range?

    As far as placing too much importance on some themes, yes, there may be a bit of that here, particularly in the first movement. I'll have to experiment a little. Maybe after I take a bit of a break from it and come back - I've heard most of this, particularly the first movement that any change, even ones I know are for the better, don't sound right at first.

    Thanks again for listening and for your helpful suggestions.
    Trent P. McDonald

  8. #8
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    Re: Hamlet Symphony III – Mad North by Northwest

    Hi Trent.
    I'm talking about a low bass line & a high line with very little in the center.

    Say, for example:


    a low F, a 5th above to C, an octave up to an A.
    Not a specific point-but there...
    Gary

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