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Topic: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Sorry for posting while something of mine is on the front page – it’s been 4 days since anyone has posted to it
    Fourth Movement – Remembering Ophelia

    When I first started this project I had some very clear notions about Ophelia. When it came time to actually write the music, however, those notions evaporated. I actually took a break in writing to reread the play, but to no avail – she remains a mystery.

    Ophelia is both the most disposable of the main characters and yet the one who plays the pivotal role – Hamlet would have had his revenge on Claudius if Leartes hadn’t been called back for Ophelia’s funeral. Her tragedy directly caused, through her brother’s sense of vengeance, the ultimate tragedy and final scene full of corpses.

    The biggest problem in defining her character is that everyone used poor Ophelia, including Shakespeare. She is a pawn, a beautiful and intelligent pawn, that is true, who is used and abused until she breaks.

    Hamlet undoubtedly loved her.

    And yet, besides saving most of his on-stage madness for her, Hamlet also took out his anger and frustration at his mother’s apparent betrayal on poor Ophelia.

    Shakespeare, ironically, had Ophelia betraying Hamlet at the very time he was chastising her, and all women, for their betrayal: she was knowingly being used as bait so the king and Polonius could spy on Hamlet.

    The king only cared for himself and suspected the real cause of Hamlet’s so-called madness, but for Polonius to use his daughter so (much of the language in this scene suggested he was pimping a prostitute) seems outrageous.

    Polonius was, of course, a pompous fool who did not realize the harm his actions caused his family. Look how much trust and respect he showed Leartes: I can’t imagine anyone asking somebody to badmouth his son to see what reactions he would get – he really seemed to want to have Leartes fail! In this light it is not surprising that he would use his daughter, “pimping” her innocence to trap Hamlet. It fits his character.

    Unfortunately this tells us a lot more about Polonius than about Ophelia, except that she was a dutiful daughter who obeyed her father and her king.

    Ophelia’s madness and death seemed to be Shakespeare using her for revulsion and pity. The annihilation of this beautiful, innocent young lady was used to widen the path of destruction wrought by Claudius and deepen the tragedy.

    Poor Ophelia was misused by everyone, including her creator who made her the most shallow character in the play. Shakespeare redeemed himself by her Christian burial (she was as innocent in death as in life) and by the great outpouring of love and grief shown by Hamlet and Leartes.

    As the above discussion suggest, Ophelia was also important in helping to define all of the other main characters. She was central in the main themes of the play – madness (loss of mind) and death (loss of life), bringing a clearer, more concrete, picture of these two ideas.

    Ophelia was never sharply defined on her own, and yet she defined others. She also brought the symbolism of death and madness into reality (i.e., Hamlet feigned madness and thought about death, Ophelia really went mad and died).

    And so I treat her music.

    Note the title: Originally it was just “Ophelia”, but I changed it to “Remembering Ophelia”, a change reflected in the opening of the movement. This small change goes back to the way the ending of the last movement is interpreted – the joke becomes tragic.

    This movement is basically in an ABA form.

    The “A” section is in a way a strange set of variations. There is no main theme to vary – we already heard it before – and there is no set pattern to ground the variations, just 3 partial themes in a given order.

    The first “themelet” is taken from the “innocent Ophelia” theme of the scherzo. Next is the “Oh Beautiful Ophelia” theme (I wrote the theme using words from Hamlet’s poem (slightly changed) to Ophelia) which was also used as Hamlet’s action/romantic theme. The last scrap of theme is the “Romantic Ophelia” theme heard in the trio of the scherzo.

    These three “themelets” combine to create a theme which is treated in a different way on each repetition. So, not really a typical theme and variation, but I don’t have anything better to call it.

    The “B” section might seem very simple, but is, in a way, a little more complicated. In one way it can almost be thought of as very simple, highly modified sonata form. The first theme is taken from the “contemplation” theme of the introduction of Hamlet’s movement (2nd movement).

    The second theme is hinted at in the second movement, but never fully heard until here. This is a very simple country dance. A dark version breaks up the quiet mood. The country dance comes back, this time with a few dissonances, but modulating to an even brighter area, lifting, momentarily, the mood.

    The dark version of the country dance is the beginning of the downfall – in general the music becomes more chromatic and darker after this intrusion of darkness. One more note about the “dark country dance”: if this “B” section is in sonata form, it is the dark version of the theme that returns in the recapitulation.

    Throughout the movement scraps of other themes make themselves known. It may be in background as accompaniment, a counter theme or just a quick declamation of another theme. This happens in other movements, of course, but it is a little more prevalent than in any of the previous movements.

    This is the most diatonic movement with the “B” section occasionally just alternating between tonic and dominate for long stretches.

    As noted above, a little over half way through it begins to become more and more chromatic as the end approaches. The large areas of solid tonality become a little shaky and a darker feeling comes through, tainting everything.

    So this most simple of movements is also, in its quiet way, the most complicated, just like Ophelia herself.

    The very end is one of my few attempts on injecting a scene straight from the play into the music. The music is supposed to take on the attributes of a flowing river. Over this “river motif” Ophelia’s theme comes in, slow and sad, in the bassoon. This ends abruptly with a big crash (splash?) leaving only the river murmuring with the theme usually reserved for the dead or dying hanging over the top. What you hear seems to end suddenly, but in the course of the work it will flow into the next movement, that is, this movement and the next run non-stop.

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

  2. #2

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Wow, so beautiful and tragic. Great instrumentation, melodies, and texture. Subtle and light; and kept interest. This is really very good. Your explanation of the character and brief story points helped me to truly see your musical picture of Ophelia.

    Very impressive!

    "...Wiktor's a Jekyll-Hyde personality..." - Lycos Music

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Hi Michael - thanks for listening and your kind comments.

    I'm glad you liked the write up - I've been posting them with each movement but this was so much longer than the others - 3 pages! - that I wasn't so sure. Of course this is a much longer movement so you have more time to read.

    Thanks again for the comments.
    Trent P. McDonald

  4. #4

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    My goodness, Trent. Such a very large project. Unimaginable by many
    composers here at the Forum and so well done.

    You've got to be proud of all the time you invested putting this piece
    of music together because it is really super. I think your writing is
    excellent and I can tell you put a lot of thought into what you were
    going to say before you started composing for so many character

    I am convinced that a live performance of your total work would be
    very impressive to any audience. I would strive for that objective
    if I were you.


    Jack Cannon--MacBook Pro (2015, 13") GPO4/5, JABB3, Auth. STEINWAY, YAMAHA CFX, Gofriller CELLO, Stradivari VIOLIN, COMB2, WORLD, HARPS, PIPE ORGANS, FINALE 25.5, DORICO 1.2.10, Mac Pro 2.66 GHz CPU, 8 GB RAM, DP 9.51, MOTU Traveler, MOTU Micro Express, MacBook Pro (2012, 13") 2.2 Ghz CPU, 8 GB RAM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Hi Jack,

    Thanks a lot for the very kind words. One little thing - from what you wrote I get the feeling you think the fourth movement is the last. There are 2 more coming, though combined they are only a little longer than the current one (IV). I hope I didn't over do it and you think the extra time is worth it.

    I'd love to hear this live. Problem is I call for very large orchestra, one that I'm sure any of the local groups wouldn't be able to pull off, and I don't think the closest big orchestra, Boston Symphony, would play something by an unknown. Of course, nobody will every play it if I don't do some pushing and marketing.

    I'm glad you've liked it so far. Thanks again for listening and for your comments.
    Trent P. McDonald

  6. #6

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Hello again, Trent

    I've been looking forward to hearing more of your massive "Hamlet." This morning I've started my day by setting aside time for an attentive listen. Maybe it says something about my own sometimes melancholic disposition, but your wistful, sad tone homage to poor Ophelia was a wonderful way to start my day.

    It's so eye-blinkingly impressive, this huge project of yours. As I said on your previous threads, you'd be hard pressed to find a juicier source for inspiration, and you've obviously approached the task with a great amount of research and thought.

    Once again you've presented an atmospheric and unique musicalization which is full of subtlety and thoughtfulness, making for quite a listening experience.

    I think both your text and music disprove your statements that Ophelia is "the most disposable" character and "the most shallow." Far, very far from that, and your sustained movement inspired by her is something akin to what an actress must do when performing the role - plumbing the implied depths beyond just the words of the script. It's only the surface of any character which can be seen only from his/her speeches.

    Did you know that some of the songs Shakespeare based his lyrics on are known? Some people seem to think none of the popular tunes he used can be positively identified, but others disagree. I have a book I wanted to reference before writing, but it's packed away in a storage unit, darn it, but it's a collection of all the known popular tunes that Shakespeare used in his plays, according to that author.

    And the melody that goes with these words from Ophelia is included in that book:

    "And will he not come again?
    And will he not come again?
    No, no, he is dead:
    He never will come again."

    It's a waltz in a minor key, the opening two lines have always stuck with me. It's great when a theatre company uncovers that information and uses it when producing "Hamlet."

    And now I can look forward to more of your "Hamlet." Amazing work you've done, Trent.


  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Hi Randy,

    I think in my write up I said something to the effect of this movement seeming the most simple while really being the most complex. That goes for Ophelia too. You are right - it is a deep part that must be difficult to play. There are no long soliloquies to give hints to her inner thoughts. So yes, in ways she is the most (after Hamlet himself, of course) indispensable character.

    In many ways this is my favorite movement, but that might be because this had, by far, the longest gestation period.

    I think it would be interesting to hear some of the songs Shakespeare used. It would have been cool to sneak in some of the melodies now and then.

    Just 2 more movements to go, with the next one being almost an extended coda of this one.

    Thanks for your comments. I always look forward to seeing what you think. I hope you enjoy the remaining movements.
    Trent P. McDonald

  8. #8

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia


    While I haven't been commenting in recent months, I have
    been listening -- including following your Hamlet Symphony
    with interest. Certainly a formidable undertaking, as
    I review the first four movements this evening.

    I particularly appreciate your written exploration of the
    work, by the way: as an essentially narrative composition,
    it lends necessary programmatic focus to the work.

    As with any large-scale musical production in a more modern
    idiom, this will take time to absorb and understand; yet, on
    this my second hearing of most of the material, I find much
    to commend its clarity of purpose.

    A deep bow in your direction, my friend, for taking to task
    a project of such proportions few would attempt it -- and
    still fewer succeed at it.

    I look forward to the remaining two movements, Trent!

    All my best,

    David Sosnowski

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: Hamlet Symphony - Mvmnt IV - Remembering Ophelia

    Hi David. Thanks for listening to the four movements posted so far and for your kind comments.

    As I'm sure you read, I've kind of gone back and forth about posting these long narratives. I am am glad you like them and find them helpful.

    I hope you enjoy the last two movements. With how inter-connected all the movements are it is hard for me to stretch out the postings - I have a lot more appreciation for Randy posting Dorian over the course of a whole year!

    Thanks again for your comments.
    Trent P. McDonald

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