Hamlet Symphony Movement V - At the Gravesite
Perhaps the most memorable scene in the whole play is Hamlet’s return to Denmark.
He meets his friend, Horatio, in a graveyard as a “clown” digs a new grave.
Contemplating Yorick’s skull, Hamlet thinks about the final destiny of every person’s physical body – from the dirt we came and to the dirt we return. The great and small are all equal in the end, Alexander the Great’s body stunk just as much as that of the lowest peasant.
While contemplating such happy thoughts, Ophelia’s funeral procession shows up – a minimal ensemble, trying to hide the shame of a believed suicide.
Overcome by love, guilt and sadness, Hamlet jumps into the grave with the body. Leartes, not wanting to be outdone by his father’s murder, whom he also blamed for his sister’s death, also jumps into the grave. This is, of course, the set up for the final scene of death and destruction.
I had originally planned just a quick transition between the fourth and sixth movement, but I decided to call it a movement on its own, giving it themes heard only here. And actually, the general idea of this movement changed greatly over time. I rewrote half of it in one sitting, totally changing the whole conception. (One note – I originally wrote this description as I was planning the movement. Since the movement changed later, I had to rewrite the description. Some of the “old movement” that no longer exists might show through here or there.)
Although this is as programic as anything in this symphony, I did not want to follow the play exactly – this is music, not theatre.
We begin with the flowing river of the last movement (these two movements should flow together uninterrupted). An asymmetric funeral march comes in. It is ended by a longing for Ophelia, which then breaks down into a “soliloquy” about death given by a solo cello. The funeral march returns, but changed. In the final playing of the march theme in the strings, it is treated almost like a choral. As the march seems to die away we are suddenly hit by a very dark version of the country dance heard in the fourth movement.
After finishing this movement I have thought that maybe it really does belong as part of the fourth movement, maybe as a long coda. However, I think there is enough new material to call this a stand alone movement.
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
Hamlet Symphony V: At the Gravesite