I have decided to do videos for every movement of The Hamlet Symphony. I started with the second movement last year because it is the most accessible. Yesterday I posted the First Movement – Introduction, The Midnight Watch, to YouTube.
The main purpose of the movement is to set the mood and to introduce the main musical material. Both 12-tone rows are given near the beginning and there are many short motives that will return. The Death Theme is played several times. This theme will return! In ways this is the seed that all of the other material grows from.
In many ways, the first movement is the most programic of the symphony, even though there is no set program. The music suggests the midnight watch and the 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 (to me). 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, over all they help set the mood.
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.
This first movement may not be the most exciting of the symphony, but it is very important both from a musical view and for generating mood and atmosphere.
Anyway, here is the video. I hope that you enjoy it!