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Shakespeare and Music

{21}

HAMLET

Hamlet offers great scope for composers to show their virtues and their limitations, and a large number have done so from Graun, 1701, to the present day. This is the more curious, as there are fewer references to music in the text or the stage directions than in most of the plays. True, there are many fanfares, Ophelia's mad songs, and the gravedigger's song in the last act; but, as a whole, music is kept in a very subordinate position. I can find no trace of contemporary incidental music for this play. I should like to hear a real Hamlet tucket. From the text, we know that whenever King Claudius drank a cup of Rhenish a trumpet and a kettle-drum played a flourish, and a cannon was fired to let the Danes know exactly what the King was doing at that time. But, alas! I can find no trace of a real contemporary Hamlet fanfare. The versions still in use in this country of Ophelia's mad songs and the first gravedigger's song are supposed to be the originals, handed down by aural tradition from mother to daughter, from father to son; but I know something of the wonderful things, transformations, etc., that appear as the result of aural tradition. I have heard Zulus singing what the ordinary white visitor to Africa is told are native folk-songs; but these I have been able to trace from their sources, though the original composers, Messrs Moody and Sankey, would have some difficulty in recognising their own inspired tunes! It is well known, if a story is repeated from one to the other by a number of people, how strangely the last version varies from the original. If this is so in words, how much more so must it be in music, {22} where the varying compass of the voices must be taken into consideration: the singer substituting a high note for a low note that he cannot touch, or vice vers�. Still, the songs in Hamlet may bear a general likeness to the songs sung in the first production. I wonder!

Of course, an enormous amount of incidental music has been composed for Hamlet. Every producer must have some Ghost music, fanfares, a King's march for the Play scene, and a funeral march for Ophelia. Also scene music helps to pass the time during the frequent scene changes that are necessary in this play, and this has been done and re-done by hundreds of composers, orchestrators, arrangers, and hack workers. But this stuff is mostly ephemeral, and at the end of the run or the tour the music goes to the stores in a basket (the remnants that have been collected from the orchestra), and is heard no more; unless, indeed, the stage manager thinks that perhaps the Hamlet march would suit a situation in the new modern patriotic play just about to be produced, or, with the assistance of a tam-tam, could be converted into a grand Oriental march for the forthcoming production of Ali Baba.


On the other hand, several important producers have commissioned celebrated composers to write for them. Thus, Sir Herbert Tree asked Sir George Henschel to do the music for his production, and, what is more, actually allowed it to be played more or less as written. Sir Frank Benson's music was obtained with the scenery and props, prompt books, etc., when he took over the company from Bentley, and is rather a hotch-potch. It has been added to from time to time, but it is beyond improvement. The Otho Stuart-H. B. Irving-Oscar Asche Hamlet music was insignificant. Hamilton Clark's music to Sir Henry Irving's production I cannot find, even at the British Museum, but I remember it well as thoroughly sound, effective incidental music, a great help to the play, and never obtrusive.

The Henschel music was far more complicated. Tree produced Hamlet at the Haymarket in January 1892. The {23} prelude is a solemn largo movement, lasting about five minutes, with nothing very distinctive about it. The Ghost music is the usual 'cello and bass effect, long pianissimo holding notes (octaves), with plenty of pauses. The cock-crowing imitation on the oboe is most effective. The triple piano, high B flat, triplet dropping an octave, gives a most realistic effect. The next number is very important. It is called "Danish March," and I take Sir George Henschel's word for it that it is one. It is very long, and serves to bring the King, Queen, and court on and off whenever necessary. The prelude to Act ii. is called "Ophelia," and is quite conventionally affettuoso.

The fanfares are all good. There is a prelude to Act iii., allegro impetuoso, but it has no label, and might suit Hamlet or Laertes equally well. The prelude to Act iv., called "Ophelia's Death," is a funeral march for muted strings and timpani. There is very effective melodrama music while the Queen describes Ophelia's death, muted strings pianissimo, and the clarinets playing broken snatches of the mad songs. The prelude to Act v. is a pastorale for full orchestra, and the churchyard music is for solo organ on stage. At the end of the whole play, at the cue "And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," a female chorus on the stage sings, in three parts, "Good-night, sweet Prince, good-night," which makes a pretty ending. I gather this was Sir Herbert Tree's idea.


In addition to the fine "Fantasy Overture," which I discuss later as a separate piece of orchestral music, Tschaikowsky composed an overture, entr'actes, and full incidental music for Hamlet. It was written for a special production at Petrograd, and is much the finest music for the play. The whole is composed for small orchestra, double wood wind, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, and drums, and these limitations seem to have suited Tschaikowsky's genius particularly well. The overture is founded on the themes of the "Fantasy Overture," but is considerably shorter. The Ghost music is very {24} awe-inspiring and original, very piano, deep notes on the trombone and trumpets, combined with strange, eccentric scale passages on the clarinets. The fanfares throughout are particularly fine, the first being an elaborate and long flourish in nine-eight rhythm, scored for the full brass, but, curiously enough, without kettledrums; nor are these used in any of the subsequent fanfares. Now, Shakespeare in his text makes Hamlet say (Act i., Scene 4), "The King doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse, Keeps wassail, and the swaggering upspring reels. And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out The triumph of his pledge." And, later (Act v., Scene 2), the King says, "Give me the cups; And let the kettle to the trumpet speak, The trumpet to the cannoneer without," etc. Now, this seems to me to be a strange omission. It cannot have been done intentionally. Perhaps in the Russian version the text is altered and the kettledrum missed out. Of course, the side-drum is generally used in England, because it is easy to take on the stage, and our managers do not like hiring extra stage kettledrums; but this would scarcely apply to Petrograd or Moscow. No. 3 is a powerful piece of melodrama music, mostly on the Hamlet theme, on the solo bassoon at first, and subsequently taken up by the clarinets, all on their low register: a very sinister number this. No. 4 is another melodrama, very agitato, scored for pizzicato strings and bassoon, with a very curious and ominous kettledrum figure, frequently repeated. The entr'acte between Acts i. and ii. is marked allegro semplice; it is a graceful waltz, very characteristic of the composer, and is obviously meant for Ophelia. Then comes a strange fanfare for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, and tamburino: this is long and florid, rather like a street march. No. 6 is a long florid fanfare for two trumpets; the first leading off with the theme, and the second following a bar or so later, in canon style: this is a most interesting fanfare. The entr'acte between Acts ii. and iii. is a beautifully melodious movement for strings only, sad, and exquisitely written {25} for the instruments. The melodrama music in this act is the same as in the first act.

Before Act iv. is an �l�gie for strings: one of the most beautiful works of the kind ever written. Tschaikowsky has composed several elegies for this combination of instruments, but none better than this. Nothing more ideal as preparation for the Ophelia scenes could be imagined. Next follow Ophelia's songs. These are all freshly set by the composer in folk-song manner, accompanied very delicately by the orchestra. Before the last act comes the Funeral March, very striking, very fun�bre, very dignified, and very wistful; in all, a perfect piece of elegiac writing, than which nothing more thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the play could be imagined. It is on the same lines as Berlioz's "Marche Fun�bre" in the same situation. The Gravedigger's song is newly set, to a lively and very Russian-sounding tune, accompanied by full orchestra; but I doubt the wisdom of having orchestral accompaniment either to Ophelia's songs or to the Grave-digger's single one. A long and florid fanfare for two trumpets accompanies the King's toast to Hamlet (without kettledrums). The Funeral March is repeated at Hamlet's death, and the martial music for Fortinbras is in splendid contrast. It is a short, quick movement, only nineteen bars in length, marked allegro risoluto, and makes a great end to the play. The music is absolutely worthy of the play, and is a perfect example of what incidental music should be. Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson was wise enough to use nearly all this music in his fine production. He did not adopt Tschaikowsky's settings for Ophelia's songs or the Gravedigger's, but used the so-called traditional ones, and I am sure he was right here. But why, after having played the great funeral march as an entr'acte, he did not use it again, as directed by the composer, for Hamlet's funeral procession, I can't understand. Instead, he used a march by Carl Armbruster, quite good in its way, but very pale after Tschaikowsky. Still, it was a praise-worthy act of Sir Johnston to use the large amount of the {26} music he did, and he deserves great thanks for only interpolating one number.


Unfortunately, the music composed by Norman O'Neill for Martin Harvey's production of Hamlet in 1907 is as yet unpublished. Mr O'Neill wrote the entire score. He had already composed an overture built on the themes on which he draws largely for the incidental music in this production, and he uses the overture itself in its entirety as a prelude to the second act, under the title "Prelude, Hamlet." The prelude for the first act is sombre, quiet, and brooding, with a very curious cuckoo effect at the end, which is repeated in the subsequent Ghost music. Of course, I do not know the habits of the Danish cuckoo, but obviously, according to Mr O'Neill, he is either a very late or a very early bird. Perhaps he is cracking an Elizabethan wheeze at the expense of the Ghost's widow's unholy marriage. The big processional march for the entrance of the King and Court is, curiously enough, not founded on the King's theme, but on Hamlet's theme from the overture now used as the prelude to the second act. The scene-change music before Ophelia's first scene is founded on "How shall I my true love know?", with varied accompaniment, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, and once as clarinet solo with harp accompaniment. At the cue, "Held his wont to walk," there is a fanfare for the clarinet, but, as in most incidental music, no kettledrums. The Ghost music in this act is all founded on the Hamlet theme. The prelude to Act ii. is, as I have said, the overture proper. It begins with the Hamlet theme, allegro maestoso, very bold and rhythmic, which suddenly breaks off with a pianissimo suggestion of "How shall I my true love know?", which is used as the second subject, and very much developed. These themes are worked out in a complex manner, and there is a curious fanfare effect before the coda, which is marked grandioso, in the major key, and is very triumphant. The players come on to perform their tragedy to a pretty little tune, {27} quite light and graceful, played on the oboe and clarinet, which has a quaint and interesting effect. Before Act iii. (the arrangement of the scenes is according to Mr Harvey's stage version) is an entr'acte entitled "Ophelia," founded on her traditional songs; but I wish Mr O'Neill would use more of his original melodies. An entr'acte entitled "Laertes" is a fine, vigorous number. In the last number of all, on the cue "The rest is silence," we have the Hamlet theme in the major, with sweeping arpeggios for the harp, a gradual crescendo to a fortissimo grandioso finish to the act. This makes a fine theatrical curtain.


Karl Heinrich Graun, Court musician to Frederick the Great, composed an overture and incidental music to Hamlet; but as the only known score is in the Court Library at Berlin, it is impossible, at the time of writing, to get hold of it.[1]


Robert Browning's Abt Vogler (Abb� Georg Joseph Vogler) composed an overture and incidental music for this play for a production at Mannheim in 1779. Born at W�rzburg in 1749, he was educated by the Jesuits at that town, and soon became a famous musician. He was ordained priest at Rome in 1773, but still continued his career as a composer and organ virtuoso. He was a famous teacher also, Weber and Meyerbeer being his best pupils.


Some very good incidental music to this play was written by Victorin de Jonci�res for Alexandre Dumas and Paul Meurice's version. The composer was born in Paris in 1839, and entered the Paris Conservatoire, but left suddenly, as he disagreed with his counterpoint master, Leborne (a very conservative musician), concerning {28} Richard Wagner, who had just given his first concert in Paris. This work consists of an overture, march, entr'actes, and melodramas. It was performed at the Grand, Nantes, on September 21, 1867, the composer conducting the orchestra, and the part of Hamlet being played by Mme. Judith, ex-soci�taire of the Com�die Fran�aise. When the play was produced the following year at the Gaiet� in Paris, this excellent music was for some strange reason refused by M. Perrier, the producer.


The earliest known opera on Hamlet is by Francesco Gasparini, and was produced in Venice in 1705 and in London at the Queen's in 1712. The composer was born near Lucca in 1668, and was a pupil of Archangelo Corelli, the celebrated violinist and composer. The libretto is by Apostolo Zeno, and the work is in three acts. The style is very much like Corelli's, florid and melodious. Dr Burney, the musical historian, who wrote a General History of Music and Musicians from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, has a short account of this opera in the fourth volume of his work. He does not seem to like it. He writes (in 1789): "Hamlet, in Italian, Ambleto; written by Apostolo Zeno, and set for the Venetian Theatre, 1705, by Francesco Gasparini, was brought on our stage under the conduct of Nicolini, who dedicated the poem to the Earl of Portland. There is very little resemblance in the conduct of this drama to Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name, though both seem to have been drawn from the same source, the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus. But if Zeno is much inferior to our divine Shakespeare, in variety of character, knowledge of the human heart, and genius in its most unlimited acceptation, his drama is exempt from all the absurdities and improprieties which critics, insensible to the effects of music, had leisure to find in former operas." So much for the libretto. For the music, there is an overture, ending in a jig; but whether the curtain rises on the last note of this dance for the "Rampart" scene, is not shown in the score. Dr Burney {29} seems to like the music even less than the libretto. He writes: "There are few songs, however, in this opera which would please modern judges of music either by their melody or harmony." And on the whole I agree with the doctor.


Though Hamlet has been treated many times operatically, the only setting that is ever performed is that of Ambroise Thomas, in five acts, book by Carr� and Barbier, produced in Paris 1860. Boito did the libretto for Faccio's Hamlet, produced in Genoa 1865, but I cannot get a copy. Anyway, Boito's libretto would certainly be the best Hamlet one ever written. After Gasparini comes a whole list of names of Hamlet composers, much too tedious to quote, the only interesting name between him and Faccio being Domenico Scarlatti, the famous harpsichord player and composer, whose opera was produced in Rome, 1715.


Thomas's prelude is very short, and obviously connected with the supernatural happenings at Elsinore. The opening chorus is bright, and all in praise of the King and Queen. Everyone seems happy until Hamlet and Ophelia come on, and their first duet opens very sadly. All through this work one gets glimpses of familiar quotations, but there is no close adherence to Shakespeare; rather have MM. Carr� and Barbier followed in the paths of Shadwell, Davenant, and Colley Cibber. Laertes, on his entrance, sings a very stirring patriotic song, and manages to get away without any advice from Polonius. The part of Polonius is mercilessly cut down to almost nothing. Fancy a singing Polonius! Scene 2 is a very serviceable Ghost scene, with the clock striking twelve, fanfares and plenty of tremolo; and the operatic version gives a very fair idea of the original scene.

Act ii. opens with a short prelude on one of Ophelia's themes, and then there is a long recitative and aria for her (Ophelia). I do not think it would be wise or expedient {30} to give an exact analysis of this work, so I will pass over with but few references.

Act iv. begins with a long and complicated ballet, which is about the changes of weather from which we suffer, and Ophelia's "mad scene" comes in the midst of it. The tyranny of the grand-opera ballet is one of the most cramping things that have ever helped to ruin the fine spontaneity of dramatic art. Everyone knows how Wagner fought against it, and of the final d�b�cle in Paris. Wagner, as a sop to the Jockey Club and Napoleon III., put a ballet in Tannh�user, but it was a logical ballet, and in keeping with the general idea of the opera. But because it was performed in the only possible place in the work where it was suitable, the Parisians hooted the opera off the stage. So why should not Ambroise Thomas have put a ballet in Hamlet? Wagner gave way to his producer, but was firm as to where the ballet should come. The ballet ran on from the overture, and there was no question of a superimposed ballet. The Paris ballet music, Wagner using the Tannh�user melodies with the Tristan technique, is one of the most interesting of all Wagner's struggles against what he loathed so much. In spite of his giving way to the Paris convention, the ballet was a failure, because he would have it in the first act; but it still serves to remind us English people that we are not the only inartistic nation in the world, though we seldom sing p�ans in our own praise.

A very entertaining innovation of our French adapters is that instead of Hamlet telling the players how to act, or in opera how to sing, he calls for wine, and sings a merry drinking song, which probably pleased the performers much more than a free singing lesson or a few tips on elocution. I should very much like to see how Wagner would have treated this scene. I feel sure he would have made Hamlet tell the singing players to use the Italian bel canto production, but, at the same time, to sing the words as if they meant something and were not as unimportant as the perpetual A—A—A of the singing exercises.

{31}

The usual end of the opera differs a little from Shakespeare's. The Queen, Laertes, and Polonius live, and Hamlet is crowned King of Denmark to music very similar to that which is sung in the first act, in praise of Claudius and his Queen. But there is another ending sometimes played to this opera. It is an ending that ought to make Cibber blush! Sir Alexander Mackenzie told me he saw this closing scene in Paris. The poor, unimaginative, bourgeois English producer could never rise to such Latin heights. Here it is:—At the end of the play, Ophelia marries Hamlet, and the Ghost, with full melodrama-musical accompaniment, gives them his blessing. It is a dull thing to be a simple Anglo-Saxon!

One of the most interesting things about this opera is that Hamlet is a bass-baritone; very few people would believe this unless they heard the opera, or saw it in black and white in the score.


A very interesting opera on this subject is Aristide Hignard's lyric drama in five acts, book by Pierre de Garal. The composer finished the score in the well-founded hope of a speedy production, neither he nor his friends knowing that Ambroise Thomas's work on the same subject was already accepted and being rehearsed at the Op�ra, Paris, which fact upset all his hopes. In this deeply studied work the composer had made an effort to discover a new form, and believed that he had succeeded. The new form consisted in this, says M. Hignard in his preface to the score: in the vocal part of his work he interpolates declamation, replacing the recitatives, and fully backed by the orchestra. This procedure, which Massenet employed much later in Manon, was undoubtedly new then, and the honour of inventing it falls distinctly to Hignard. The composer was so disappointed at not being first in the field, that even before the production and subsequent success of his colleague's opera he abandoned all hopes of producing his work on the stage in Paris, but published the score, not only to make it known but also to prove that it had {32} been conceived by him at the same time as his illustrious confr�re's opera. After twenty years it saw the light in his native town of Nantes, and its success gave some consolation to its composer for his earlier disappointment. Cl�ment and Larousse, in their account of it, say: "This Hamlet is remarkable in more than name. In it one finds much music of a real and high inspiration; in the numbers it is necessary to mention, the Platform scenes are treated very dramatically; the beautiful septuor which follows the Play scene, and particularly the music that accompanies the funeral of Ophelia, when the composer finds music of great pathos, are most suitable. The entr'actes, ballets, and character passages make delightful episodes, being full of charm and grace, and very picturesque in colouring. To sum up, it is the work of an artist, always learned, and does great honour to the hand that signed it." Grove's Dictionary of Music does not mention this composer's name, but Riemann says he was born in Nantes, May 22, 1822, was a pupil of Hal�vy at the Paris Conservatoire, composed much music, including several comic operas, and died at Vernon in 1898.


Franco Faccio had the inestimable boon of the services of Boito as librettist for his Hamlet opera. Faccio was born 1840, at Verona, and at the age of fifteen entered the Conservatoire at Milan. He and Boito fought together in the Garibaldian Army in 1867-68, after the opera had been successfully produced at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, on May 30, 1865; it was revived at the Scala in 1871, but was a failure. The work is called Amleto, a lyrical tragedy in four acts. "Dubita pur che brillino (sortita d'Ophelia)" is a sort of paraphrase of Hamlet's letter:—

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
    Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
    But never doubt I love.

It is quite a beautiful song, very melodious and dramatic, and in a style of its own. Ophelia is a high soprano. There {33} is a fine drinking song for the King and Queen, Hamlet, and Ophelia, with a chorus of courtiers. After an ironic recitative, mostly addressed to Hamlet, the King leads off singing very solemnly and slowly the words "Requie ai defunti," and immediately afterwards in a most lively style, "e colmisi d'almo liquor la tazza." Then slowly and solemnly again, "Oriam per essi," and quickly, "e calice sia vittima ed altar." The song now continues as a very lively bolero, until just before the end of the first verse, when the King sings, solemnly again, "Requie ai defunti," and the chorus brings the first verse to a close with shouts for the King. The Queen has the next verse just on the same lines as the King's verse. Hamlet and Ophelia both have serious asides in the next verse, but the chorus does not notice them, and finishes up the number in a fine, reckless operatic way. The second part of the first act opens in a remote part of the Castle ramparts. The night is very dark, but the light in the banqueting-hall can be seen in the distance. The opening music is intensely dramatic; the 'cellos are divided into five parts, and while the orchestra in front are playing this most tragic music, one can hear occasionally, beautifully blending with the rest of the score, the lively strains of the King's private band playing in the great dining-hall. Dramatically the Ghost enters just as the lively music is dominating. Hamlet, in an impassioned outburst, calls on the Ghost for an explanation; and, beginning very quietly, the Ghost works himself up to a tremendous pitch of excitement in telling his story. Finally he disappears, and his voice is heard below the stage singing "Giurate" ("Swear"). Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus finish the act singing, pianissimo, "De profundis clamavi." This is indeed a fine concerted number, and much the most dramatic in any of the Hamlet operas. The famous soliloquy, "Essere, o non essere!" ("To be, or not to be!"), is faithfully and dramatically set, a strange 'cello part giving singular point to the words "To die, to sleep." Hamlet and Ophelia have a very elaborate duet in this act, the former pretending to be mad. The King and Queen also have a duet, entitled {34} "Vieni, compagna," a very pretty, melodious, and light number. The third act opens with the King's prayer; the orchestra plays a long and solemn introduction, and the prayer is beautiful and dignified. The last number is a trio for Queen, Hamlet, and Ghost. Hamlet upbraids his mother in bolero rhythm, to which she replies tragically, and then the Ghost appears, and the dance rhythm stops suddenly. They sing a grim trio, and the act finishes in a tragic manner.

The next number is called "The Madness of Ophelia." She sings a touching, sad little song, sometimes quite frivolous, but always pathetic, Laertes and the King joining in now and again. This is broken in upon by the populace, who have revolted, and wander about singing songs of pillage and sacking. Ophelia finishes by laughing quite madly, and Hamlet first, and then the King, says "Unfortunate one." Unluckily, this is the last published number, so one has to guess how the opera ends, as there is no copy of the libretto to be found in the British Museum Library. Mr W. Barclay Squire, in his contribution to Homage to Shakespeare, says of the work: "It had the advantage of an admirable libretto, in which Shakespeare's tragedy was closely followed." Hence one concludes that the opera ends more or less in the same way as Shakespeare's play.


An interesting opera on this subject is Alexandre Stadtfeldt's lyric drama Hamlet, book by Jules Guillaume. The composer, a Belgian, was a distinguished pupil of the Brussels Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome in 1849. As he was unable to produce his opera in his native country, he had the libretto translated into German, and the work was performed with success at Bonn in 1881, and subsequently at Weimar.


Hamlet, Franz Liszt's great symphonic poem, was one of the latest of the series, being composed in 1859. It was first performed at Sondershausen in 1886. The work is {35} planned on a large scale, and is very difficult to perform. So far as I can find out, it is the only Shakespearian work of the composer, but it is a very important one. The main key of the work is B minor, and the greater part of it passionate and agitato. The prelude opens slowly, sombrely, and piano, with occasional sudden crescendos and sforzatos, and significant tremolo string passages, marked "stormy" in the score. Then comes the principal theme, a quick, passionate subject, given out by the violins, and presently taken up by the rest of the orchestra. This is quickly followed by a strongly marked theme, allotted to the full strings in unison, and these subjects are developed until the Ophelia music is heard. This, naturally, is very different from the preceding music, being slow, piano, with a violin solo accompanied by piano wood wind. It is soon broken in upon by the Hamlet music, first on the bassoons, marked "ironical" in the score, and later repeated by the rest of the wood wind. One fresh theme is introduced, also agitato, and this thematic material suffices for the composer. After much excitement and working up, we get a return to the slow opening, followed by an � fun�bre episode, founded on the Hamlet motive, which finishes the whole movement. The end is very tragic, and the whole a notable and interesting addition to our modern Shakespearian music.


Tschaikowsky's Phantasie Overture, Hamlet, is dedicated to Edvard Grieg. It is really a great work, full of dignity, strength, and beauty. The twelve o'clock effect is curiously given by twelve sforzato semibreves on muted horns, beginning pianissimo, and swelling up until the twelfth note is given triple fortissimo. The first subject is energetic, obviously for Hamlet, with his mind very much made up; but gradually the theme gets more and more undecided and vacillating, and leads to the second theme, Ophelia, a beautiful and tender subject given out by the oboe. The whole development is long, complicated, and interesting; towards the end a strange quasi-fun�bre theme is given out on the brass and drums, closely followed by a long passage {36} for full orchestra, marked triple fortissimo, culminating in a chord for the wind marked with five f's. Then comes a very solemn and dignified ending, strings muted and everything dying away to a whisper. This work is one of the finest commentaries on the play ever written.


Berlioz's contributions to Hamlet music consist of two numbers: a ballad for two female voices, entitled "La mort d'Oph�lie," done into English by the Rev. J. Troutbeck under the title "Ophelia"; and a funeral march for the last scene in the play. The words of the ballad are by Berlioz, and are a description of Ophelia's last hours, her wandering by the brook making fantastic wreaths, with many very ingenious references to Shakespeare's scene so beautifully described by the Queen in the play. Naturally, the music is throughout exquisitely sad, and is beautifully descriptive of Ophelia's death. It is not at all difficult to perform, and very melodious; I cannot understand why Ladies' Choral Societies do not take it up.

The "Marche Fun�bre" is not in ordinary march form. There are no trios in it; it is all the development of one theme. It begins pianissimo in A minor, and ends pianissimo in the same key. It has a monotonous bass throughout, and Berlioz uses all kinds of drums with his usual weird skill. The impression of many men marching slowly and solemnly must be realised by even the most unimaginative hearer, and it is a work that requires no programme. It tells its own story absolutely to anyone who cares to hear it. There is a tremendous fortissimo triumphant effect in the middle, the bass stalking up and down in slow dotted notes, while the rest of the orchestra sustains a slow, heavy melody. After a terrific triple forte effect, there is a dead silence; then a long, deep, sustained note; then occur about twenty bars of the most hopelessly despairing music I have ever heard, and then the drums again take up their dreadful figure; and so the whole march winds to a close. It does not end on any note of hope. There is no thought of a glorious resurrection—all is lost, hopeless, despairing. It {37} would make a splendid entr'acte played before the last act of Hamlet, and would put the audience into exactly the proper state of mind. The march should be oftener used on occasions of national mourning.


Edward Alexander MacDowell, the best-known American composer, wrote two symphonic poems for orchestra entitled Hamlet and Ophelia. These works are dedicated jointly to Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. The composer was born in New York in 1861, but studied mostly in France and Germany, afterwards teaching at the Conservatoires of Darmstadt and Wiesbaden. In these two poems there is no attempt to tell any story. The Hamlet one is naturally more excited than the Ophelia; but as there seem to be no Ghost, King, or any of the accustomed secondary characters, I presume that the composer means exactly what he says, viz. that the one represents his conception of Hamlet, and the other that of Ophelia. The result is two excellent, if rather dull, works. The theme for French horn at the beginning of the Ophelia poem is the most striking in either of the pieces, and is the only melody that stands out at all. It is also very skilfully developed.


Edward German's symphonic poem, Hamlet, dedicated to Hans Richter, the conductor, was first produced at the Birmingham Festival of 1897. The composer, in a preface to the printed copy, says: "In this symphonic poem the composer has endeavoured to depict the character of Hamlet as stern and relentless, yet in this mood alternately hesitating and impetuous. The influence of this character may be said to dominate the entire work. Hamlet's love for Ophelia is overpowered by his doubts, his distrust of the Queen, and his determination to avenge the murder of his father. His fury reaches its height as he stabs the King. The poison which Hamlet has received from the weapon of Laertes now begins to take effect, and hence to the end the music is descriptive of the ebbing away of his life." This gives the reader a very fair idea of Edward {38} German's work. It is planned on a large scale for a large orchestra, and is quite the most important serious work that Mr German has given us. It opens with a picture of night, sombre and serious, followed by the inevitable bell tolling twelve. Then a short agitato episode leads to a bold theme entitled "Hamlet" in the score. Shortly afterwards come a very pleading Ophelia theme for clarinet and harp, and a fine pomposo march theme for the King. All these are freely worked out, and in the middle of this development occurs a very touching episode called "Death of Ophelia." Mr German, following his own programme, works now for his great climax, the killing of Claudius by Hamlet, after which the music grows slower and slower and more and more piano till it finally dies away.

It is a beautiful and ambitious work, and well worthy of the colossal theme that it is founded upon. It is a great credit to British musicianship, and I only wish it could be heard oftener.


I have frequently wished that Grieg had composed music for Hamlet. In several productions I have heard numbers from his Sigurd J�rsalfar suite, played as entr'actes, and sometimes as incidental music, and they always sounded exactly in keeping with the feeling and atmosphere of the play. I have just discovered the reason. His master and fellow-countryman, Niels Gade, had composed a Hamlet overture, and Grieg, unlike some of our modern English composers, who freely set poems and stories immortalised by Handel, was a very modest man, and left his master alone in the field, to our great loss.


Some time ago Sir Frederick Bridge unearthed in the Pepys Library at Cambridge a strange setting of the soliloquy "To be, or not to be," for bass voice, viol de gamba, and lute. Pepys is supposed to have had the music specially composed for him, but, unfortunately, the composer's name is still unknown. "It is a broad, declamatory {39} setting" (says The Times), "something in the manner adopted by Pelham Humphrey and Blow in their sacred recitatives; and though it does not differ from a great deal of contemporary music, it is as much more effective as it is less pretentious than the strange setting of the same words in Thomas's version. There is a vague reference to this in the Diary: 'Dined at home very well, and spent all the afternoon with my wife within doors, and getting a speech out of Hamlet, "To be, or not to be," without book.'"


[1] As will be gathered from a similar passage on page 2 and from others that need not be specified, it is clear that Christopher Wilson, had he been spared, would have filled in various gaps before the publication of his papers in permanent book-form.





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