The content of this paper will be a discussion on the general background and nature of the composition, the character portrayal, a technical analysis, and the performance implications of my composition, Songs for Ophelia, from Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. Top of Page
The theatrical and musical presentation, including sound design, of Shakespeare's play, Hamlet was a collaboration between Dr Geoffrey Borny (Drama Department, University of New England (UNE)) and myself.
I intend to discuss only briefly the rôle and character of Ophelia. The manner in which she has been generally represented in the theatre is, I believe, tainted with dated and inappropriate views of the rôle of women which do not stem directly from the text, in particular the song texts, as provided by Shakespeare&emdash;in other words, Ophelia as a subservient wimp. Of utmost importance to me from the outset was the portrayal of Ophelia with greater depth of character, that is, as a real woman.
In my collaboration with Geoffrey we attempted a new interpretation, which we believe casts Ophelia in a radically different light from recent tradition. On the one hand, Ophelia's rôle as fool and seer, and on the other, to show that Ophelia's noble trust, love and grief for her father (Polonius, judged objectively, a petty and scheming bureaucrat) is mutually redemptive: the message being that understanding and compassion can overcome temporal human failings. A further interpretation of the redemptive aspect of Ophelia might be a latter-day Marian figure, resigned and transcendent, indeed, yearning for death to redeem the sins of the world.
I will begin by describing the composition's background and technical aspects and, later, the performance indications in order to show how, essentially, the same music can function in varying contexts and create different but complementary perceptions of the work.
Two unified and complementary aspects of Ophelia the woman will be discussed and illustrated by examples from the theatrical and concert presentations of the composition Songs for Ophelia.
Score examples are used to illustrate the text in this analysis. The score used is the concert version for soprano.
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Originally, I had planned to use sections of a wind quintet which I'm currently working on (Zeitfluß). I had intended to use the Music Publisher, a computer music-printing application, so that I could easily "cut and paste" relevant sections according to needs. The music in the computer would then be played electronically via MIDI and patched for sampled harpsichord (would sound like a 'hyper-harpsichord').
I spent some days during Christmas 1989 vacations inputting music data into the application with poor results. In the end only managed to satisfactorily input the first system of music.
I resorted to recorded music and chose Bruno Maderna's Aura (1972) for orchestra. This piece seemed to have all the necessary attributes that I was looking for (in fact, I was surprised how similar certain musical sections were to the my own music that I had planned to use (the wind quintet, Zeitfluß, and the String Quartet no. 1).
For the special effects (FX):
These various musics/FX were then transferred to the cue sheet (refer the enclosed sheets in the tape master (Sheets I, II) - not part of this paper).
Geoffrey listened to the Maderna excerpts and the sound effects. we then discussed the text/drama and worked out roughly where the various bits would be required and for how long. I went away and prepared a rough edit of the excerpts/FX discussed; dubbed them onto cassette for Geoffrey to listen to and to fine-tune the length and number of times that each excerpt would be required. I then produced the final master tape with each excerpt being of appropriate length and separated by white leader.
This master tape was then transferred onto individual cassettes for each sound excerpt; in other words, each tape cue had a separate cassette (individually numbered in contiguous order) to be played during the production. This system allows for student technicians to follow a simple cue sheet with individually numbered cassettes.
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Initially, there were two background aspects of the compositional process to consider: the director's and the composer's requirements.
These break down into general and specific categories.
Geoffrey Borny asked that I observe certain criteria as general guidelines and set the playing field for the production:
Geoffrey and I decided that, for our purposes, the song texts fell into three basic types which we categorised as: a) mad, b) sad, and c) bawdy.
There were other specific issues to consider and these included:
See Figure below of the first two songs in the cycle for examples of the mad and sad song styles.
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Figure 1: Songs for Ophelia - How should I your true love know? and He is dead and gone
I wanted to produce a set of songs that would be tailor-made for the actor, Meg Mumford, but very early in the composing phase I felt the need for them to go beyond the drama stage and be able to be performed in a concert setting.
I decided to write a song cycle that I hoped would be able to fulfil both ends. The implications of this were, as outlined in the table at Figure below.
Figure 2: Comparison of concert and stage versions
1. I set all of Shakespeare's text to music
1. I set all of Shakespeare's text to music although I knew that, at certain points in the drama, some musical material might be required to be deleted or altered in some way (Geoffrey consulted with me in every instance of cuts). In the final production version, as it turned out, quite drastic abridgements had to be made, although care was taken not to lose vital musical materials and to retain the contrasting tension between the mad and sad songs
2. I wanted a slow pacing for the sad songs
2. the slow pacing of the sad songs, appropriate in the concert version, would impede the dramatic flow of the stage version
3. the sad songs require a trained soprano voice of lyrical quality
3. the sad songs require a lyrical quality which I could not reasonably expect from the actor. Here I assumed that dramatic action in the stage version would make up any shortfall in vocal lyrical ability
4. As the composition progressed, the vocal quality I had in mind materialised in the lyric soprano voice of Felicity Horgan
4. I maintained and exploited the dramatic possibilities of the actor's voice
5. the songs of exact-pitch would have to be set for a higher voice but without losing the dark quality and mood of the music (Susan Falk's visit to UNE in June, 1989, and advice regarding the songs was invaluable to this end). I decided to transpose the Songs up a tritone so that the uppermost C of the stage version moves up to an F# (top line of stave) which is just at the top-end of the covered area of the trained soprano voice without going into a proper head voice (thus changing the quality of the voice and losing an edge on diction and intelligibility of words). Obviously, the approximate-pitched songs did not need any transposition. The stage version being set lower could also be sung by a trained contralto voice in concert
5. the songs of exact-pitch were set for the Meg's low voice
There are eight songs in the cycle, with titles drawn from the text of Shakespeare's play. They are:
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Ophelia sings these songs in Act IV, Scene v, after the death and hurried burial of her father, Polonius. Her emotions are intended to range from wry contempt to sublime grief.
Essentially there were three types of songs that had to be set:
Video Example 1: video tape of Meg performing How should I your true love know? (dur 0:40)
Sound Example 1:
Felicity singing He is dead and gone excerpt (dur c. 0:22)
There is a progression in style in the sad songs that commences with lyrical/cantabile lines in the first song He is dead and gone. In the songs White his shroud and They bore him bare-faced there is a tendency towards melisma, word-painting, recitativo secco, and re-appearance and juxtapositions of familiar materials. In the last song And will 'a not come again? there are cantabile lines and melisma without recitative.
Video Example 2: video tape of Meg performing Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day, And I a Maid and Before you tumbled me (dur 3:00)
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In the following analytical discussion I will use Allan Forte's nomenclature of interval-classes, or ic's, to refer to intervallic materials.
Figure 4: Interval-classes and diatonic interval equivalents
Put simply, the 12 intervals within the octave reduce down to 6 interval classes (ic's) because of the inversion relationship. Inverse-related intervals are defined as equivalent, and consequently are paired off as shown above.
In Hamlet, Act IV, Scene v, Ophelia enters (distracted) Refer to the Hamlet, Signet Classics, 1963 edition, p.133ff.
Ophelia (she sings)
ll. 23 -24 // (break)
ll. 25 - 26- expressionistic, off-the planet song, disjunct 12 tone style.
ll. 28 spoken
ll. 29 - 34- sad song - funeral dirge feel. At end she goes 'off key' (gliss downwards/quasi giggle)
Ophelia:p.133, l.35 spoken
Ophelia:p.134, l.36 - sad song B (continued)
Enter King (Claudius)
ll. 38 - 40- sad song B (cont). Stress on "did not go". *Recitativo with melisma style for song.
ll. 48-49- set in gestural, approximate-pitched style
ll. 50 -- a jolly, bawdy/vulgar song (rhythmic? jog?). 2 Verses to set.
Ophelia: ll. 58 -
- continuation of bawdy song C. "By Jesus" (not "Gis") etc.
ll. - 61 "...are to blame" - break off and giggle.
Ophelia: ll. 62-63 cont. of C (Before you tumbled me)
- set in high register
l. 64 spoken aside
ll. 65 - 66 cont. of C: low register! (imitate male voice) (So would I'a done)
l. 164 sad song B
l. 165 "Hey non nony..." bawdy song C
l. 166 "And in his..." sad song B
ll. 170-71 "A-down a-down..." bawdy song C
l. 185 "For bonny sweet..." bawdy song C
ll. 188-192 sad song B
ll.193 - (ref to l.36) - sad song B
ll. - 197 - sad song B
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The score notation uses the following conventions (for examples of both refer to Figure 1 above of the Songs for Ophelia):
Approximate-pitch notation: is approximate in the areas of pitch and rhythm. The pitch notation uses a five-line stave with a range of note positions from D at the bottom of the stave to G at the top of the stave. It is intended to fit the comfortable range of any female voice and is not to be interpreted literally. Durations are intended to be interpreted according to the time-proportion notation and improvised according to the text and the performer's taste.
Exact-pitch notation: is a conventional five-line stave but approximate in the area of rhythm. Discussion of specific pitches in this analysis will be with reference to middle C as C4.
In the notation, you will note that there are essentially only three types of note durations: long, short and grace notes.
Figure 3: Score symbols
Accidentals only affect the notes they precede
NB: in my handwritten manuscript I employed the short-note symbol as in the Figure above. When I subsequently computer-typeset the music in Coda Software's Finale (computer music-notation application) I utilised a diamond-shaped note-head for the short-note symbol.
The approximate-pitched mad songs are gestural and intuitive in their structure. These songs use Luciano Berio's Circles as a model in terms of notation and voice production. The setting means to convey a shocking effect. They include the first song How should I your true love know?, Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day and Before you tumbled me. The latter songs shall be discussed later in this paper.
In this first song, How should I your true love know? (see Figure 1 above), there is no dramatic preparation for Ophelia's entrance and her condition is to be conveyed by the manner of her unusual voice production and comportment. Her staccato and disjunct melismas prepare for complementary lyrical melismas in the later sad songs.
I will play a video followed by an audio example of How should I your true love know? performed by Meg and Felicity respectively.
Video Example 3: video tape of Meg performing How should I your true love know? (dur 0:40)
Sound Example 2:
video tape of Felicity performing How should I your true love know?
(dur c. 0:40)
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The exact-pitched sad songs are based largely on an interval-class series set (2,1,2) as contained in the tetrachords of the Dorian mode (refer to the Figure below). Another ic series set (1,2,3) was used to introduce the interval of the minor third and to interrupt periodically the stream of ic series sets (2,1,2).
Figure 4: Dorian mode and ic series sets (2,1,2) and (1,2,3)
I employed a limited range of intervals (as opposed to finite pitches or scales) in the songs in order that if the actor were not to place a pitch correctly, she/he would have a chance of at least re-establishing the line by gauging interval distances (albeit transposed at a new pitch level). Whilst errors of this kind obviously corrupt the organised interval succession, the shape/line will, on the whole, be maintained and thus allow the sentiment of the music to come through - in other words, it is not absolute pitch precision which is required but a conviction in the performance of the musical gesture.
As a rule, in He is dead and gone, the ic series set (2,1,2) was used twice, followed by ic series set (1,2,3); then two more appearances of set (2,1,2). Each subsequent appearance of sets (2,1,2) and (1,2,3) was cyclically permutated (or in computer terminology: a shift-left function).
Thus double appearances of set (2,1,2) were interspersed with single appearances of set (1,2,3); allowing for cyclic permutations. An exception to this rule is at the words "green turf" where the permutation is a retrograde of the original set (1,2,3). The last appearance of set (2,1,2) is interrupted and connects to the next sad song by the interval-class (ic) 2 (beginning note of next song could be Bb or D in low setting (stage version) or E or G# in high setting (concert version) (refers to previously mentioned tritone transposition upwards).
Figure 5: He is dead and gone score
This song starts on E (connected from previous song by ic 2). The next set (1,2,3) is a cyclic permutation (shift-left functions) of its previous appearance in the song He is dead and gone and is also a return to its original form. Subsequent appearances of the two ic sets continue in a similar manner until the word "Larded" where a retrograde-inversion of the previous ic sets occurs to heighten the word-painting.
After the first recitative that commences on the third system, the sung words "Which bewept" begin with a retrograde of the set (3,1,2) found at the word "snow" (see Figure below). However, I made a mistake and the F natural on the syllable "be-" should have been and E, ie ic3 not ic4. Cyclic permutation of sets continues until the words "the grave" where there is a cyclic permutation of the set (1,3,2) but only the first two ics are used and repeated a number of times to create a mournful effect based on the diatonic intervals of a minor second and a minor third, an allusion to the 'baroque tear'. At the beginning of the fifth system, there is another mistake at the note F# that finishes the melisma on the word "grave". The ic set should have been (1,3,2), a permutation of set (3,1,2). Instead. I have (1,3,1). This is followed by the first ic 1, of the ic set (1,2,2), that moves from F# to F natural.
At the second recitative that commences on the fifth system on the words "which bewept to the grave" there is a reiteration of the note F natural (freezing of melodic movement to heighten dramatic effect of words). It was my intention to pick up and use the remaining ics of the set(1,2,2), however, another mistake or poetic licence caused me to repeat the ic1 between the words "did" and "not" (ie the notes F and Gb) in the first half of the sixth system, instead of ic2, which would have made the "not" a G natural not a Gb.
From thereon, the set (1,2,2) resumes without cyclic permutation. The word "showers" is set in similar manner to "grave", using the first two retrograded elements, ics (3,2), of the original interval series set (1,2,3), and then finally stating the whole retrograde set (3,2,1) on the final notes of the melisma.
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Figure 6: White his shroud score
This song (see Figure below) is a retrograde of the second song, He is dead and gone. Occasionally the rhythm and tessitura are changed for cadential or particular effects, and some embellishments are added. For example, in the first system, the F# acciaccatura is added, similarly the subsequent B acciaccatura. In general, however, the ic sets are in exact retrograde order until the beginning of the second system. A mistake occurred in the copying of the tritone transposition of the concert version, but is correct in the original stage version. At the end of the first ic set in this system, (1,2,2), the ic2 should have gone from Ab to Bb, not A natural. However, the following ic set, (1,2,3) is correct insofar as it is faithfully adhering to the pitches of the retrograde of the second song, but is incorrect in the concert performance and recordings, which is based on this copy of the score.
The retrograde continues, skipping over the "Hey nony" approximate-pitched section, linked by the ic set (2,2,1), until the words "And in his grave" ending on the note F#4 just after midway in the system (see Figure below, fourth system). From this point on the retrograde continues by using repetitions of the same interval series sets (3,2,1) and (2,1,2) but disregarding the tessitura and rhythmic ideas of the original. Word-painting is emphasised on the words "rained" and "tear"; the latter alluding to the 'baroque tear' mannerism.
The song continues in the mad style and is comprised of contrasting previous materials: the pitched lyrical/cantabile style juxtaposed with the vulgar, child-like, approximate-pitched lines "Hey non nony...", and later "A-down a-down..." and "For bonny sweet Robin...". The latter "For bonny" section uses long-short stresses making an oblique reference to the previous And I a maid song set in 6/8 time.
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Figure 7: They bore him bare-faced score
If we look at this song (refer to the Figure below), we can see how the ic sets are employed. Section (a) - containing the music between the left and right square brackets, from the beginning to the middle of the second stave - is a literal repeat of the pitch and durations of the earlier song, White His Shroud. Sections (b) and (c) are literal repeats of the song, He is dead and gone, except for the point between the end of section (b) and the beginning of section (c), between the words "No, No" and "He is", where the ic (1,2,3) is omitted.
There were two reasons for these references which might be obvious: firstly, there was a need to give structural coherence to the 'floating and meandering' nature of the sad songs; secondly, and most importantly in terms of production schedules, time was running out for the actor, Meg, to learn any more new material.
At the second half of the second stave at the "Poco più mosso" marking, and beginning on the words "No, No", the process described previously, continues with two appearances of ic series set (2,1,2), followed by ic series set (1,2,3); then two more appearances of set (2,1,2) and so on.
In musico-dramatic terms, the references to earlier materials give the later songs a heightened sense of poignancy which should create a sense of engagement with Ophelia's plight in the listener .
The next sound example is of Felicity Horgan singing And will 'a not come again?
3: Felicity singing And will 'a not come again? excerpt (dur c.
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Figure 8: And will 'a not come again? score
There are three bawdy songs, Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day, And I a Maid, and Before you tumbled me. The pitch notation for And I a Maid is exact, for the other two it is approximate.
The exact-pitched bawdy song, And I a Maid, uses a different organisational structure from the approximate-pitched ones. I wanted to establish a closer relationship between the text and pitch materials whilst aiming for a pseudo-modal (ie 'slightly off' to suggest Ophelia's mental state) sound; in fact, I made a point of using the G# in exposed positions to give a feeling of Lydian mode (see score).
The ic set (3,4,5,6) - the prime form of this set is (0,1,2,3) - is derived from the stresses in the text, which form a set of numbers (6,7,8,9). These numbers when translated into ics form the set (3,4,5,6). See the Figures below.
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Figure 9: Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day and And I a maid texts and stresses
In the Figure below, the left-hand column indicates the numbers of stresses from top to bottom in ascending order. The right-hand column indicates the ic equivalents, and when placed in ascending order, produce the ic set (3,4,5,6).
Figure 10: text stresses converted to interval-classes
This approximate-pitched song is set in the mad style, classified a), similar to the opening song How should I your true love know? It is disjunct and animated in movement.
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Sound Example 4: Felicity singing
Tomorrow is St Valentine's Day (dur c. 0:20)
Figure 11: Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day score
This exact-pitched song uses the ic set (3,4,5,6) in a free manner based on the pitch centre D. The song is composed of two complementary sections, parts (b) and (c), which interlink over the textual scheme of the verses. The song is highly derisory in nature, hence the heading at the first stave "a là Brecht". Ophelia's madness (actually at her most rational and damning commenting on the bitter cruelty of female/male relationships) becomes unrestrained lewdness in the presence of the King (she lifts her skirts to bare herself and to mock his Majesty at the end of this song on the words "By cock they are to blame").
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Figure 12: And I a Maid score
Ophelia's madness - actually at its most rational and damning, commenting on the bitter cruelty of female/male relationships - on stage becomes unrestrained lewdness in the presence of the King: she lifts her skirts to bare herself and to mock his Majesty at the end of this song on the words "By cock they are to blame".
This approximate-pitched song is set in the mad style, similar to the first song in the cycle, How should I your true love know? After Ophelia speaks the part "Quoth she," she launches into the song in a high register (suggesting childishness and immaturity, with darker overtones of child sexual abuse (in modern parlance)). When she responds mimicking a man, she does so in a lower register with cutting irony.
There is a connection with the sad song They bore him bare-faced. It is comprised of contrasting materials: the pitched lyrical/cantabile style juxtaposed with the vulgar, child-like, approximate-pitched lines "Hey non nony...", and later "A-down a-down..." and "For bonny sweet Robin..." which are reminiscent of the bawdy song style.
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Figure 13: Before you tumbled me score
The greatest variation between the stage and concert versions of the Songs occurs at this point. We shall see Meg Mumford perform the last two of these songs on video and I will contrast this with Felicity Horgan's concert version.
Video Example 4: video tape of Meg performing and an excerpt from And I a Maid and Before you tumbled me (dur 1:35)
Sound Example 5:
Felicity singing And I a maid (dur 0:45)
and Before you tumbled me (dur 0:49)
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As we have seen and heard, two very different yet valid interpretations can emerge. This was achieved through various means which have implications in performance: firstly, the total presentation of the performer and secondly, the basic musical materials (intervallic and rhythmic).
Regarding the total presentation of the first case, in both types of performances of either stage or concert versions, there are two essential differences: the use of body movement and the manner of voice delivery. In the performance notes to the score, I indicated two ways (for "Animated" and "Non-animated" performers, ie an actor-singer or non-actor singer) of delivering the songs (see the "Performance Indications", of the full score of Songs for Ophelia for high female voice, at Appendix). Requirements for the two types of performances include:
Both staged and concert presentations of the songs are intended to be performed with a certain amount of theatrical presentation. Lighting which cameos the performer is recommended. Colour lighting (preferably a mixture of deep blue&emdash;similar to the deep blue hues used for Violetta in Franco Zeffirelli's 1982 film of La Traviata, and red&emdash;or, if colour is not available, a white spot-light is essential for the concert version.
Regarding the second case, control over the basic musical materials, I used a limited range of intervals in the exact-pitched songs in order that, if the actor were unintentionally not to place a pitch correctly, she would have a chance of at least re-establishing the line by gauging interval distances (albeit transposed at a new pitch level). Whilst errors or 'creative noise' of this kind obviously corrupt deep-level structure of the organised interval succession, the shape or line will, on the whole, be maintained and thus allow the gist of the music to come through.
I utilised approximate rhythmic notation so that the actor would be able to find the most appropriate rhythm and tempo depending on the meaning of the words and the dramatic situation without being hindered by the tyranny of the written score.
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I trust that my analyses and description of the compositional decisions and performance considerations has shown how, essentially, the same music can function in varying contexts and create different but complementary perceptions of Ophelia the woman, not the wimp. She is forthright and mocking of both Hamlet and Claudius. Here, she is not the 'damsel in distress' as portrayed in earlier productions, for example, Columbia Pictures 1969 Hamlet featuring Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, accompanied by a quasi-Elizabethan music intent on setting the period and reinforcing the image of the weaker sex.
In the concert version, I explicitly sought a spiritual and archetypal dimension to Ophelia. I wished to evoke Marian overtones to the representation through devices of blue/red stage lighting and costume. The singer's mental, physical and vocal comportment was to be informed by female archetypes of the mother/lover/whore/child. Consideration and exploration of these female archetypes were explored in my earlier musico-dramatic work, La Maddonna Emigrante, and later in The Last Child. The connection between Songs for Ophelia and the La Madonna was not lost on the late Emeritus Professor Peter Platt who remarked, "marvellous to see her [Ophelia] as a typical Italian witch".
However, Ophelia does have her weaknesses. Her blind spot is her father, and Shakespeare's text conveys the full gamut of emotions expressed by a loving and dutiful daughter. I set Ophelia's texts concerning her father as sad songs and the music is intended to convey the gravity of the situation, not only of his passing, but also of her profound emotions and grief. In her lament, she paints a far nobler picture of her father than the characterisation in the play would suggest; Polonius was a lackey for Claudius and, as such, at best a mere spineless accomplice but at worst an odious and contemptible character who, inadvertently, got his just deserts at the hands of Hamlet.
Mine and Geoffrey's reading of Shakespeare's text support this feminist Ophelia. However, in my opinion, the flaw in this re-constructed Ophelia is her suicide in the play. This act implies that ultimately, she was still a mere puppet to the larger events and characters of the play, primarily, Hamlet and Claudius. It can be conjectured that Shakespeare dispensed of the Ophelia character adopting the conventions of his day, namely, suicide as the only viable option for a woman scorned and/or love unrequited coupled with the fact that her love, Hamlet, had been the assassin of her father, although unbeknownst to Hamlet at the time of the killing.
It is interesting to note that after the composition of the Songs for Ophelia and Geoffrey Borny's production of Hamlet in 1989, the renown Italian director, Franco Zeffirelli, released his Hamlet for film in 1990. He takes a similar approach to the character of Ophelia, acted by Helena Bonham Carter, as we had done in our production.
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During and after the composition of the stage and concert versions, I had many valuable discussions with a variety of artists and academics. I would like to acknowledge and thank the most important ones, with regard to the development of these songs:
Dr Geoffrey Borny, Dr Gabrièlle Hislop, Ms Meg Mumford, Ms Felicity Horgan, Dr Linda Barwick, Ms Frankie Armstrong, Dr Danièle Burckhardt, and Dr Susan Falk.
Of particular importance, were the impassioned discussions about issues of female archetypes (especially the mother/lover/whore/child types) and the Marian overtones of Ophelia with Dr Linda Barwick, Ms Frankie Armstrong, and Dr Danièle Burckhardt.
My strongest acknowledgement and warmest thanks go to the performers, Ms Meg Mumford and Ms Felicity Horgan. It would be hard for me to imagine performances superior to theirs.
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The play was premièred on 5 June 1989, with Meg Mumford in the rôle of Ophelia. A Producer's Video was made at the end of the season; the final product will include a study guide, with a view to marketing it nationally and internationally.
A workshop performance of the stage version was given by Meg Mumford at the Music Department, UNE, on 20 July 1989, for a Postgraduate School. At the workshop, an un-edited video excerpt (taken from the Producer's Video) was shown. It was the discussion that ensued at the School that prompted me to write my performance indications and intentions at the front of the published score.
The preceding were contrasted with a performance of the concert version sung by Felicity Horgan and premièred at the XIIth National Musicology Conference of the Musicological Association of Australia, University of New England, Armidale, 24 September 1989. Subsequently, Felicity Horgan's studio performance of the Songs were recorded and broadcast nationally by ABC-FM. They are released on compact discs: CANTO (Invergowrie: Selve Amiche Publications (SAP), 1996) SAP02-CD, ISBN 1 86389 381 4; and Earth Hold (Invergowrie: SAP, 1997) SAP03-CD.
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A number of critiques are presented here including one by the director of the original production, Geoffrey Borny. The critiques by Professors Swale and McCallum were produced following the performances (of both the stage and concert versions) at the XIIth National Conference of the Musicological Association of Australia, University of New England, September 1989.
Dr Geoffrey Borny (formerly Senior Lecturer and Convenor of Drama, Drama Department, University of New England), 30 July 1991
In late 1989 I approached Claudio Pompili of the Music Department at UNE to see if he would be willing to provide the appropriate sound effects, both musical and otherwise, for my proposed production of Hamlet. Even more significantly I asked him if he could compose a modern setting for the Ophelia songs.
After many discussions with me about my intended interpretation of the play, Claudio arrived at precisely the kind of musical sound effects that fitted my production. This music largely drawn from the orchestral works of the modern Italian composer Bruno Maderna had the exact feeling of modernity which I wished to juxtapose with traditional Elizabethan/Jacobean setting and costuming. I had intended that audiences be made to vary their "aesthetic distance" from Hamlet, at other times being critically distanced as a result [of] the use of "metatheatrical" techniques and the sort of musical Alienation effects provided by Claudio's music. The juxtaposition of modern atonal music with the more traditional costuming and setting encouraged the audience to view the play in the dual perspective of past and present.
Claudio Pompili's greatest contribution to the production was his own extraordinary composition for Ophelia's songs. The effect that these songs had on the overall success of the production was enormous. As I said in my Director's Notes in the Hamlet programme, "My own production stems from a reaction against earlier productions that I have found unsatisfactory." One of the most infuriating aspects of many productions of the play concerns the way Ophelia's madness is portrayed. Usually Ophelia is given rather sentimental and lacrymose [sic] music for her mad songs and the audience is thus encouraged to pity the character. I wanted to create a sense of fear, danger and embarrassment that results from having a pleasant polite obedient young woman go really mad and reveal all the anger and pain she felt as a result of her repression in a series of outbursts that were expressed often violently and obscenely. It is a tribute to Claudio Pompili's music and Ms Meg Mumford's performance of it in the play that this shocking madness was perfectly realized in production and was probably the highlight of the whole show. Claudio's professionalism was also another feature of his contribution to the production of Hamlet. When I discussed with him the fact that his complete Ophelia music, while effectively standing in its own right as a concert song-cycle, was likely to slow down the dramatic movement of the play in performance, he immediately went back and tailored his music to the specific requirements of my production.
I regard Mr Claudio Pompili's contribution to my research production of Hamlet as absolutely central and I believe that this contribution should be appropriately acknowledged. Top of Page
Professor David Swale, The Elder Conservatorium, The University of Adelaide, 13 December, 1989
The songs are associated with a successful stage production of 'Hamlet' [in 1989]. I have seen them presented in four different forms:
(1) in costume, as extracts from the play
(2) as a cycle of songs for concert performance
(3) in score
(4) on tape
The score itself is skilful, since, although only one voice is involved, the notation is exceptionally detailed in suggesting intricate details of the performance including vocal techniques. The music conveys a wide range of intense expression, suggesting by the dislocation of word-values a wide-range of dynamics and varying forms of vocalisation, the unhappiness and insanity of the character. In performance the effect was moving and at times beautiful, aided by a high standard of performance from the singer [Felicity Horgan]. The composer succeeded in presenting an array of short pieces which were clearly dramatic in effect, but in concert form presented sufficient variety to satisfy the requirements of a balanced Shakespearian song cycle. The abiding impression is that it is a skilful and impressive contribution to vocal music, and a good vehicle for a singer who is in command of contemporary techniques. Top of Page
Associate Professor Peter McCallum, The New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney, 10 November, 1989
The work is a musical setting of the songs sung by Ophelia in Act IV Scene V of Shakespeare's Hamlet. It exists in a stage version, for performance with the context of a dramatic production, and a concert version which was first performed at the Opening Concert of the XIIth National Conference of the Musicological Association of Australia (Lazenby Hall, University of New England, September 24th, 1989) (immediately following a performance of the stage version performed in the context of excerpts from the original dramatic production).
I believe Pompili's Songs for Ophelia make a contribution to composition and performance research in three ways.
1. through their artistic merit, particularly in the original stage version.
2. through their exploration of the expressive possibilities of the contrast of conventional and non-conventional vocal techniques.
3. through exploration of the expressive implications of different performance modes.
The stage version creates a personal musical language which explores the boundaries and to some extent the similarities between the apparently meaningless "maniacal" speech of Ophelia, and purely musical development. In exploring the link between "stream-of-consciousness" speech and musical discourse it shows some affinity with the work of Italian composer Lucian Berio (in his Thema-omaggio a Joyce or Laborinthus II for example). An important aspect of this work (and that of Berio) is in the distinctions and comparisons which it makes between linguistic logic and musical process.
In the stage version these comparisons were created by exploiting an ambiguity between gestures portraying insanity in a traditional dramatic mode and the gestures of song and avant-garde vocal technique where irrationality is a more integral and accepted component of the genre.
The task of the concert version was to find a purely musical equivalent for the original dramatic context so that this ambiguity could still flourish. Claudio Pompili's solution was to adopt a much more formalised vocal style, requiring a high degree of musical training and accuracy (and often overtly invoking a late Romantic Austro-German style), so that the "mad" components beneath the surface of what was a much more disciplined and stylised mode of presentation. I found this version convincing although not as artistically persuasive as the original dramatic version.
However, as discussed below, the contrast of the two versions was informative, and, apart from artistic merits, represented a contribution to research into the nature and language of performance art.
While I do not believe the notion of "academic" content is strictly relevant in the case of composition (which must stand or fall on aesthetic rather than academic grounds) Songs for Ophelia does explore parameters of performance in a manner which, in some ways, is analogous to more traditional notions of academic research.
This aspect was highlighted by the juxtaposition of the two versions side by side at the aforementioned concert and illustrated the process of translating artistic gestures from one medium to another.
For example, the stage version of the first song How should I your true love know? caused a disturbing tension by its outrageousness and the offence which Ophelia's causes to the other characters. In the dramatic context her behaviour was such a flagrant violation of the expected norms that it was sufficient for the music to provide a melodic contour in which her gestures could take place.
In the concert version, Pompili was forced to realise the same tension along totally different parameters. He capitalised on an expressive conflict between a pure vocal style with a high degree of uniformity of tone colour and a convulsive melodic line which continually broke up this unity.
More generally, in the context of the whole cycle, Pompili has conveyed the emotional polarity of lucidity/madness through such musical polarities as approximate pitch notation/fixed pitch notation, 19thC/avant-garde vocal techniques, absolute pitch and rhythmic reference (tonal/metrical structure)/relative pitch reference (atonal/non metrical). Top of Page
My manuscripts and notes; stage version and concert versions (a tritone higher) of the scores; the performance notes at front of score; the Ophelia excerpt on video; the master tape of incidental and FX music (also notated drum rhythms for FX); and the master tape of studio concert version.
Berio, Luciano. Circles. (Universal, nd).
Borny, Geoffrey. Personal communication. 30 July 1991.
Finale. (Coda Software, 1989). Computer music-notation application.
Forte, Allan. The Structure of Atonal Music. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973).
Holmes, Bob. "The Creativity Machine", New Scientist. Vol.149, no.2013, 20 January 1996, p.22. The cover caption of this journal article is "Creative Noise: has a machine found soul?" The article discusses the work and theories of Steve Thaler.
Maderna, Bruno. Aura (1972) for orchestra. (Milan: G. Ricordi, 1980). Compact disc. North German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli.
Maxwell Davies, Peter. Eights Songs for a Mad King. (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1971).
Music Publisher. Computer music-notation application.
McCallum, Peter. Personal communication. 10 November 1989.
Platt, Peter. Personal communication. 18 December 1996.
Richardson, Tony (director). Hamlet. (Hollywood: Columbia Pictures, 1969).
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. (eds. Edward Hubler and Sylvan Barnet) (New York: Signet Classics, 1963).
Strauss, Richard. Four Last Songs. (np., nd).
Swale, David. Personal communication. 13 December 1989.
Zeffirelli, Franco (director). Hamlet. (1990).
Zeffirelli, Franco (director). La Traviata. (1982).
All rights reserved. Claudio Pompili©1989
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These songs were written especially for Meg Mumford who played the rôle of Ophelia in Geoffrey Borny's 1989 production of Hamlet, which was an unusual and powerful interpretation. Ms Mumford created a theatrically electrifying portrayal of madness and sorrow. Ophelia sings these songs in Act IV, Scene v, after the death and hurried burial of her father, Polonius. Her emotions range from wry contempt to sublime grief.
Première concert version: Felicity Horgan, 24 September 1989
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The songs are intended to be performed with a certain amount of theatrical presentation. Lighting which cameos the performer is recommended. Colour lighting (preferably a mixture of blue and red) or white spot-light is essential for the convert version.
Regarding the performer's presentation: the songs are mainly differentiated into two types by the means of approximate and fixed pitch notation systems. The songs of approximate-pitch notation are intended to convey the onset of Ophelia's madness or schizophrenia. This tension should be evoked largely through the voice being made to sing in unorthodox ways: the singing should be as gestural as possible. The songs of fixed-pitch notation are meant to signal moments of lucidity, sorrowfulness, distance, and transcendence.
I suggest two ways of delivering the two types of songs discussed above in a lit-stage situation. The type of delivery chosen will depend largely on the acting abilities and usual stage comportment of the performer.
1) Not-animated performer:
The first mad song (How should I your true love know?) should be quite quick, almost frenetic, and disorientating to the audience. There should be little body movement and all expression should come from the voice and facial animation, akin to a mime. The optional handclap part should not be performed in this interpretation. This should be stage lit (colour or white). The object is to create a high degree of unnaturalness.
The second song (He is dead and gone) should be the direct antithesis: lucid, calm and introspective. A warm, lyrical and yet dark voice should emanate with natural body movements. Occasional eye contact with the audience is suitable. The pace should be very slow (ca. beat equals 42 - 48 per minute) and very stylised in order to stop the audience's 'body clock'. Once this convention is established, subsequent songs of either type should proceed by subtle contrast to previous songs of the same type.
2) Animated performer:
The two types of songs should be performed in an opposite manner from the one described above. That is, the first mad song should be of telling effect by employing the voice, face and body movements in highly animated movements to create the appropriate disorientating atmosphere. The optional handclap part should be performed in this interpretation. This approach is also suggested if there is no stage lighting available to enhance the unnaturalness of the opening song.
The subsequent song (He is dead and gone) should be performed in an opposite manner to the first song: it should still project the qualities mentioned in (1) above, that is, lucid, calm, etc; and the pace should be slow. The performer's body should be quite still and mainly the voice and some facial movements should convey all expression. Once this convention is established, subsequent songs of either type should proceed by subtle contrast to previous songs of the same type.
It is recommended that the performance be in period costume (Elizabethan/Jacobean) in order to contrast visually the period 'look' against the disjunct music and confronting behaviour of the actor. Entrances and exits of the actor-singer between the songs should occur following normal staging conventions.
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How should I your true love know?
How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff
And sandal shoon.
He is dead and gone
He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
White his shroud
White his shroud as the mountain snow,
Larded all with sweet flowers
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true love showers.
Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's Day.
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
By Gis an'by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do't if they come to't,
By Cock, they are to blame.
Before you tumbled me
Ophelia: Quoth she,
"Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed."
Ophelia: He answers
"So would I 'a'done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed."
They bore him bare-faced
They bore him barefaced on the bier
Hey non nony, nony, hey nony
And in his grave rained many a tear
Ophelia: You must sing
"A-down A-down, and you call him a-down-a."
For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.
And will 'a not come again?
And will 'a not come again?
And will 'a not come again?
No, No, He is dead,
Go to thy death-bed,
He never will come again.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll.
He is gone, He is gone,
And we cast away moan.
God 'a'mercy on his soul!
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