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Music Text

Matthew Jocelyn after William Shakespeare (E)


3(II,III=picc,afl).2.4(II=bcl,III=dbcl).2(II=dbn)-4.2.2.btrbn.1-timp.perc(4): I=vib/Chin.cym(sm)/SD/3wdbl/4tom-t/susp.cym/tamb/marimba/vibraslap(hi)/tam-t; II=vib/susp.cym(med)/BD/marimba/lion's roar/tpl.bl/hi-hat; III=3susp.cym(sm,med,lg)/tuned gongs(F2,B2)/BD/SD/2bottles/tam-t/aluminum foil/crot/2tgl/temple bowl(sm); IV*=Chin.cym(sm)/tuned gongs(F#3,C#4)/tam-t/SD/3susp.cym(sm,med,lg)/tamb/aluminum foil/BD/sizzle cym/2tgl/temple bowl(lg)/mark tree/rainmaker-harp-pft-strings(; clarinetIV* needs two Bb clarinets, one tuned a quarter tone down; *placed apart from the orchestra

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Barbican, London
Allison Bell, soprano / Allan Clayton, tenor / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Joshua Weilerstein
Composer's Notes

Delving into the material that makes up Shakespeare's Hamlet(s) offers a never-ending array of discoveries and possibilities, both as narrative and as the basis for new musical vocabulary.

Our starting point, in writing and composing an opera based on Hamlet (a project commissioned by the Glyndebourne Festival to be premiered in June 2017), using only words written by or ascribed to Shakespeare, was the impossibility, even after generations of forensic work on early editions, of establishing where Shakespeare's hand was or was not to be found in the first Quarto, the second Quarto, the first Folio editions of this play, all published in or shortly after his lifetime. "So let's use it all", said we, and that's what we authorized ourselves to do.

Three other works have grown from this experiment: And once I played Ophelia, a piece for soprano and string quartet, Gertrude Fragments, a short suite of miniatures for mezzo soprano and guitar, and now our Hamlet 'diffraction' - From Melodious Lay, an orchestral poem with soprano and tenor voices.

From Melodious Lay is an exploration of the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, diffracted through a liberal redistribution of texts both spoken by these characters, or spoken about them by other characters.

And what if Gertrude's famous lament "I thought thy bride-bed to have decked and not have strew'd thy grave" was uttered by Hamlet, who surely once also thought to share that particular bed with his beloved?

And what if the mysterious and faith-ridden line "But for this, the joyful hope of this…" - taken from the First Quarto version of a rather well-known Hamlet soliloquy - helped us understand Ophelia's resilience, her disarming capacity to move forwards in a world of relentless obstacles?

From Melodious Lay is not an attempt at explanation or analysis, but rather a poetic and musical exploration of colliding worlds, those of Hamlet and Ophelia, those of Shakespeare and our own, those of the written word and its musical reflection. It is indeed a diffraction of these worlds, and we do hope a melodious one.

Brett Dean, Matthew Jocelyn, October 2016

Press Quotes

“Dean’s ‘diffraction’, a setting of Shakespeare’s words from the three surviving editions of the play, with some lines reassigned from other characters to the two principals, clearly points to the essentially psychological direction of the treatment. The troubled and oppressive desires of Hamlet and Ophelia are expressed in the slip and slide of eerily erotic harmonies.”
The Guardian

"Something extraordinary happens in the first two bars of Brett Dean’s From Melodious Lay... If there are shades of Britten’s night music and a watchful stillness reminiscent of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, Dean has made them his own. Instead of reproducing Millais’ painting Ophelia, he has zoomed in on a tiny detail of water and weeds. As the tenor soloist, who may be Hamlet but is singing Gertrude’s words as well as his own, croons his first “Oh”, the textures thicken then relax. Giddy with sorrow, the soprano – both Ophelia and Gertrude – shivers over circling flutes. Clarinets stutter and fall silent. Strings swarm. Chimes chink pitilessly. Sheets of foil flutter softly. Shakespeare’s verse bites and soothes, finding its metre, blossoming into melismas, shattering into single words: “never, never, never, never, never..."
The Times


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