FFM 2011 Calvin College

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    April 7-9, 2011

    Conference | Workshop

    The Music of Hamlet

    David Fuentes
    Sat, Apr 9; 2:30pm, Chapel Choir Room

    Note: This will be a short presentation before the Hamlet performance at 3:00.

    Hamlet’s addiction to petty games drives the narrative to its inevitable bloody conclusion. To set a tone for this playfully morbid interpretation of the Bard, Calvin Theater Company asked Calvin music Professor David Fuentes to compose a background score. And, true to the spirit of the show, his compositions “play games with notes,” as he puts it.

    All the themes are derived from musical spellings of the characters’ names. The concept is not original. It’s a technique called “soggeto cavato,” a Renaissance musical game created by composer Josquin de Prez just a generation before Shakespeare. In soggetto cavato, a composer uses one of more musical alphabets to “spell” words or names. As most musical alphabets have only seven letters, a composer often needs to draw from all sounds within a note name. For example, “sol” (the note G) might represent the letters “S, O, or L.”

    But spelling names in notes is just one part of the game. The real challenge is making the resulting series into music that captures a particular character. For example, the ambiance of Ophelia’s harkens back to Shakespeare’s own Renaissance past, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s fanfare has a certain jazzy film noir quality. And the six notes that spell Hamlet need to be reworked throughout the play to reflect his changing moods and insights.

    Some orderings are chosen for pure fun. For example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s theme both represents their own names as well as a flipped spelling of the protagonist’s own name: “letHam.” And anyone who knows Fuentes’ love for puns won’t be surprised that the music for the “to be or not to be” speech begins with the notes “B, B.”


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