Hollow Kings

Four Pieces after William Shakespeare

20 mins
I=timp/tbells/thunder.sh/sm Roto-t/lge.susp.cym/Ch.cym;
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Premiere: 24 June 2016
Costa Hall, Geelong
25, 27 June Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Davis, conductor

Programme Note

Hollow Kings is a set of four pieces for orchestra written to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. Each movement is shaped around certain speeches from the plays that are either spoken from or about a king. The title reflects Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to strip back the facade of royalty and reveal human experiences with such compelling imagery and metaphor. The orchestration to Hollow Kings is deliberately also very stripped back and includes in its instrumentation an electric guitar. I thought of this instrument as a modern-day lute which was both ubiquitous and significant in Shakespeare’s time – much like the electric guitar has been in our own time. The four movements are as follows:
1. Macbeth. Macbeth’s journey from virtuous leader to morally-bankrupt king is fuelled by his wife Lady Macbeth, who goes mad from guilt. The opening music is inspired by a moment right after Macbeth has murdered King Duncan and is in a panicked delusion over the crime he has just committed. He believes he has heard a voice shout “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep”. There is a supernatural thread in Macbeth – it was three mysterious witches who prophesised that Macbeth would become king – and the music in this interlude is full of bends and altered tunings to reflect this other-worldly influence. The music for the end of this movement was inspired by his utter lack of sympathy at hearing of Lady Macbeth’s death: She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word..
2. Henry VIII. This isn’t one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, and there is some dispute over it’s authorship. However, there is a line that Queen Katherine (Henry’s wife) utters to her servant as she is about to be divorced from King Henry before he takes up with Anne Boleyn. “Take thy lute, wench: my soul grows sad with troubles”. The electric guitar begins this movement with a bluesy soliloquy which is soon joined by the orchestra who transform the guitar tune into a coronation march for Anne Boleyn. This is interrupted by a consort from within the orchestra that plays an archaic lament for Katherine, which is then joined by the orchestra who simultaneously play the coronation music AND a funeral march for Anne – although her death doesn’t occur in Shakespeare’s play.
3. Richard III. King Richard, as portrayed by Shakespeare, was a ruthless and evil man who was also hideously deformed. This movement was inspired by text taken from King Henry VI (Part III) where he says to Gloucester (who is not quite yet Richard III), “The owl shrieked at thy birth, an evil sign”, and follows that with the even more brutal “Thy mother felt more than a mother’s pain, And yet brought forth less than a mother’s hope.” The music for this movement is ungainly and full of awkward bumps and shrieks depicting Richard’s deformity. The closing moments feature a wah-wah guitar. In the famaous opening monologue of Richard III, Shakespeare ingeniously twists the more virtuous sentiments of love symbolised by the lute and through Richard, the instrument is used to symbolise a more earthly desire as “he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber, to the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”
4. King Lear. This movement begins in a very tempestuous fashion as Lear has been left abandoned in a storm by his two eldest daughters. He commands the storm to “bring it on” with a monologue that begins: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! Lear’s descent into madness is highly compelling as his mad turns are equalled with utterances of profound wisdom. The storm music gives way to music of serene calm. This was inspired by Lear’s touching reconciliation with his youngest daughter Cordelia who are both sent to prison: Come, let's away to prison: We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage: They both die and the piece ends with an orchestral hymn.

To borrow or purchase the score from the Australian Music Centre click here

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