Prelude to Ophelia

For: Solo instrument (Piano)
page one of Prelude to Ophelia

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Prelude to Ophelia


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Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
6 minutes
Classical music
License details
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Inspired by Millais’ painting the Prelude is a musical summary of Shakespeare’s Ophelia narrative, reflecting the symbolism associated with the willow, forsaken love. It aims to capture something of Ophelia’s bewilderment and despair at being spurned by Hamlet - following the accidental slaughter of her father at Hamlet’s hand - and the beguiling welcome of release in death as she drifts downstream, borne on the water’s surface by the buoyancy of her skirts. The speech-rhythm of Ophelia’s name is used to generate some of the main melodic and rhythmic motives.

"There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; . . There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide; And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds; As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element: but long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death." (Hamlet Act 4 Scene 7)

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