Trombonist Brett Baker will give the orchestral premiere of `Outrageous Fortune’ Symphony No.2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor and Symphony Orchestra in August 2020. It will be premiered by the Santa Fe Orchestra under the baton of Walter Hilgers. Clarke is currently reimagining the work for symphony orchestra, his second symphony was originally written for Brett Baker and the Middle Tennessee State Wind Ensemble and their conductor Dr Reed Thomas.

Brett Baker

Clarke has written `Outrageous Fortune’ as a symphonic drama rather than in the structure and sentiment of a traditional concerto. He has taken this approach from Hector Berlioz’ masterpiece Harold in Italy, Symphony in Four Parts with Viola Obbligato which illustrates how a soloist can be part of a larger symphonic work.  

Clarke designed his Symphony `Outrageous Fortune’ as a melancholic drama, bleak and sardonic in style. It follows programmatically the story of Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. The score is prefaced with the bard’s despairing words: 

“Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind”.

Hamlet is a tale of conspiracy, betrayal, suicide, revenge and murder, and also a ghost story. Both the trombone soloist and the actor take on the role of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. `Outrageous Fortune’ reflects the protagonist’s despair, his self-doubt and self-loathing and his advance towards mental breakdown. Hamlet’s character is full of bitterness, but alongside this he shows profound wisdom beyond his years. 

The Danish castle of Elsinore is the setting for the drama. Clarke has set to music, two of Hamlet’s soliloquys: 

  1. “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt”
  2. “To be, or not to be, – that is the question”.

Hamlet’s first monologue sees him longing to be dead and contemplating his own suicide although he is concerned that the Almighty has forbidden this option by sacred law. The cause of Hamlet’s malady is his distress that his mother has just remarried following the death of his father (the former King), less than two months ago. His mother’s suitor is his father’s own brother, Hamlet’s uncle! Hamlet rails against the rashness of his mother’s actions without apparent concern for his father’s death: 

She married. O most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”.

The second soliloquy “To be, or not to be, – that is the question” finds Hamlet near to mental breakdown, grappling with the choice between killing himself, or living on to avenge his father’s murder? To kill himself brings uncertainty as no one has ever returned from the afterlife – who knows what suffering awaits there? 

“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns – puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”.

Hamlet’s release from his dilemma, comes in the final act after he has avenged his father’s death, with his subsequent murder. 

Clarke selected various lines of dialogue from Shakespeare’s tragedy to help give the symphony structure and a sense of continuous and cohesive narrative throughout. These fifteen lines also serve as scene titles in the score, outlining the unfolding drama that is reflected in the music.

Solo soliloquies recited by the actor are found at the beginning and in the middle of the work. The trombone is the voice of Hamlet and represents both his inner thoughts and outward actions.  The trombone soloist is in an accompanying role during the actor’s rendition of `To be or not be’. This section is in effect a cadenza for both actor and trombone, with the trombone weaving in and out of Shakespeare’s immortal lines. The dialogues chosen from Shakespeare’s drama are highly descriptive, lending themselves particularly well to music-setting – for instance: `The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out’ or `The rest is silence’. `Outrageous Fortune’is a ‘birth to death’ piece – it grows from nothing, in this case a quiet and ominous atmosphere, to end in decay, despair and deathly silence.

The scene titles he has used are:

`Outrageous Fortune’ scene-titles:

`O that this too too solid flesh would melt’

`Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’

`The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out’

`Alas, poor ghost’

`Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!’

`To be or not be’

`Get thee to a nunnery’

`The Mousetrap’

`What warlike noise is this’

`The King’s Jester’

`Revenge should have no bounds’

`Unbated and envenomed’

`Rapier and Danger’

`Now crack a noble heart’

`The rest is silence’

* * * * * * * * ** *

Outrageous Fortune Text

Text 1. “O that this too too solid flesh would melt”

O that this too too solid flesh would melt, 

Thaw, and resolve itself into dew,       

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed 

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God! 

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable 

Seems to me all the uses of this world! 

Fie on’t! ah, fie!, ’tis an unweeded garden 

That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature 

Process it merely. That it should come to this! 

But two months dead – nay, not so much, not two – 

So excellent a king, that was to this 

Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother 

That he might not beteem the winds of heaven

Visit her face too roughly. O Heaven and earth, 

Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him 

As if increase of appetite had grown 

By what it fed on. And yet within a month! 

Let me not think on’t – Frailty, thy name is Woman.

A little month, or e’re those shoes were old 

With which she followed my poor father’s body, 

Like Niobe, all tears. Why, she, even she – 

O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason 

Would have mourned longer! married with mine uncle, 

My father’s brother but no more like my father 

Than I to Hercules. Within a month! 

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears 

Had left the flushing of her galled eyes, 

She married. O most wicked speed, to post 

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! 

It is not, nor it cannot come to good. 

But break, my heart, or I must hold my tongue!     

Text 2. “To be, or not to be – that is the question” 

To be, or not to be – that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 

And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep –  

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end 

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks 

That flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation 

Devoutly to be wished. To die: to sleep –

To sleep: perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub, 

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, 

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil 

Must give us pause. There’s the respect 

That makes Calamity of so long life.  

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, 

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, 

The insolence of office, and the spurns 

That patient merit of the unworthy takes, 

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear 

To grunt and sweat under a weary life, 

But that the dread of something after death

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn  

No traveller returns – puzzles the will 

And makes us rather bear those ills we have, 

Than fly to others that we know not of. 

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. 

And thus the native hue of resolution 

Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of thought, 

And enterprises of great pitch and moment 

With this regard their currents turn away 

And lose the name of action.