“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”
In one of the most famous quotes in world literature, the title character in Shakespeare’s grand tragedy Macbeth, having attained power through assassination, voices his disillusionment with life upon hearing of the death of his wife, Lady Macbeth. These lines formed the impetus for Anna Clyne’s orchestral work Sound and Fury (2019), whose other source of inspiration was Haydn’s Symphony no. 60, ‘Il distratto’ (meaning ‘the absent-minded one’ or ‘the confused one’).
Born in the UK but now resident in New York, Anna Clyne likes extra-musical impulses and considers them essential to her musical invention. However, purely musical impulses are just as important, whether derived from individual works or from stylistic approaches. Her music contains both softly sonorous soundscapes and complex, scintillating virtuoso textures. Anna Clyne emerged with a vengeance in the 2010s, being commissioned by a variety of top-quality ensembles around the world. Sound and Fury was jointly commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Lyon and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, and the premiere was conducted by Pekka Kuusisto in Edinburgh in November 2019.
The Haydn dimension developed in the course of writing the piece, as Clyne analysed the core elements of Haydn’s ‘Il distratto’ Symphony and drew on them in her music, stretching, dissecting and repeating them. The Haydn Symphony has six movements, and Clyne’s piece is similarly divided into six main sections, albeit played without a break. The result is a work at times passionately swirling and at times meditatively subdued. Towards the end, an actor recites the soliloquy of Macbeth referred to above. (This may also be a pre-prepared recording, or it may be whispered by the musicians in the ensemble.) The final gesture is an aleatoric section where the musicians are invited to play a “wild version” of an extract of their choice from the Haydn Symphony.