Works Film Music

“Hamlet”. Music to the Film

Opus 115 Opus 117

Opus 116
1963-1964 year

“Hamlet”. Op. 116


Moscow. “Lenfilm” studios. Scriptwriter and director G. Kozintsev. Translation by B. Pasternak. Film score performed by the Leningrad Philarmonic Orchestra under Nikolai Rabinovich.

first publication:

1987. D. Shostakovich, Collected Works, Vol. 42, Moscow.


In the archive of the composer’s family.

Released on April 19, 1964 in Moscow. “Lenfilm” studios.

G. Kozintsev:

“Speaking about Shostakovich’s music, first of all I should like to say it cannot in any way be termed music for cinema. In general I think Shostakovich’s music cannot be for anything....It exists in its own right and can only be linked with something. It is the composer’s inner world, which conveys something inspired by what he has seen in life or art. Shakespeare is an integral part of Shostakovich’s creative work: it may well be that he is alone among contemporary artists who can adequately impart Shakespeare’s tragic power and the lyricism of his poetry and, in general, Shakespeare’s broad tapestry of life. <...>
Shostakovich was writing the music for the play staged in the Pushkin Bolshoi Drama Theatre. When I first showed Shostakovich the film “Hamlet”, the first thing he said after the preview was that he would not be using a single note of the film music for the theatrical production. He had now seen it all in a different light. Shakespeare was in step with people, with the time. The power of Shostakovich’s music lies in the fact that he was able to make Shakespeare’s thoughts and feelings so important, so relevant in the most profound and most serious sense.
Here we had a strange paradox: in both films - ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Lear’ - the text had been drastically cut. Shakespeare’s metaphors and hyperboles had been cut. We tried to make the actors play their parts realistically, naturally and convincingly so that the cinema-goers would see the events of the tragedy as real for them. While cutting the verse we tried to convey poetry via music. The crucial role in all of this was that of Shostakovich’s music.

Music to the Film Hamlet
Op. 116

     The film Hamlet based on Shakespeare’s tragedy was done at the Lenfilm studio by Grigori Kozintsev in 1962-1964.
     Kozintsev had no question about the choice of composer for the film he was conceiving. Shostakovich had been his constant partner since 1928.
     The composer wrote his first Shakespearian score for Hamlet in Nikolai Akimov’s production at the Vakhtangov Theatre in 1932. This was followed by the music he wrote for Kozintsev’s King Lear in 1941 and Hamlet in 1954.
     The most of the score of Hamlet was written in Repino between 23 January and 10 February 1964, when the first audio recording was done. 28 February 1964, when the last recording of the music was done, can be provisionally considered the date of completion of the work on Hamlet.
     The music to the film was recorded by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nikolai Rabinovich. He was Shostakovich’s long-term cinematographic assistant.
     On 24 April 1964, on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, the premiere of the film was held at the Rossiya cinema in Moscow. Shostakovich was not present at this showing. The film was a resounding success; as early as August 1964, at the All-Union Film Festival in Leningrad, it received a special prize of the jury ‘For Outstanding Screening of Shakespeare’s Tragedy’, and Shostakovich was awarded a prize ‘For the Best Music’. On 3 May 1964, a premiere was held at the Odeon Cinemas in London. Kozintsev received the highest award of the British Film Academy Council, the film was declared the best foreign film shown on England’s screens in 1965. The film was shown all over the world—in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Japan, Ireland, Pakistan, Peru, the USA, Italy, Belgium, Panama and Germany.
     Immediately after Hamlet made its debut on the screen, in 1964 Levon Atovmian compiled an eightmovement Suite from the music to the film. He made cuts, changed the orchestration, and renamed some items. The suite was published by Muzfond SSSR in 1964 and Muzyka Publishers in 1968.
     On 12 October 1975, Israil Gusman played fragments of the music to Hamlet in Gorky at a concert in memory of Dmitri Shostakovich, who had recently passed away. In the mid-1970s, the full score of the film began to attract the attention of conductors. Recordings of the music in its original form began appearing on compact discs, including the first full recording by Dmitri Yablonsky in 2003 (NAXOS 6.110062).
     On 28 August 1992, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky performed his concert composition ‘Hamlet’, which included the music to Akimov’s 1932 performance and Kozintsev’s film.

Suite from the music to the film Hamlet

  1. Prelude
  2. Ball in the Palace
  3. The Ghost
  4. In the Garden
  5. Hamlet and Ophelia
  6. Actors’ entrance and performance
  7. Poisoning scene
  8. Duel and Hamlet’s Death

Duration:  42’
First Edition:  “Muzgiz” Publishers, Moscow, 1968.