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The name of this piece is a quote from Act III, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; as so often with Birtwistle, elements of instrumental music theatre are prominent – no wonder, then, that he subtitled the work “A Ceremony for Six Percussionists:”
Two of the percussionists, as it were playing the roles of the King and the Queen, are positioned at either side of the stage, separate from the other four musicians, who appear as a group. The King and the Queen are the guides through the performance; their theatrical aspect is reinforced by the way the sticks are used to play the instruments.