Salem, 1692

  • Composer: Keith Hamel 
  • Publisher: eme publishing
  • Canadian Work: Yes
  • Duration: 10:49
  • Sample Track:

Conductor Notes:

This piece was composed for Elektra by Vancouver composer Keith Hamel in 1993. By far the most technically challenging of all the pieces featured in this web site project, Salem, 1692 is included for those of you whose choirs are fearless, and who are ready to delve into something that is both musically and thematically difficult. At 11 minutes in length, this 8-part piece carefully creates a mood of tension and confusion, as must have been present in Salem , Massachusetts during the witch trials of the late 17th century. Hamel’s instructions are clear and logical, but your singers will need you to plan carefully and work slowly to spell out exact divisi, rhythm, cues, etc. Your conducting gestures must be crystal clear throughout. In the opening section (up to Figure 2), you are setting up the underlying tension of the village through tone clusters on shifting vowel sounds. After approximately a minute of this texture, four alto soloists describe in overlapping recitative some of the evidence of bewitching that was used to accuse men and women of witchcraft. A very dramatic, short solo at the end of this section sets up the tension between the accusers and the accused. While all of these solos are going on, the conductor must concentrate on maintaining clarity for the choir. The middle section of the piece lists the girls who testified at the trials against various townspeople who were accused of being witches. The girls’ names, their ages, and some of the words they used work together to build a picture of hysteria and suspicion. The closing section is a chorale-like tribute to the 19 people who were put to death as a result of the Salem witch trials in 1692. If you and your group have the skills to pull it off, this one is definitely worth the large amount of rehearsal time you will have to invest in it. Feel free to contact me to discuss any questions you may have.

Composer / Arranger Notes:

In 1692, in Salem Village , Massachusetts , there was an outbreak of what many historians have described as epidemic hysteria. A group of girls between 9 and 18 years of age were overpowered by violent hallucinations which caused them to writhe about the floor choking and screaming. In their hysterical state, the afflicted children (as they were called) accused certain villagers of using witchcraft to torment them. On the basis of these accusations and the trials that followed, more than a hundred people were imprisoned, and by the time the witchhunt was over, sixteen women and three men had been executed. Over the last 300 years there has been much speculation as to what really happened in Salem Village . Was this simply a case of mischief accelerating out of control, or, as everyone at the time believed, was there a darker dimension to this tragedy? Salem, 1692 is an exploration of these events. The piece tries to evoke the emotional turbulance that suddenly enveloped this peaceful community and raged out of control until the reign of fear had subsided and calm was regained. The work consists of three sections which follow one another without breaks. The first section deals with the identification of witches and much of the text is taken from 17th century legal documents. The second section contains the testimony and accusations of seven of the afflicted children and conjures the confused and terrified state of those involved. The final section is a choralelike enumeration of the nineteen women and men who were accused, convicted and executed. Keith Hamel is both a composer and a computer music specialist. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto , Queen’s University in Kingston , Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in Music from Harvard University . Hamel has written both acoustic and electroacoustic music and has been awarded many prizes in both media. He has been commissioned by many of Canada ‘s finest soloists and ensembles, and recently received a major commission from IRCAM in Paris to write a composition for acoustic instruments and interactive electronics. This new work will be premiered by Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1995. Keith Hamel is on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Music Centre, is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and has been on the composition faculty at the U.B.C. School of Music since 1987. Salem , 1692 was commissioned by the Elektra Women’s Choir with the generous assistance of the Music and Opera Section of the Canada Council. The work is dedicated to Mr. Hamel’s daughter, Emma.


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.





I. Evidence of bewitching: causing soreness to the heart, breast and shoulders; showing supernatural strength, so that even a strong man cannot hold down a small child; pricking innocent persons with pins and daggers; when the afflicted person doth vomit up crooked pins, needles nails, coal, lead, straw or hair; causing young children to be taken into fits until they die; torment of a woman in child bed. The devils have a prince who is king over the children of pride. The devil is a general of those hellish armies, and the rest are his soldiers. Zepar, Barbatos, Ashmoday, Murmur, Bileth, Scox. II. Rebecca Nurse be gone! Are you not ashamed to torment a poor creature so? What hurt did I ever do you? Be gone! Do not torment me. Ann Putman, age twelve: and immediately I was tortured by him, being racked and almost choked by him and he tempted me to write in his book. I refused with loud cries and said I would not write in his book though he tore me all to pieces. Abigail Williams, age eleven: I have been exceedingly vexed by the apparition of Rebecca Nurse of Salem Village . She hath pulled me violently and often pinched and choked me, and she hath tempted me to leap into the fire. Elizabeth Hubbard, age eighteen: Several times she hath most grievously afflicted me and I believe in my heart that Rebecca Nurse is a witch and that she hath often tormented me and others with acts of witchcraft. Susanna Sheldon, age eighteen: There appeared to me six children in winding sheets, and they told me they were my sister Baker’s children, and that Rebecca Nurse and two other witches had murdered them. They charged me to go and tell the magistrates or else they would tear me to pieces. There appeared to me my own sister Bayley and three of her children in winding sheets. Elizabeth Paris, age nine: I saw the apparition of Bridget Bishop and immediately there appeared two little children who said they were Thomas’s two twins and they told her to her face that she had murdered them by setting them into fits. Mercy Lewis, age nineteen: and he hath continued ever since at times torturing me most dreadfully, beating and pinching me and almost ready to choke me. He threatened to kill me if I would not write in his book. Mary Walcott, age sixteen: She hath most grieviously afflicted me by biting, pinching, and almost choking me, urging me vehemently to write in her book or else she would kill me. III. What sin hath God found out in me that he should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age? Bridget Bishop Sarah Good Sarah Wildes Elizabeth How Susanna Martin John Proctor Rebecca Nurse George Burrows Martha Corey John Willard George Jacobs Alice Parker Mary Easty Martha Carrier Margaret Scott Mary Parker Wilmot Reed Samuel Wardell Ann Pudeator