08.03.2008

“Defying Gravity” takes place in Wicked at the very end of Act I. When we saw the play in New York on our road trip, I described the end of the act to my brother as “literally breathtaking”: the song was so exciting, so powerful and so exhilarating that I was literally breathless at its end. (He, of course, was insanely jealous that I was seeing it live and replied: “I totally hate you.”)

All things considered, this is one of my favorite songs, pop music, classical music and musicals all included. The lyrics, of course, are terrific, talking about defying limits and striking out on one’s own. The staging in the show marks the first time Elphaba flies on her broomstick, literally defying gravity. And, of course, the music is superb.

The song on the soundtrack recording begins with dialogue and a few short snippets of singing before getting into the real start of the song: a syncopated chord progression in the piano and winds. It’s in the middle register instead of up high, and in a major rather than a minor key, but in some ways it’s reminiscent of the opening sequence of chords in “No One Mourns The Wicked” (you can listen to the latter here on iLike.com; it’s the second “play” button on the left, next to “No One Mourns The Wicked by Stephen Scwhartz”). Perhaps this is a subtle psychological hint by Schwartz; in the beginning it’s the “wicked” theme, but here in “Defying Gravity” it appears in a “good” form as Elphaba stands against injustice and refuses to compromise. (You can see the first page of the sheet music for “Defying Gravity,” which contains the opening chord progression, here; contrast it with the opening progression of “No One Mourns The Wicked,” here.)

The chorus of the song, which contains the lyrics about “defying gravity,” is quietly subdued the first two times it occurs. Elphaba sings a high melody over a sparser and simpler instrumental texture, which is very pianistic in its patterns. Two nice details are in evidence here as well. The first is the use of pizzicato violins in the highest register–plucking the strings of the instrument rather than bowing them. This contributes to the excitement and energy of the texture while keeping it light and allowing space (remember, music is all about space) between the rapid notes of the pattern. The second detail, which I didn’t notice until playing through the sheet music one day, is in the rhythm of the bass notes. The bass notes which define the chords don’t change on the downbeat of each measure, as one would expect, but slightly before the downbeat. Listen carefully and notice how the change comes at the very end of the measure, rather than right at the beginning of the next. This syncopation also adds understated tension and energy to the music.

The “unlimited” theme returns in the middle of the song, as Elphaba invites Glinda to come with her; together they would be unlimited. This leads to a bigger chorus, though it still has not reached full strength, with a drum beat and a duet by the two singers.

After this the song builds to an incredible climax, with the full orchestra and a full drum beat. At the end of the song (and the end of Act I), the chorus reenters to declare Elphaba the Wicked Witch, at which point the chord progression from “No One Mourns The Wicked” returns–signifying the crowd’s perception of her. And the act ends with a high held chord in the choir and brass, concluding with a low exclamation mark in true musical style. (I’ve heard this called a “button” ending, though I’m not sure if that’s really a technical term.)

But, ultimately, all I can say is that you should just listen to the song for yourself, and love it. You can listen to the whole song, courtesy of iLike, here: click on the “play” button on the left in the list next to “Defying Gravity by Stephen Schwartz.” (It’s the sixth “play” button not counting the video icons.)

(If you would like links to Amazon’s MP3 downloads for each of the individual songs I’ve written about, they can be found as following. But if you’d like to listen to the soundtrack, I’d recommend buying the whole CD [CD here, MP3 album here]; the songs I’ve posted about are highlights for me, but the entire soundtrack is fabulous.

“What Is This Feeling?”
“As Long As You’re Mine”
“No Good Deed”
“For Good”
“Defying Gravity”)

And thus ends the week of Wicked posts. Thanks for listening!

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Comments

  1. Gravatar

    Ryan Fleming on 08.04.2008

    I do believe that this is one of the best pieces in the entire musical. There are so many details in the piece (both musically and lyrically) that make it so wonderful.

    One note that I would like to make is regarding the pizicatto style that Schwartz uses. He uses this light, pulsing style in many of the songs. I really enjoy when this style is employed because it effectively engages the listener into the piece. One can’t help but really “feel” the music and want to move with it. This style is very enjoyable for me.

    Another thing is the brilliant lyrics in this song. I am not one who really pays much attention to lyrics, but this song broke the mold. The title itself carries so much meaning. There is the defiance from good the Elphaba chooses, the literally defiance of gravity, and the fact that no one will be able to bring her down (because she is defying gravity). All of these ideas are further explored in the song, but it is very cool how they are all wrapped up in the title “Defying Gravity”.

    One last though I had was with regards to the offbeat bass line. This adds so much to the piece, and as mentioned it is hardly noticeable. I think the reason it is hardly noticeable is due to the very driving snare on beats two and four. This makes the song “feel” unsyncopated, but the large hits with the bass and cymbal (right before the downbeat) add much excitement without throwing off the listener.

    All in all I really enjoyed this song as well as the entire soundtrack of the musical Wicked, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys good music.

  2. Gravatar

    Mike Morabito on 08.12.2008

    I love this piece.

    Thanks.

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