08.26.2008

The Star-Spangled Banner In Beijing

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:00 am

As post number two of three in my Olympic series, I wanted to point out that in watching the Olympics on NBC this year–probably more television than I’ve watched in the past two years combined–I’ve noticed two distinctly different arrangements of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

This news story from the official Beijing Games website details the delivery of national anthem recordings to “BOCOG,” an acronym (somehow) for “The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.” The Beijing Symphony Orchestra, representative music ensemble for the host city, recorded the national anthems of all participating countries (a huge and daunting project that began in May 2007) for welcoming and victory ceremonies–presumably including ours. (Meaning no offense to any TLB readers outside America; but I don’t think there are any of those, as of yet…)

The arrangement of the anthem is typically done in a fanfare-type style, using lots of brass and percussion. But the arrangement that I’ve heard the most is notable because the middle section (“And the rockets’ red glare…”) is played only by the strings, and uses harmonic progressions I’ve never heard used before. It also contains an atypical (but cool-sounding) 4-2-3 suspension on the last chord. It’s not bad, per se (although the “actual expert” quoted in this Seattle Times blog story certainly thinks it is), but it’s certainly unusual.

The most interesting thing, though, is not that arrangement, but the fact that I’ve also heard a more traditional arrangement in which the middle section was played by the brass and the rest of the orchestra, with the typical chord progression. I don’t remember the specific context in which I heard it, but I’m almost positive that I heard both arrangements at medal ceremonies.

While trying to find online corroboration for this strange phenomenon, I discovered that the unusual arrangement is likely being plagiarized from the arrangement of Peter Breiner, as detailed in this story from the Washington Post. Not surprising, considering all the other various controversies and scandals coming from the Beijing Games, but certainly of interest.

Am I off my musical rocker? Or has anyone else heard these two different versions?

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08.24.2008

The Olympic Fanfares

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:00 pm

In honor of the final weekend and close of the Games of the XXIXth Olympiad, I’ll be posting three TLB entries over the next few days concerning the Olympics and their televised coverage by NBC.

There are actually two common fanfares used as themes for the Olympics. The first, entitled “Bugler’s Dream,” was composed by Leo Arnaud in 1958 as part of his Charge Suite. It was first used in ABC’s television coverage of the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968, and picked up subsequently by NBC. “Bugler’s Dream” is a stately march, beginning with a timpani cadence and moving into a theme played by the brass.

The second fanfare, entitled more specifically “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” was composed by none other than the great film composer John Williams specifically for the 1984 games in Los Angeles (which were televised then by NBC). It is a fast and energetic fanfare also utilizing a lot of brass and percussion, and it is sometimes combined with Arnaud’s piece, as in the arrangement for the soundtrack album of the Games in Atlanta in 1996.

In addition to these familiar fanfares, there is also an official Olympic Hymn, known informally as the Olympic Anthem, composed for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and adopted as the official Olympic anthem by the International Olympic Committee in 1958. Up until the 1960 Games in Rome, it was customary for each host nation to commission a new Olympic hymn from a native composer for their year. I assume that this practice was discontinued since the official hymn was adopted around that time; but perhaps it should be reinstated. How cool would that be, to compose an Olympic hymn for your own country? I could be the Michael Phelps of composers….

Samples of each fanfare can be heard on the Wikipedia page; as always on Wikipedia, click the triangular play button twice. A YouTube vide of the Olympic Hymn, performed at the Opening Ceremony of the Athens Games in 2004, can be found here.

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08.23.2008

Beethoven In The Temperaments, Enid Katahn

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:50 am

While reading back over Kyle Gann’s website about historical tunings in research for my first post about tuning, I came across his recommendation for the CD Beethoven In The Temperaments. (The link is to the Amazon page, but Amazon is currently out of stock and will remain so indefinitely.) The CD is a recording of four Beethoven sonatas–the “Pathétique,” the “Moonlight,” the “Waldstein” and the creatively named “Op. 14 No. 1.” The twist is that they’re performed on a modern concert grand piano (a Steinway D, for those for whom that means something) that’s tuned in two different historical well temperaments common in Beethoven’s time: Prinz temperament and Thomas Young temperament. (The pianist is Enid Katahn, and the piano tuner is Edward Foote.) So, essentially, this is a recording of Beethoven’s sonatas as Beethoven might have heard them. (Had he not been deaf, of course….)

I thought it sounded intriguing (no pun intended), so after failing to find it on iTunes, Amazon, or anywhere else I finally ordered it from ArkivMusic. It arrived on Thursday evening, and I listened to the Pathétique, which is performed in the Prinz temperament. The liner notes said that this temperament was chosen for the great contrasts between keys: pure and consonant for the “home keys” of the piece, and more and more dissonant the further the tonality went from “home.”

(Minor digression: I love Steinways. I’m a huge fan of dark, mellow and rich when it comes to sound, and Steinways are the epitome of that sound in a concert grand. Yamahas, while more popular and much cheaper, tend to be much brighter. If you play guitar, you’ll understand: Steinways are like Martins–sigh–while Yamahas are like Taylors. The latter are good, maybe even really good, but ultimately just can’t compare. For me, at least.)

I have to say that I didn’t notice a world of difference–the difference was certainly there, but it wasn’t nearly as pronounced as I anticipated (or perhaps hoped). In the opening chords of the sonata (click here and push the play button twice–although of course it’s in equal temperament), I could hear slight differences in the resonances of the chords–they were somewhat richer. But the most notable were the dissonances, especially in big chords: they really stood out, almost uncomfortably in places, because of the temperament. It’s interesting, and a foreign concept to those of us raised on equal temperament, that dissonances in other tunings can be dissonant not only because the notes themselves clash (like minor ninths, for example), but also because the notes aren’t quite in tune with one another. As I mentioned, the Prinz temperament showcases differences in keys, and gets more dissonant the further afield the piece roams; so some of the dissonances in the “further afield” keys can get positively crunchy. (Yes, that’s a technical term.)

Overall, it was a rich sound, certainly more colorful and vibrant than an equal-tempered piano. Another interesting temperament experience. It’s no wonder musicians who work in just and well temperaments all the time consider equal temperament so bland.

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08.15.2008

And… A Little Bit More

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:05 am

My highly trained professional blogging and SEO consultant Mike (also known as my roommate) has instructed me that responding to comments on my blog is a way to increase interest and also increase commenting, and thus I have decided that I will do so. Therefore, if you leave a comment, I will likely reply to it within a day or so, in the comments section; you can go back to the comments section for that post and there discover my response.

But in the meantime, I thought I would dedicate one more post to tuning before we move on to other things, because Ryan Fleming again brought up an interesting question:

Thank you for the reply! I am glad you clarified that issue for me regarding the brass instruments. I was unaware that brass instruments were naturally tuned. Could you expand on that? What is the reason for this type of tuning if it make some notes extremely sharp (as you mentioned some notes can be up to 40 cents sharp from a justly tuned third)? Is it easier to make a brass instrument with that type of tuning? Or is it because of the harmonic nature of a brass instrument (e.g. the same fingering/tuning can produce different pitches by stepping playing in different harmonic registers)? Please enlighten a curious reader of your blog.

This may get a bit technical, so hang in there with me….

Every pitched note, on any instrument, voice or whatever, actually contains an infinite series of notes within itself. For example, if you play middle C on the piano, there are actually notes sounding above it in addition to middle C: the C an octave higher, the G above that, the C above that, the E above that, etc. etc. ad infinitum. These other notes are an acoustic phenomenon we call “harmonics” or “overtones.” The reason we don’t hear these notes is because they are very weak and diminish as they get higher; but they’re always there, and they’re very influential in the sounds that we hear. When you hear a violin and a flute playing, you can tell that the sounds are being made by different instruments (musicians call this different-sound-quality between instruments timbre pronounced “TAM-bur”]). The reason those instruments sound different is that their overtones are different–various overtones are strengthened or diminished because of the construction and playing method of the instrument, and even though you can’t hear the overtones themselves it’s a big enough difference to allow us to hear very different timbres. Trippy, but true.

Brass instruments, like trumpets for example, are built around this principle. If you take a column of air (like in a garden hose, for example), put a proper mouthpiece on it, and cause the column of air to vibrate (like by blowing through it, for example), it will produce a pitch. And believe it or not, by changing the shape of your mouth (called your embouchure) and the way you blow, you can produce different pitches. The reason for this is that by changing those things, you can access the notes of the overtone series, without the use of any valves, buttons or extra tubes. Also trippy, but also true. The next time you’re around a trumpeter friend who happens to have a mouthpiece and a section of tubing handy, ask him to demonstrate. Here is a diagram of the first 16 harmonics, starting on C and then F (image courtesy of www.usd.edu/~greeves/exercises.htm):

All of the valves, tubes and slides on brass instruments exist for the purpose of making available to the player notes other than these, because with only a tube, these are the only notes that are possible. Valves and slides and such alter the length of tubing, thus making available a different harmonic series. For example, the first valve on a trumpet lowers the pitch by a whole step. If you were playing in the key of C, you would have all of the notes of the C harmonic series (the first one in the diagram) available, and no others. If you played a C note, and then depressed the first valve and “played” the same note (with the shape of your mouth and the way you were blowing air), it would be a B-flat, and you could then use the notes of the B-flat harmonic series, some of which occur in the key of C but not in the C harmonic series or at least not in the same range (for example D; D does occur in the C harmonic series [as the 9th harmonic, as you can see in the diagram above], but if you needed to play the D a whole step above middle C you would need a different series).

This is why brass instruments are said to be in certain keys: “Trumpet in B-flat,” or “Horn in F.” The key is the harmonic series of the instrument without any modifications. Without any valves, the French horn would only be able to play the notes of the F harmonic series detailed in the diagram, because that’s the way the instrument is built.

However, valves and buttons and slides can alter the pitch a little more than intended, and certain combinations have certain tendencies to be off. In addition, many other factors including temperature, playing volume and mouthpiece design can make pitches slightly sharp or flat. A quick glance at this page will give you a much greater appreciation for brass players and the problems they face.

All this to say: Because of the way brass instruments work, depending on the key of the instrument, the key of the piece, what note needs to be played, what valve combination is necessary, the temperature and myriad other variables, some notes need to be altered in order to be “in tune.” (Pitch on a brass instrument can be slightly modified–tuned a little up or down–by changing your embouchure.)

And this, in many cases, includes major thirds.

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08.12.2008

More On Tuning And Temperament

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:48 am

Since my last post sparked some interest in tuning, and just intonation in particular, I thought I’d offer a few more thoughts on the subject. My brother Mark asked the following questions:

You said that equal temperament has been the standard since the 19th century . . . was just intonation the norm prior to that? And do the two go beyond guitars (and similar instruments) into music at large, or are they fairly limited?

I thought that the guitar in the video seemed to sound more “classical” (in the layman sense of the word, not the technical musical sense) than I’m used to hearing guitars sound . . . is that because of the music he’s playing, because of the just intonation, or both? (Or is it because I was conditioned by your post to expect such a thing?)

Prior to equal temperament as the norm, there really was no “norm.” It depended on the instrument and the type of music. Singers, for example, since they’re not tied to any specific tuning like pianos or guitars, often would change their tuning as they sang, correcting intervals without fitting into any particular system. Keyboard instruments (including many organs late into the 19th century) were tuned in what was called meantone temperament, in which a very small interval (a few cents, or more specifically, a quarter comma) was chopped off of each note as one went around the circle of fifths. For example, from C, one would tune G, D, A and then E; and because of the quarter comma taken off of each note, the E (major third) would be in tune with the C. (In a tuning and temperament seminar I took at CSUF, I learned how to tune a harpsichord using this temperament. It was a lot of fun.) Just intonation was used as well, along with Pythagorean tuning (which is similar in that it deals with pure mathematical ratios). Stringed instruments such as violins often used Pythagorean tuning, because it complements the pure tuning of their strings (each a fifth apart). So, in short, equal temperament as the tuning standard for virtually all instruments at all times is rather unprecedented in Western musical history.

As far as the guitar performance in the video goes, yes, Lou Harrison was a composer of art music rather than popular music. But notice the energetic rhythm of the piece, and the occasional strummed chords followed by passages of fast single notes; both are examples of the influence of pop music on art music, and art music’s revitalization of rhythm, in the 20th century.

And my most prolific commenter, Ryan Fleming, pointed out how band leaders instruct brass instruments to lower the third. I believe he’s partially right, in identifying the purpose of that lowering as making the third more pure than the equal tempered interval of 400 cents. But in other cases, since brass instruments play in natural tuning, depending on the key sometimes the natural major third is actually very sharp (up to 427 cents, in some cases–remember, as Fleming said, that a pure major third is 386 cents); so the lowering of the third is not just to make it more pure, but to make it more musically usable.

And to Courtney: So tripped out.

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08.09.2008

As I mentioned in my last post, the second event of the concert in Long Beach was a set of guitar pieces by Lou Harrison, performed by John Schneider (of the Partch Ensemble). Harrison (1917-2003) was an American composer who wrote mostly in just intonation, a system of tuning based on pure mathematical ratios, as opposed to the irrational ratios used by the more widespread equal temperament. (As a brief aside: Many hold that just intonation is a purer and more beautiful tuning than equal temperament–the standard in western music from the 19th century to the present day–but the former becomes impractical after a certain harmonic point because some intervals get so out of tune that they become unusable.)

Before Schneider played the pieces (he actually played two suites), he gave a brief talk about Harrison, the tuning he used, and the pieces themselves. The most interesting part of his discussion was his explanation of the guitars he used. Typical guitars use equal-tempered frets, so that they can play with pianos and other equal-tempered instruments, and their fretboards look like this:

However, in order to play just intonation music on a guitar, the fretboard must be modified, to look more like this (the man in this picture, by the way, is Schneider himself):

Remarkably, he showed the bewildered audience that the fretboard was actually a magnet–he slipped it right out from under the strings and held it up to show us. The neck was magnetic, he explained, and the justly-tuned fretboards were put on large magnet boards–just like a kitchen magnet–so they could be interchangeable. The pieces themselves were very good, and held my interest much longer than the other pieces in the concert. I recorded a video of the performance on my cell phone, which you can see below. Neither the video nor the audio quality is too good, but you can hear how the tuning is different from a normal guitar.

Tuning is really a fascinating subject. If you’re interested in learning more, you can find articles and resources at the website of The Just Intonation Network, as well as the excellent Tuning Information page on Kyle Gann’s website.

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08.08.2008

Several weeks ago my lovely girlfriend and I went to a concert in Long Beach. I had received notification of the concert through the LA chapter of the American Composers Forum (of which I’m a member); but when we arrived at the location it almost felt like an underground gathering. It was held at an art gallery that had a stage ringed with red curtains in the back. Plastic folding chairs were set up for the audience, and all manner of interesting folk were there.

The first piece was what (I think) is usually designated “sound art,” where four people made a bunch of noises with different instruments or electronic devices; the noises were picked up by microphones, which ran into sound boards that looped the noises so they would play several times before dying away. Occasionally the noisemakers would adjust various attributes of the sounds as they played, such as the panning (left to right), the delay (echo), etc. It was mildly interesting, but more tiring than interesting, and it seemed to me more like four guys playing around with technology and seeing what they could make their stuff do than artful music, or even artful sound.

The second piece, or rather set of pieces, was the best of the evening: a set of Lou Harrison guitar pieces, played by a musician named John Schneider. But we shall return there in the next post.

The third and final piece (the concert was too informal and not really long enough for an intermission) was some ever-popular Cambodian classical music. It was performed on two marimba-like instruments (except the wooden bars were suspended rather than fixed), two instruments that formed rings around the players and were some other type of pitched percussion, a drummer, a bored-looking woman playing small finger cymbals, and the apparent leader, a flutist playing some sort of straight Cambodian flute (as opposed to the western flute which is played to the side). It was interesting music; the theme of the concert was microtonality–music that uses intervals smaller than a half step, or more informally, music that uses notes that would fit in the cracks between black and white notes on the piano. The Cambodian music was interesting because it was based on a type of pentatonic scale, but somehow a microtonal one. The traditional pentatonic scale is formed of five notes (penta-, five, and tonic, tone) that correspond to the black notes on a piano:

The scale that the Cambodian musicians used was similar to this one, but some of the tones were slightly different than those–a little “off.” That made the music a bit more interesting than typical pentatonic music, which tends to get old fast because there’s very little dissonance and thus few opportunities for tension. But it still grew tiring after a while, because there wasn’t too much variation in the texture and even with the microtonality in the pentatonic scale it still lacked harmonic variety. But, all the same, I was grateful for the opportunity to experience Cambodian classical music, since that opportunity doesn’t come along every day.

Tune in in a few days for part II–”The Well-Tuned Guitar!”

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08.05.2008

Okay, okay, I know, I was the last person to see the new Batman movie The Dark Knight–I saw it this past weekend (last Thursday night, I think, with my lovely girlfriend). I am a huge fan of the director, Christopher Nolan, particularly his films Memento (one of my favorite movies, and one of the most brilliant movies, ever) and Batman Begins. Up there with the (in some ways) incomparable M. Night Shyamalan, Nolan is one of the greatest consummate filmmakers of our day. Going into The Dark Knight, then, I had high expectations. And I must say, before I get to the musical side, that it is an excellent movie in almost all respects. Yes, it’s very dark and rather creepy, but it’s an amazing movie. All that stuff you’ve heard about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker–one of the greatest movie villains ever, posthumous Oscar, etc.? All true. Is this the most intelligent superhero movie ever? Very possible.

Okay, but we know this isn’t a film blog. What was my opinion of the score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard?

Much as I felt about their score for Batman Begins; in a word, disappointing.

Hans Zimmer (who, interestingly enough, doesn’t read music) and James Newton Howard are two of Hollywood’s top five film composers. I particularly like Howard’s (Newton Howard’s?) work; for example, his scores for Peter Jackson’s recent King Kong and all of Shyamalan’s films. From such a composer, especially in collaboration with Zimmer who has scored movies such as The Da Vinci Code, The Last Samurai, and Gladiator, one would expect an impressive and memorable score.

It’s memorable, all right, but only because it’s so unimpressive that it’s surprising from two A-plus-list composers.

I have to say that my recollections of the score in the movie may be tainted, because I was so engrossed with how awesome the rest of the movie was; but I didn’t even remember much music at all, much less good music. The main theme from Batman Begins returns here: steady strings playing the alternating notes of a minor third, with occasional bass notes thrown in here and there somehow comprising both the bass and the melody. But they’re occasional enough (i.e. far enough apart) that they don’t make for much of a melody. You can hear a hint of this theme on the Amazon product page in the sample for the track “A Dark Knight” (the last track on the album), although that includes a bit of extra melody, in the low strings.

There is a progression of two chords which comes back very often in the score; you can hear it in the sample of “Introduce A Little Anarchy” (track 12)–which, as you may notice, includes as an accompaniment a slight variant on the minor third in the strings. You can perhaps hear James Newton Howard’s influence in the sample of “Agent of Chaos” (track 11), which layers King Kong-esque piano over the minor third in the strings–are we starting to see a pattern here?

The most notable change from the Batman Begins score (and there aren’t many) is the addition of the musical leitmotif, if you will, for the character of the Joker. You can hear the general idea in the sample of “Why So Serious,” which is track 1 (and also “Always A Catch,” track 5): a part-strings-part-electronic hum which slowly rises in pitch as it rises in volume. A creepy effect; it’s not even really a theme, it’s just that, an effect. But it’s effective, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite part of the score: it’s interesting, it’s provocative, and while it may not exactly be original it’s definitely not a cliché.

After listening to the sample tracks on the Amazon page, I am perhaps willing to surrender a bit of ground. It seems that there was quite a bit of the score that I didn’t notice in the movie. But even just listening to the samples, you can hear a great deal of homogeneity. There are basically three components to the score:

1. The strings playing the alternating minor third.
2. The two-chord progression.
3. The Joker’s “theme.”

If you listen through each of the samples on the page, almost all of them are variations–but only slightly changed variations–of one or more of these ideas. Yes, movie scores need a lot of coherence, but they need more variety than this.

The score is moody, dark, and brooding, as many of its reviewers have noted, but it accomplishes those ends by using the same means throughout. I can’t say I was surprised, exactly, because I expected more of the same from Batman Begins; but I was certainly disappointed that it could not rise higher than the low expectations I’d set for it.

The Dark Knight is now the number one movie in America for the third straight weekend, which means that statistically, there’s a very high chance that most of my readers have seen it. What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree?

(P.S. Just an FYI: In researching this post, I discovered that the score even has its own website: thedarkknightscore.com.)

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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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08.02.2008

"For Good," Wicked Soundtrack, Stephen Schwartz

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:47 am

“For Good” is the penultimate song in Wicked, and (as I mentioned in the introductory post) the obligatory piano ballad; but, despite its obligatoriness, it’s very good. The lyrics are very clever, and even moving–they play on the different meanings of the phrase “for good:” “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good….”

There are three musical things in particular I want to note about the song.

1. It marks the final appearance of the “unlimited” theme in the show. Elphaba finally admits “I’m limited–just look at me–I’m limited,” thus bringing that theme to a final resolution.

2. I like the introduction to the song, because part of the “hook” or riff idea in the piano is dissonant–instead of octaves or harmonious thirds or sixths, the high descending idea is in minor sevenths. (In the recording, it’s the second measure after Elphaba sings “Now it’s up to you….” Sheet music can be found here.) The song marks the point where Elphaba and Glinda finally part, and the dissonance portrays the sadness of their farewell.

3. The song also contains another subtle psychological detail. Throughout the entire show, whenever Elphaba and Glinda have a duet, Glinda sings the higher part and Elphaba the lower. In this song, they each sing their part separately and then sing the chorus in a duet–but Elphaba sings her part in a high register, above Glinda’s. In another reversal, she has taken on the role previously assigned to the “good” witch, confirming what we’ve known all along: that she is not really wicked but has only been perceived, painted and persecuted that way. Yet another example of Schwartz’s mastery of fine points that have a big impact.

This song was sung (as a solo) at the CSUF College of the Arts commencement ceremony last May when I graduated; following the song, the Dean of the college was in tears.

You can listen to the whole song, courtesy of iLike, here: I made it easy for you this time–click on the only play button in the list (next to “For Good by Stephen Schwartz”).

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