Thursday, 3 September 2020

To his coy mistress

The idea for this  post has been bubbling away on the back-burner for some time, but something  struck me today – or more probably the day before yesterday by the time I hit Publish – that has brought it to the fore.  And "Something" is an appropriate choice of words, as it relates to the song Something's Coming at the beginning of West Side Story; specifically the introductory words, when Tony's still stacking bottles of pop ...

Could be,
Who knows?

... before deciding to sing.  Each ...
Correction: only the second – I misremembered.
of these lines includes a tritone (mentioned before here with this note:
(bane of a child violinist's life, especially in the key of Bb if memory serves*, not that I stuck at it for more than a year or two; couldn't stand the noise) 
<footnote repositioning-rationale="for 2020 post"> 
Close, but no cigar. I was thinking of the key of F major  (which involves a tritone stretch on the A string. (It all comes flooding back: An inch boy, an inch. Don't you know what an INCH looks like? My teacher, a dreadful old woman, was a fan of neither Galileo ... 
(the father, that is, though doubtlesss the son "helped" with his father‘s experiments on string lengths and pitch) 
...nor Pythagoras.) 


In the later song Maria (and Maria transpires to be that something)  the same tritone is there, but spelt differently (it's a rising diminished fifth this time, rather than a falling  augmented fourth). Bernstein is telling the audience something, and it's only taken me sixty-odd years ...

The film (which the older of my brothers saw in the West End) premiered in 1961, but I heard the original Broadway cast recording in the late '50s.
</autobiographical_note> notice it. I wrote "later song Maria", though Something‘s Coming was an afterthought (as explained here), so Bernstein knew de antemano as they say in Spanish...,

And there's another thing that I've no time to pursue: calques, or "loan translations". Which came first, de antemano or beforehand? ante = before, and mano = hand (where those "=" signs have a fairly loose sense of equivalence).

...what the "Something" was, and what it would lead to – the song Cool (after the rumble) opens with a tritone. I'm sure there are many more, underlining the story; I just haven't noticed them yet.

All of which, belatedly, brings me to the order of the day – theme tunes that hold hidden musical messages. I notice these from time to time. The four that have stuck in my mind are:

  • Mr Bean                               
    This is not a hidden message in the music, so much as words hiding in plain sight, cloaked by the music accompanying them. Howard Goodall has used a musical setting reminiscent of the many other settings of (Christ's) Ecce homo. It's plaintive and reflective. But listen to the words:  
    Ecce homo qui est faba 
    ("Behold the man who is Bean")
    If you have time to kill, dip into the comments on that YouTube clip and another hymn beloved of Richard Curtis will spring to mind: "Forgive our foolish ways".
  • Mission Impossible             
    This theme music has a more clear message, using Morse code. The rhythm spells out dash dash dot dot ...
    Like most English speakers I don't know much Morse code apart from S and O (Because of "SOS"), H (because it's so unwieldy: dot dot dot dot)), and RK (which appealed to me because of their symmetry – dot-dash-dot, dash-dot-dash [which I noticed only because they're my initials])
    ..."IM". The idea of hiding Morse in music goes one step further in the theme music to the TV series Morse, which spells out not only the title character's name but also (in incidental music) clues to the action.
  • Charlie Wilson's War           
    In this film, based on a true story (of a US politician lobbying [and more] to equip the Mujahideen in their struggle against the Russians [or was it Soviets? – one forgets so much...].), the retaliation of the Mujahideen purifying their country...
    (casting out the Infidel)
    was accompanied by some strangely familiar music. After a while I recognized it: it was an up-tempo version of Handel's And He Shall Purify.

  • Sherlock Holmes                
    When the steam launch is passing the Palace of Westminster ...
    (in the 2009 Robert Downey Junior film)
    ...the music has a bass line that chimes out the Westminster jingle (the one that everyone knows and most people – including me – can't reproduce).
No time for more. I'm sure there's much more to notice,

Had I but world enough and time

(but this particular coy mistress [music] is one that I've sadly not pursued [with any vigour]).

Ho hum.

Update: 2021. – Added  <inline_ps />.
Update: 2021. – Added  <inline_pps /> and <inline_ppps />.

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