Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wicked cool

I was listening to "I'm Not That Girl" from Wicked today and was reminded how much I like the final melodic note, ending on low scale degree five (Sol). There are two conclusive endings in the piece. The first one makes sense, being at the end of the A section – the song is in a typical ABA form, the B section is in a different meter and harmonically rather unstable – making the A section a parallel period (or double period if you count some inner contrapuntal cadences) of one large phrase (a1) ending on the dominant, and the second phrase (a2) ending on the tonic, both melodically and harmonically. When the A section comes back (a3 and a4), I expect it to follow the same pattern, especially when it is identical up through the dominant chord that ended a1. But this time that dominant isn't the end of a3, it leads to a closing tonic, with the melodic Re descending down to Do. The 'a' phrase repeats again, and again leads to a dominant chord that could be expected to be a half cadence like a1, or to resolve to the perfect authentic cadence of a3. The former would be very unusual, a switch of the weak and strong cadences from a typical period. The latter would be more typical, and therefore show less craft. Schwartz does neither of these things, instead leading a4's dominant to a tonic, but now with that final melodic note on Sol. We aren't done yet, though. The song begins with an introduction of Csus4 - C - Csus2 - C, Csus4 - C - Csus2. Besides forming the basis for the beginning of each 'a' phrase, the instrumental progression comes back at the end of a3 and a4, easily understood as a tag, or more theoretically as a tonic expansion. Except the final tag, after a4, never resolves back to a C chord, or to even end on the Csus2. Instead, this chord is replaced with a dominant chord, in second inversion! Beethoven finished the second movement of Symphony no. 7 on an A minor chord in second inversion, but at least it was the tonic chord. Schwartz leaves everything up in the air, and quite intentionally:

"There's something about ending on the five that I think, first of all it's gorgeous, but secondly, I always remembered that because it was unusual when I first encountered it on the Weavers album. The sense of non-resolution is significant for the content of the song, of somebody whose experiencing ambivalence or isn't sure about what's going to happen. And I thought 'I'm Not That Girl' is exactly that. It's a statement that trails off. You know that she's saying she isn't, but she hopes she is. It's an ambivalent song, obviously, in a lot of ways, and therefore I thought it was good if it ended ambivalently, (which is nice for art but not so nice when you're trying to get a hand from the audience)."
Besides the ambiguous ending, the song has many descending minor sevenths that add to the emotional angst. I'll look up the theory of emotion and melodic intervals to see how this fits.

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