Bernstein - Something's Coming from West Side Story

Study cards for Something's Coming by Bernstein, which is featured in the hit musical West Side Story

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  • Created by: SMBStoker
  • Created on: 03-04-14 18:14

Context and Background

  • A musical is like a play where most of the words are sung rather than spoken.
  • Similar to opera, except the music is usually in a popular style.
  • Designed to be sung by actors instead of professional singers.
  • They came about in the 1920s.
  • Formed mainly of songs linked by acted scenes to make a story.
  • American composer Leonard Bernstein wrote West Side Story.
  • Composed in 1957.
  • Based on Shakespeare phenomenon 'Romeo and Juliet.'
  • Set in New York.
  • 'Something's coming' is the first solo sung by the male lead character (Tony).
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  • Song is for solo tenor which is accompanied by a band made up of woodwind, brass, percussion and strings.
  • Band doesn't overpower singer.
  • They do this by using quiet dynamics, soft timbres and a homophonic texture.
  • Strings use harmonics (very high notes) and play tremelo (very quick notes).
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Melody and Structure

  • Melody is almost entirely syllabic.
  • Based on the alternation of 3 main themes.
    • The quiet, syncopated opening theme.
    • The loud, strident theme in 2/4 first heard at bar 21.
    • The lyrical, slow-moving theme, first heard at bar 73.
  • These three ideas are alternated a number of times.
  • Repetitions are not exact.
  • Bernstein varies the themes by changing such things as the words or metre.
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Rhythm, Metre and Tempo

  • The metre changes between 2/4 and 3/4.
  • Changes in metre, a fast tempo and frequent syncopation help maintain a feeling of excitement and anticipation.
  • Accompaniment is largely made up of an on-beat bass part with off-beat chords.
  • These two parts create cross rhythms.
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Harmony and Tonality

  • The piece is in D major.
  • There are two contrasting sections in C major.
  • There is frequent use of the sharpened fourth and flattened seventh in both keys (G# and C in the D major sections, and F# and Bb in the C major sections).
  • Sharpened 4th creates the interval of a tritone (an interval that acts as a unifying feature in West Side Story).
  • Tenor's last note is a flattened seventh.
  • Unusual because the note is unresolved and the music just fades out beneath it.
  • Creates a feeling of incompletion and fits well with Tony's sense of expectation.
  • Harmony is tonal and jazz-influenced, with frequent 7th chords and other added note chords.
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  • Texture of the song is homophonic.
  • There are 3 main ideas in the accompaniment:
    • The repeated riff that opens the song.
    • The short, mainly syncopated chords heard in bars 21-26.
    • A fast, um-cha accompaniment first heard at bar 32 for the long note on 'me'.
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