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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