Sunday 6 August 2023

Come what may

Looking forward to my second season as Musical Director of Madrid International Choir, starting rehearsals on 7 September 2023 

Moulin Rouge was a revolutionary film: a show that used some well known songs without being a jukebox musical and treated a serious plot with a perfect mixture of comedy and tragedy. I saw it first in a small cinema in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, I think I was the only Monday evening spectator.

That was twenty years ago and I have watched it several times since, but I remember that several things bowled me over. One was the use of tiny fragments of songs like Climb every mountain, from The Sound of Music, another was the superb choreography and settings for the company numbers like Voulez-vous and Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Even so, the three standout, shiver down the spine moments were: a world class tenor as man in the moon singing a line from Elton’s Your Song; the best realisation ever of Police/Sting’s Roxanne, the most menacing, this-is-real-life-and-death-stuff-not-your-stupid-teenage-infatuation ever set to tango dance steps, anyway you need to watch it….and the great and wonderful duet for the Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor characters Come what may.

I understand this is one of the original songs written for the film by David Baerwald and Kevin Gilbert. There is a fascinating article about the writing process of Baz Luhrmann and his team here

It starts with a pretty standard the universe is perfect since we met lyric and grows to the moving near repeat, starting as I will love you until the end of time: of course we all know we will never see the end of time, even the most pessimistic climate change forecasts give all of us currently alive that much margin, so it’s a fantasy, a love will never end fairy tale. The lyric changes to I will love you until my dying day, which is very poignant in the film because we, the audience, know that the Nicole Kidman character is terminally ill with little time left, but the innocent Ewan McGregor character is ignorant of this, as he is of almost all of life’s essentials. Her understanding of my dying day is very different from his understanding. As usual, the boy is the last to know.

(Spoiler alert: skip the next paragraph if music theory is not your thing)

This song’s emotional impact works because it starts in a conversational mood where the melody follows the rhythm and shape of the lyric and it builds to an anthem like melody ending on Dying day using notes 3,2,1 of the major scale: think Three blind mice, the most satisfyingly conclusive phrase in the classical European musical language. 

The three note phrase for Come what may includes first defiance, in the rising figure from 7th note to high octave in the major scale, starting half way through the bar (measure), and then despair. If the melody had repeated the high octave note on May the effect would have been triumphant, powerful and conclusive. Instead, the fall of a minor 3rd from What to May is the interval of the baby’s cry, the lost soul, hope abandoned. So in just three notes the words Come what may are set so that they catch us up in the most extreme emotions: defiance/exhilaration turns to weeping in an instant. 

The arrangement we are using is from the same OUP book as  Pages  which we have really enjoyed singing in Season One.

The arrangement, by Charles Beale, works beautifully. It starts with unison singing and then mixes two parts, in octaves, three parts, and finally, in the most emotionally charged moments, four part harmony. We will perform the song with the instrumental ensemble with strings, flutes and clarinets. I can’t wait to hear it!

The concept of contemporary music is an interesting one. A certain number of our singers and instrumentalists were not born when I was sitting in the cinema watching Moulin Rouge for the first time. Someone wrote that “technology” is something that was invented after you were born. Applied to music, does this mean that “contemporary” music is what was written after you were born?

Be that as it may, Come what may is a great song for us to perform. 

Why not contact us via Facebook!

No comments:

Post a Comment