Being a bit of a musical theatre geek, when asked to write about a piece that inspires me the incredible opening number from Stephen Schwartz’s musical ‘Wicked’ immediately came to mind.
- What do you find musically interesting?
I love the way in which this song is able to incorporate so many themes and motifs from elsewhere in the musical in a way that very cleverly foreshadows elements of the plot. For example, the ‘unlimited’ motif is played on the horn at 0:42 and this recurs throughout the other songs as well as in the incidental music. Schwartz also makes brilliant use of different timbres to illustrate the personalities of the characters: for example, he uses the strong, powerful sounding brass section when playing Elphaba’s motifs and then tremolo strings and high woodwind for Glinda’s entry which really highlights their contrasting characters. Also really interesting is Schwartz’s use of more unusual instruments such as the use of bells to give the chorus sections a sinister, almost religious undertone which highlights the dark message of the song. His use of synths, the bells and various drums also gives the music an other-worldly feel which really captures the setting.
- What do you think this piece is about?
As this is a song I feel as though I have an unfair advantage when it comes deciding what the piece is about! The lyrics would suggest that the piece is about the ultimate triumph of good over evil; however, there is also a lot in the music, as well as the lyrics, which hints at extra meaning. For example, the use of really rich harmonies, particularly in the vocal parts, gives the piece an epic sound and I think that this very much reflects the passion and emotion of the characters in the way that the difference between, say, a C major chord and a C major M7 add9 chord can. The very high soprano lines sung by Glinda that sound almost operatic also make the audience picture her as this angelic, almost ethereal character in the way that they don’t with many of her other, much lower songs and, as the story begins at the end and is then flashbacks, this shows how Glinda’s character has developed into becoming this leader who is able to rise above everyone else, both emotionally and quite literally vocally!
- How does the composer develop the material?
The piece is made up of several, fairly contrasting sections that make the piece almost like a rhapsody in the way in which it changes as different characters tell their stories. However these different sections are all underpinned by the way in which the story flows lyrically from one to the next, aided by Glinda’s narration. What’s also brilliant is the way in which Schwartz transitions from section to section using things like glissandos on wind-chimes, percussion and dynamics to build up from one section to the next. However, despite the contrast within the song, the piece as a whole is underpinned by the key ‘wicked’ motif, an idea that occurs in many forms throughout the whole musical and is the foundation for many of the other songs whether that be through the use of its rhythm, as Schwartz does in ‘As Long as You’re Mine’, or its melody as he does in ‘No Good Deed’. In ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’ specifically, this motif is developed with increasing dynamics, heightening pitch and increasing texture in a way that makes it build and build – which is pretty amazing when you consider how epically the piece began!