Liberal Arts Blog — West Side Story Re-visited (Part I): “Maria,” the Devil’s Tone, an Historical Obsession
Liberal Arts Blog — Thursday is the Joy of Music Day
Today’s Topic: West Side Story Re-visited (Part I): “Maria,” the Devil’s Tone, an Historical Obsession
After re-watching both the 1961 and the 2021 versions of West Side Story, I decided that I had no choice — I had to write another post about the Bernstein- Sondheim-Robbins-Wise collaboration. But then I looked for my first post and could not find it. Surely I wrote one on “Maria” and “America”?!? Apparently not. Well, today, I will attempt to plug the hole with Part One of a Series. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
“MARIA” — dubbed in the 1961 version (below) but not in the 2021 version
1. “The most beautiful sound I ever heard: Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria . . . All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word . .Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria . . . Maria!”
2. “I’ve just met a girl named Maria, And suddenly that name Will never be the same To me. Maria!”
3. “I’ve just kissed a girl named Maria, And suddenly I’ve found How wonderful a sound Can be! Maria!”
NB: “Maria! Say it loud and there’s music playing, Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. I’ll never stop saying Maria.”
THE DEVIL’S TONE DEFINES NOT ONLY THE SONG BUT THE MUSICAL OVERALL — and “Maria” became the song that defined the interval itself for subsequent generations of music students
1. The “devil’s tone” or the “devil’s interval” is the “augmented fourth” — the interval between a “perfect fourth” and a “perfect fifth.” If you don’t know what is sounds like, check out the links below for other examples.
2. It’s also called the “tritone” — it’s in the dead center of the scale. Three whole tones above. Three whole tones below.
3. The tritone is magical in a dissonant kind of way — evoking extreme tension, conflict, danger. Hence the historical association with the devil. And its embrace by bad boys of the late 19th century and jazz musicians in the 20th.
NB: Other appearances of the tritone in West Side Story: the prologue, “Something’s Coming,” dance at the gym, “Cool,” finale. (first link below, 2 minutes) West Side Story Tri-Tone Examples
THE “MARIA SONG” — AN HISTORICAL OBSESSION (from Bach, Schubert to Blondie, Jackie Evancho, Michael Jackson)
1. The English text of the “Ave Maria” prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord be with you and blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
2. If you have never heard Luciano Pavarotti sing “Ave Maria,” do yourself a favor and click on the first link below. If you prefer another version, please share.
3. On a more light-hearted note, there is “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” (from the Sound of Music, a film coincidentally also produced by Robert Wise}.
LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED THEMATICALLY
#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20
Time to share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to music. Or the coolest thing you learned in your life related to music. Say your favorite song or songs. Or your favorite tips for breathing, posture, or relaxation. Or some insight into the history of music….Or just something random about music… like a joke about drummers. jazz, rock….or share an episode or chapter in your musical autobiography.
This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And perhaps to cement in your memory something important you would otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that matters to you.