Analysis the Tonight Ensemble from West Side Story

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  • Topic: Tritone, Maria, Time signature
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  • Published : September 28, 2006
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West Side Story
No 10: Tonight (Ensemble)
Maria, Tony, Anita, Riff, Bernardo, Jets and Sharks

In this number, all the participants talk about the eventful evening they feel is ahead, each with their own thoughts on what will happen.

There are three trains of thought:
1Riff and Bernardo - thinking (in terms of their own gangs) of the fight arranged for later that evening 2Anita - thinking about her 'nocturnal activities' with Bernardo after the fight 3Tony and Maria - more romantic love, idealised, though Tony has to agree with Riff, in exasperation, to be present at the fight

Each group/individual states their case with their own line (Anita's is related to Riff/Bernardo but adapted) and then the different melodic lines are combined. This sort of idea has been used by many composers in different genres eg Mozart's finales often have several characters singing similar music with similar rhyming words but with opposite meanings, or several different melodies all together. Sullivan, in G&S operattas was renowned for his 'double choruses' where two different melodies, with different and possibly opposing themes in the lyrics, would fit against the same harmony. Puccini, in Turandot has ensembles where several characters sing their own melodic lines with different points of view and emotions being expressed.

Time Signature - C+2/4 - a bar of 4 followed by a bar of 2. This could have been scored as 3/2 or 6/4 (or 3/4). The bass ostinato plays on this, being a 3 crotchet repeated pattern. These 3 beat patterns under duple time signatures has been found din a number of the songs and dances of West Side Story, not least the Prologue. Probably scored this way to get away from first beat accents in the 'wrong' place - note that the bars are usually tied over.

The music and the lyrics are perfectly matched to create the feeling of anticipation in all of the characters plus the emotions they are feeling.


Bar 1- 6
A fanfare like figure starts the number. Immediately there is a feeling of unease created as there are strong hints towards bitonality. The bass riff/ostinato is in E major (acting as dominant of A minor) while the accompaniment and ensuing melody are in the lydian mode. The quaver moving inner parts are based on the forthcoming melody

Bar 7 - (verse 1)
Riff begins the taunting and posturing in a low tessitura. He sings a repeated 2 quaver theme [a] followed by a rising semiquaver figure [b] which becomes important later in the number and is itself related to the trombone rasps in the Prologue. Bernardo answers with a similar line in which the semiquaver figure is a third higher. The range of the first two phrases is B-F - a tritone, the most important interval both melodically, harmonically and symbolically in the whole piece.

From bar 15 there is a change of metre with 4/4 followed by 3/8, underpinned by an implied circle of 5ths (Am - D- G- C) - implied in the vocal line [c] but the harmony contains many added notes and inversions of chords which disguise this harmonic movement. The language used is very direct - the syllabic setting suggests the intellectual simplicity of the gang leaders; the change of metre to 3/8 accentuates the childish posturing on the words "Fair play" (and "No tricks" in the 2nd verse)

Bar 22 - (verse 2)
Musically speaking a repeat of the first verse. The protagonists again swap lines slagging each others gangs off but Bernado has the last word this time before overlapping with the next section with a nice perfect cadence in A major with a rising dominant - tonic movement (4th E-A) with the "Tonight" motif. It could be argued that the "Tonight" motif is a 'nice', harmonically stable perfect fourth to contrast with the volatile augmented fourth that pervades the rest of the show.

Bar 37 - verse 3
Strict 4/4 here and a change of key to A major (though this is again tinges with bitonality as the bass ostinato is A - F - A - F etc)....
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