Monday, February 7, 2011

This Post Is Dedicated to Six Seconds in a Song

I am reaching but I fall
and the stars are black and cold
as I stare into the void
of a world that cannot hold.
I'll escape now from that world,
from the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn.
There is no way to go on --
I suppose I should warn y'all that this post contains spoilers to the plot of Les Misérables (though nothing you wouldn't be able to figure out by looking at the song list). So. Bear that in mind.

I currently have a favorite six seconds in Les Mis. It's in the song "Javert's Suicide," the version I've been listening to is the original London cast recording with Roger Allam playing Javert, and the six seconds is the final "on" in the lyrics above. Javert is singing a melody we've heard before. It's the same melody Valjean sang during his own identity crisis in "What Have I Done?" The lyrics are also parallel. But here, when Javert gets to the word "on," he sings this amazing, unexpected high note. It's an imitation of an earlier high note in the same song, but differs in that it's so dissonant that the first time I heard it, I didn't even think it was a note. I thought he was just yelling. (Yes, I know that even yelling is a note, but I mean that I didn't think the note mattered -- I thought he was just randomly yelling, no longer singing.) The music behind him abandons him for almost an entire five seconds, refusing to join his new key, hence emphasizing the dissonance. Then it swells up to join him in the new key. It's one of the most beautiful, sad, and chilling things I've ever heard.

It's useless to try to explain music in words. If you get a chance, listen to it sometime. (If you're really curious, you can buy that single song for $.99 on Amazon and other places, too, I'm sure.) I'm pretty sure he's hitting the key one full note higher, but I don't have a score in front of me, so my apologies to those with a musical vocabulary who wish I were being more specific.

Now, in the spirit of listening to music rather than talking about it, here's Jake Shimabukuro playing "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the ukulele.