Thursday, June 21, 2018

Three Ideas Hidden in A Little Night Music, Revealed by Music Director Tom Vendafreddo

Musical Director Tom Vendafreddo reveals some of the background information he researched for BoHo's production of A Little Night Music:

Theme and Variations

A Little Night Music was originally intended to be a musical and theatrical representation of Theme and Variations, Stephen Sonheim's favorite musical form. Theme and Variations is a musical structure where the primary material is repeated, but in altered forms. For example, the composer might change the rhythm, the melody, or the orchestration of the “theme” in order to create a variation. Mozart’s Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" (1785), known in the English-speaking world as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” exemplifies a number of common variation techniques. Here is a great video of Alberto Lodoletti playing the piece.

Early on, at the beginning of the A Little Night Music, Madame Armfeldt would shuffle her cards and Act 1 was a farce. She’d shuffle again and Act 2 was a tragedy. After the third shuffle, the show would end with a romantic comedy. If you've seen the show, you know that ultimately the creators decided that a farce was the proper genre for the piece. According to Sondheim, “Hal Prince once described the show as being ‘whipped cream with knives,’ but he was more interested in the whipped cream and I was more interested in the knives.” No surprise there!

Rule of Threes

One element of the original conceit that remains is Sondheim’s use of triple meter for every song in the show (a Theme and Variations on ¾ time, if you will). Sondheim writes, “A score of waltz variations would be appropriate, and would supply a structural thread that could help cohere a disparate group of songs.” Throughout the score, Sondheim riffs off of countless triple meter styles, including the Polish Mazurka and Polonaise, the Latin Bolero and Saraband, the Italian Tarantella and Barcarolle, the Austrian Ländler, the French Gavotte, and the multinational Elegie.

Many of the styles mentioned above are recognizable as dance forms. And how fitting that a farce about the switching of partners to find the “right match” would be accompanied by a score of social dance forms! This is only the beginning of the synthesis between the number THREE and the subject matter in A Little Night Music. The plot revolves around several different love triangles, for one thing. Another interesting thing to note is that most solos have three very distinct verses or sections of music. In “Liaisons,” Madame Armfeldt talks of three past lovers, while in “Miller’s Son,” Petra muses on three potential husbands (the miller’s son, the businessman, and the Prince of Wales). Also, in songs that are duets, two characters are usually singing about a third person! So you see, the significance of THREES is not only embedded into the musical score, it is also a large part of the subject matter, the plot, and the relationships.

Drawing From History

There are countless influences throughout the Night Music score, including Mozart and Maurice Revel. The title of the show is an English translation of Mozart’s popular Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major. Not only does Mozart’s piece share an elegance found in many of the “Night Waltz” pieces throughout the show, but a serenade, by definition, is a song performed in honor of someone else. (Think of a man standing below his lover’s window belting it out.) Though there are many indirect references to Ravel’s harmonically complex music, the opening chords of “Liaisons” are taken directly from his “Valses nobles et sentimentales.”

Tom Vendafreddo is a Jeff Award-winning music director/actor with Chicago credits at Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare, Writers Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Porchlight Music Theatre, and BoHo Theatre (where he garnered his first Jeff Nomination for music direction of THE SPITFIRE GRILL). Regional credits include: Old Globe Theatre, Mason Street Warehouse, Capital City Theatre, Musical Theatre Heritage, Chestnut Fine Arts Center, and Red Mountain Theatre Company. Tom is the proud founding Artistic Director of the Chicago Artists Chorale. BM: Eastman School of Music. MFA: San Diego State University

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