Something*s Coming* from West Side Story Leonard Bernstein (1958)

 Has had a long and colourful history
 Traced back to Ancient Greece to act out stories and
morality plays for entertainment.
 Over the last 300yrs, the musical has evolved into
many different styles of entertainment.
 Two of the oldest styles are Vaudeville and
 Popular in the 1700’s
 Popular songs borrowed from other works but with
new, often vulgar, words set to music
To shock and entertain the audience.
Famous example = The Beggars Opera by John Gay,
about thieves and prostitutes.
Mozart used to attend Vaudeville with his wife and son
and would often hear his work being made fun of on
For the common people, not royalty and aristocracy.
 Similar to Vaudeville, but more restrained and
Classical in style.
 Subject matter usually a parody on other plays.
 Both Vaudeville and Burlesque were important in the
development of opera-bouffe and operetta.
Means Comic Opera
Popular from approx 1870 – End of WWI
Still performed today
Specially composed, rather than using other works
Musical style = Light opera and includes some spoken
 Example = Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach (a
comic version the Greek legend Orpheus and Eurydice)
 Very famous composers = Gilbert and Sullivan, who
composed HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and Mikado.
 G&S combined the humour of burlesque with a typically
English style of light classical music.
 Means ‘light opera’.
 Full of 19thC Romanticism
 Often referring to a made up Eastern European country of
 Plot = Misadventures of Dukes, Duchesses, lords and ladies
 Significant crossover between opera-bouffe and operetta
 Popular in America, along with Extravaganzas, minstrels
and melodramas – All would contribute to the
development of the early 20thC American musical.
Musical theatre in America
 Extravaganza: Include all forms of entertainment i.e.
Singing, dancing, magicians etc. Popular in the USA from
1860 -1900. Similar to the Royal Variety Performance.
 Minstrelsy: Popular in the late 1800s. White people were
‘Blacked up’ to imitate black people in a parody and
exaggeration of character traits. Made fun of the rich and
powerful. This entertainment form died away with the rise
of the civil rights movement and concept of political
 Melodramas: Staged plays using musical cues for
different scenes. Music used to accompany scenes and add
dramatic effect. No singing.
Broadway Musicals
 Led by America
 Popular forms of European music were imported and
used in a variety of Musical compositions
One of the earliest was Showboat by Jerome Kern
Rogers and Hammerstein = Oklahoma, Carousel,
South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound Of Music.
Irving Berlin = Annie get your gun
Cole Porter = Anything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate
Most of these were later turned into very successful
film versions.
West End Musicals
 Oliver by Lionel Bart revived the British musical
 Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice partnership was
very important and put British musicals back on the
 Examples of their musicals are Joseph and his
Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ
Superstar, Evita
 ALW collaborated with other people and composed
Cats, Starlight Express and Phantom of the Opera.
Rock Opera
 Jesus Christ Superstar was the first in this genre
 Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who
 The Rocky Horror Picture Show
 Grease
 Little Shop of Horrors
 Rent
 Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You is an example of a
musical that featured rock songs, though is not a rock
Style and forms in Musicals
 Though written in many musical styles i.e. Jazz, pop,
blues, classical, rock and roll etc the structures come
from those used in Opera
 Solo Aria
 Duets/Trios (There is a Quintet in WSS)
 Chorus
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
 Pianist, Composer, Broadcaster and Conductor
 Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
 Studied composition and conducting at Harvard
Became assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic
and then Principal conductor from 1958-1969.
Excelled in the composition of both Ballet and Musical
Ballet: Fancy Free (1944)
Musicals: On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1952),
Candide (1956) West Side Story (1958)
Film Score: On the Waterfront (1954)
The Plot of West Side Story
 Mirrors Romeo and Juliet
 Tension is racially motivated. Jets are White
Americans, led by Riff and the Sharks are Puerto
Rican, led by Bernardo.
 ‘Romeo’ is Tony from the Jets, and ‘Juliet’ is Maria,
sister of Bernardo.
 Drama hinges around the love affair between Tony and
Maria after they meet at a dance at the local gym.
 Famous balcony scene in Verona is translated to a fire
escape in New York
The Plot of West Side Story
 Something’s Coming appears near the start of the
musical (3rd song, after Prologue and Jet Song), as Tony
looks expectantly towards a new life, away from the
 He has found a job at Doc’s drugstore and everything
is promising, he looks forward to the dance at the gym
that night.
 Riff is determined to fight Bernardo, and seeks Tony’s
help at the ‘Rumble’ just before the song. Tony insists
on no future part of gang activity but the tragedy is set
in motion.
The Orchestration
5-Double Woodwind
2 horns
3 trumpets
2 trombones
7 violins
4 cellos
2 double basses
Drumkit, 2 percussionists, piano, electric and acoustic
 30+ players in total.
The Music
 Jazz-based harmony – conventional chords have added
blues notes and other dissonances.
Syncopated rhythms, including the ‘push’ rhythm.
The tritone, also known ad Diabolus in Musica.
Short riffs used extensively
Cross rhythms
Layered textures of independent parts
Combination of short, snappy rhythms and long
sustained notes.
The structure
Part of Song
Bar 1-3 (Bar 3 is repeated, ad lib)
Section A
Bars 4-39
Section B
Bars 40-105
Section B1
Bars 106-140 (Shortened B)
Section A1
Bars 141-157 (Shortened A)
Bar 158 is a slow fade out
Does not follow a verse-chorus form, but has several recurring musical ideas.
Introduction: Bars 1-3
 Breathy, excited mood set with repeated figure in the
accompaniment. This riff pervades the piece.
 D major and a fast, one-in-a-bar. 176bpm
 Features of the riff are:
 The tritone used harmonically (G#-D)
 The ‘push’ rhythm on the third beat of the bar
 Jazz inspired harmony
 3-note ostinato bass up to bar 20
Section A: Bar 4-12
 Piano section
 Tony sings sustained questions as 2 strong statements
of tonic and dominant.
 Opening riff is played by the orchestra to create a
sense of excitement and urgency.
 Tony comes in on the ‘push’ beat
 ‘Who knows’ in Bars 8-9 is the interval of a tritone,
this time use melodically.
Section A: Bar 13-20
 Tony sings a melody based closely on the opening riff
 Triplets on ‘soon as it shows’ in bars 17 is melodic use
of the tritone (G#-D)
 Long crescendo ‘blue’ note (b7th on D major)
Section A: Bar 21-39
 Fast, loud, declamatory, recitative-style phrase.
 Orchestral chords punctuate the music, with added
notes, to spice up the harmony.
Clear word painting – ‘It may come cannon balling
Accents on weak beats ‘sky’ and ‘eye’, ‘due’ and true’.
Riff reappears in bars 27-30 of accompaniment.
In second time, Tony sings a sustained E on ‘me’
Section A: Bar 21-39
 Music modulated to Cmaj (Cmaj on bass) but
Bernstein’s use of F#’s in the upper parts (Gmaj) give
the effect of bitonality.
 F#’s could also be seen as Gb enharmonically – blues
notes in Cmaj (b5th).
 Accompaniment changes to ‘un-pah-pah’ style
accompaniment, on the beat, in contrast with the
opening riff.
 4 note minim riff in the middle of the texture (E-F#-GF#)
Section B: Bar 40-51
 Like the idea in Bar 13, but the phrase is extended and
transposed down one tone (Cmaj, not Dmaj and in
Harmonic use of the tritone i.e. C-F# from bass to
melody, in bar 40, beat 1.
Melodic use of the tritone i.e. ‘something’s coming’ in
bars 44-45; F#-C.
One beat accompaniment and 4 note motif in the
middle of the texture
Blues note use in bar 48 (b7th)
Section B: Bar 52-72
 Repeat of bars 63-73, but one tone higher.
 Mixture of straight ‘something’s coming’ and
syncopated ‘I don’t know what it is’.
 On-beat crotchets add strength and conviction tot eh
meaning of the lyrics.
 Push rhythms used on ‘know’ in bar 54 and ‘great’ in
bar 57.
Section B: Bar 52-72
 Diatonic chords form C major but with the use of
added notes to create jazz-based harmony i.e. Bar 5258 = chord IV (Fmaj) with an added D
 Accompaniment reverts to minim riff as before in
Gmaj at Bars 59-62 to take music back for the repeat
‘with a click’ etc.
 Second time is pretty much the same, though music is
one tone higher, in Gmaj.
 Music modulates back to Dmaj at Bar 70, back in 2/4.
Section B: Bar 72-102
 Expansive, lyrical, marked warmly and freely. Very
different to previous.
 Sense of line and whole sections comprises of 4, eightbar phrases.
Bar 73-80
Bar 81-88
Bar 89-96
Bar 98-105
 Melody employs a higher range, up to a top G on
‘down’, uses straight rhythms.
 Fluidity is achieved using triplets, making it speechlike and free of the 2-beat accompaniment.
Section B: Bar 72-102
 Bass plays on-beat quavers outlining Dmaj, Amaj and
Gmaj chords (I,IV, V)
Middle parts are chromatic, often moving in parallel
4ths i.e. Bars 77-81
Effect = suspense, mystery, foreboding of future
Bar 89 – Features a blues note. ‘Come on deliver’
Bar 95 – Neopolitan chord (Flattened supertonic in
first inversion). A dramatic chord taking us
temporarily out of key.
Section B: Bar 72-102
 Bar 97-98: Shift to Cmaj, with a V-I cadence.
 On ‘me’, above a cmaj quaver bass, a 4-note minim riff
returns in Gmaj, creating bitonality. This continues
into the next section.
Section B1: Bar 106-140
 Maps onto Bars 40-105, minus the first time bar and
 Repeats the lyrical section from bar 72, but this time
we only have 1 ½ phrases.
Section A1: Bar 141-157
 Back to ¾, taking music from the opening, though
cutting some of the long notes this time around (i.e.
coming, knows). This balances the structure.
 The orchestra plays the one bar riff.
 The hopeful question ‘Maybe Tonight’ at 153 sounds
the tritone for the last time – G#-D with the last vocal
note of C (Flattened 7th) ends the piece suspended and
 The riff fades out to end.
Bar 158 - Outro
 Simple ‘ad lib’ bar to fade, taking the music back for a
scene change.
Section A Questions
How does Bernstein create a sense of excitement and expectancy in the
2. Mention 2 techniques or devices used in the song and the musical
3. Describe the harmony of the song
4. What is a ‘push’ rhythm? Give an example
5. What is a blue note? Give an example.
6. Describe the orchestration of the piece
7. How are the words ‘The air is humming’ depicted in the orchestration?
8. How does the piece end?
9. This is s solo song or aria. Name 2 other types of vocal form used in
the musical.
10. What makes the subject matter of West Side Story new and different
from other Broadway musicals of the time?
Section B Question
In what year was the musical composed?
2. The Musical is based on the conflict between 2
gangs. What are they called and where are they
3. Describe this song with regards to harmony and

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