Tuesday, January 8, 2008

That never-ending Song In One's Head

(lovingly copied from Perfessor Bill's Magnificient Website of Old and Arcane Musical Novelties, where he is the Undisputed, Unchallenged and Unanimous Professional Patriotic Purveyor of Pleasingly Pianistic Pyrotechnics)
more simply put: http://www.perfessorbill.com/pbmidi1.shtml

This song (sometimes known as The Celebrated (song)) is one of those pieces that every child who has access to a piano in this world has learned. And learned by rote mind you, not from the music (have you ever even seen the music? Did you even know that it was published?)
So simple, so annoying at times, yet so ubiquitous for any number of reasons is this waltz. So now the mystery (what there is of it) can be unraveled at last. If it sounds like it was written by a child, well, it was.
A 16-year young British lass by the name of Euphemia Allen composed the waltz as a simple exercise in the mid 1870s. It was, in fact, the nature of the exercise that contributed to the name of this song, which describes the [...] action of the right hand as it plays the relentlessly repetitive opening theme.
The tune appeared in 1877 in London and Glasgow as "The Celebrated [...] Waltz, arranged as a Duet and Solo for the Pianoforte." On page 3 were these instructions: "This part (primo part of the duet) must be played with both hands turned sideways, the little fingers lowest, so that the movements of the hands imitate the [motion] from which this waltz gets its name."

In reality, young Miss Allen should be applauded because both of her themes are repeated in the score as variations on the original theme, a sign of true creativity. Why it was published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli (spelled on some covers as de Zulli) is unclear, as is why there were no follow-up pieces.

In the highly praised William Wyler film of 1946 "The Best Years of Our Lives," a story chronicling the difficulties facing returning servicemen from overseas, the famous song composer Hoagy Carmichael performs a duet of this piano waltz with Harold Russell, an authentic WWII Navy veteran who lost both of his hands in combat and won an Academy Award for his sensitive portrayal of Homer.
Mr. Russell's performance is nothing short of brilliant, and he actually played the simple piece (including variations) with Hoagy taking the lower part. Mr. Russell's hooks that served as hands seemingly did not deter him from delivering a superb rendition of the tune, complete with a finale glissando up the keyboard.

It was again featured in a 1950s film, as the tune continually and irritatingly played by sweet, innocent Rhoda in "The Bad Seed".

I never knew that this little ditty was both so complex, so old and so storied. Would you like to hear the song I've written about here, but kept untitled? Shoot, you already know this waltz's title, and you probably know how to play it on the piano. Just remember to keep it in 3/4 time.

Name This Tune! (REQUIRES MEDIA PLAYER)

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