Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Unchained Melody

Finished the second time through my set with the new - and still evolving - practice routine, and now I have all of the PDF files created for all of the scores. Every time through is getting a little easier - and faster - which is what I expected, and I'm thinking seven to nine times through and the system will be fully evolved and I'll be back in gigging shape. I haven't been this inspired playing the guitar in a few years.

OK, onto today's piece.

This is one of the arrangements in this series that is 100% mine: There are so many versions of Unchained Melody around it's not funny - over 500! - and many of them are highly bastardized from the original. So, I went back and found the original music from the 1955 film, Unchained and started from there with this arrangement (Zaret and North won an Oscar for this piece, by the way).

So, this arrangement has the original 12/8 time signature and the original form, both of which many arrangements don't. However, I found this piece highly amenable to being "classicized," so I added many primary dominants, secondary dominants, secondary half-diminished chords, secondary and passing diminished chords, and even a secondary subdominant triad in one place. The result sounds positively, "Mozartian," which was my intention, and I think this is better than any other solo guitar version I've ever heard. It may be the best one out there.

The piece is number seven in the second suite in my set, which looks like this:

II] C Major Suite:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Alegretto in C Major
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

Though it's obviously a contemporary crowd pleaser, it's a slow, romantic ballad, so I put it inside the suite, and ended with Dust in the Wind here (Which isn't exactly a rockin' piece either, but it's the best C major contemporary piece I've yet discovered, and it's much more up tempo than this sedate number).

Here's the MIDI to M4A version that I made from the score in iTunes:

UPDATE: 01/24/10 - Somehow I am unable to erase an old version of this from - I trash it, re-upload, and the old version is still there - so I had to add a z to the beginning of the file name and put two versions in the Arrangements folder. If you listened to this before today, you heard an older version that does not match the score in a few places. The version and the link are fixed now. Sorry for any confusion.

Unchained Melody - Zaret/North

Open two windows or tabs to listen and follow the score.

This is one of those very rare instances in which the vocal melody can be combined with the original piano figuration with very few changes on the guitar. In fact, it's the best example of that I've ever found, though Dust in the Wind, which will be the subject of the next post in this series, is nearly as good.

Zaret and north made the original almost completely triadic, harmony wise, which seems strange to me, because the music positively cries out for secondary dominant harmonies. The original uses triads even on the primary dominant V chords! Well, I fixed that. On the final beat of measure three, I added a passing F-sharp half-diminished harmony, and at the end of measure four, I made the V chord a dominant seventh. It sounds like Mozart already.

Since there was already a diatonic passing G triad in first inversion at the end of measure five in the original, I answered that with a chromatic passing F-minor triad at the end of measure 6, which is obviously a subdominant minor chord: Nice and dark. The last beat of measure seven was harmonically and melodically identical to measure three, where I used a passing half-diminished chord, so I went ahead and used a passing fully diminished seventh this time, to increase interest and darkness later in the section. Of course, I made the V at the end of eight a dominant seventh too.

Measure nine begins a varied repeat of the A section just passed, so this is an A'.

The first five measures are the same as before, but in measure fourteen, the melody stays up on C there, which enabled me to use an A-flat major triad here, versus the previous F minor triad in first inversion. This is technically a bVI secondary subdominant harmony, but I actually thought of it as a subV7/V chord, only with no seventh (The harmony called a German Augmented Sixth by the old classical theorists). In fact, I wanted the seventh in there, but it was not technically executable with any acceptable level of ease. The resulting parallelisms are just like what Mozart sometimes did in those "side slips" he is famous for (Though, he used them most often to affect direct modulations). In any event, I really like the effect.

Measure's fifteen and sixteen are my figuration solution for the end of the section, and they are not exactly easy to execute, but they sound very excellent when I pull them off perfectly. The second half of sixteen was a dominant seventh in the original because of the F-natural in the melody, but I made it a V(m7m9) for added impact.

The B section begins at seventeen, and I got to imply a G-sharp passing diminished seventh seventh at the end of eighteen. I say implied because the minor third is missing, but the ear fills that in. Getting from the end of eighteen to the beginning of nineteen, where there is a 4-3 suspension resolution, is actually quite difficult to pull off smoothly, but the musical result is worth the effort, IMO.

With the melody so low in twenty and twenty-one, I had to include the melody notes in the figuration, but I really love the rumbly result with the compass so low there. I got another implied passing G-sharp fully diminished sonority in at the end of twenty-one, despite the low range, and I think it sounds really cool like that.

You'll notice that there are no position indicators in the piece, and that's because the G in the melody at the end of twenty-two is the highest note in the piece: So much of it is in open position, that I decided not to put any in.

Like many film themes, the form is just A, A', B and then into the bridge, because time is not a luxury a composer usually has during the opening credits. We modulate from C to F here, it seems, but the bridge is really just a common-for-film-music-of-the-period Lydian-based multi-modal lick (I may have just used up my daily allotment of hyphens). The progression from twenty-five into twenty-six is just IV, V, IV in the home key, and then the end of twenty-six is an E-flat major triad, which is the secondary subdominant that lives at bIII. It was this section that gave me the idea for the A-flat triad I used earlier. If you are a fan of old 40's and 50's era swahsbuckler films, you hear licks like this all the time in those film scores when ships are pictured crossing the sea. I guess because of growing up with that, I find this evocative of that sort of film. LOL!

In the original piano part, all of these triads are voice-lead completely parallel, which is just idiomatic of this sort of writing. The guitar ends at E-natural, however, so I had to make the E-flat major triad a first inversion. I actually like this solution better than the original, because it creates an F, G, F, G ostinato, which I find even more evocative.

At the end of thirty-two is the D.C., and starting in thirty-three is the brief codetta I wrote to wind the piece down.

So, just like jazz cats can make a jazzy arrangement by swinging a piece out and adding secondary chords with parallel voice leading, classical guys can "Mozartize" pieces that are amenable to the process by using secondary harmonies with more traditional voice leading (Though the bridge here is admittedly idiomatic to 20th century film score writing, and not the classical era).

I debuted this a few months back, and audiences love it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:57 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

lol. I'm going to get to it.

8:37 AM  

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