Image courtesy Metro Goldwyn Mayer
connectedHear a selection of 'Over the Rainbow' covers by various artists.
When Judy Garland walked the rainbow as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 musical classic The Wizard of Oz , she almost left without singing what her signature number was supposed to be. For a preview, MGM executives had Over the Rainbow removed because they felt it was slowing the movie down.
Associate producer Arthur Freed stepped in and said studio boss Louis B. Mayer: The song stays - or I'll leave, to which Mayer replied: Let the boys have the damn song. Put it back into the picture. It can not hurt. More than 75 years later, the film and song by the composer Harold Arlen and the lyricist Yip Harburg are cultural touchstones. In 2001, Over the Rainbow was voted the best song of the 20th century in a joint poll by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America.
It may not seem obvious that a song played by a young girl at the start of a fantasy film would take on a life of its own, said Walter Frisch, a music professor whose new book, Arlen und Harburgs Over the Rainbow , traces the history of the plant. One factor in the appeal of the song that Frisch quotes is the universality of the child's desire to get away or to flee. The mix of hope and fear in the song allowed people to read into their own concerns, he said, noting that the lyrics were generic enough that you wouldn't know the singer was on a farm with her dog.
Freshly defines Over the Rainbow as a classic I want song delivered at the beginning of a show or movie to express the desires that motivate the protagonist's actions. Freed wanted a ballad that would rival a popular movie song of the time, Someday My Prince Will Come from Walt Disney's 1937 hit animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs .
When I tell people that I'm working on Harold Arlen's music, they stare at me blankly and don't recognize his name, Frisch said. But when I mention “Over the Rainbow” and “Stormy Weather” they say, “He did that?” Frisch believes that the composer's name should be as well known as his contemporaries George Gershwin or Irving Berlin.
Arlen's music spans a wide range of styles, from jazz-inspired melodies to lighthearted babble. During their collaboration, Harburg generally suggested an idea or title related to the plot, Arlen composed the music, and Harburg then wrote the lyrics. Musical inspiration often hit unusual moments. On the way to Grauman's Chinese Theater with his wife, Arlen asked them to stop the car when they passed Schwab's drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. In a creative outburst, he wrote the melody for Over the Rainbow on the sheet of music that he always carried with him.
A hallmark of Arlen is to start a song with an octave jump, as in the initial syllables Some-WHERE. The section Someday I Wish a Star should imitate a child's piano practice, Arlen claimed. Harburg remembered Arlen whistling to call his dog. When Harburg and Arlen were stuck on one end of the song, Ira Gershwin stepped in to help. When asked why he suggested ending the song by asking why, oh why can't I, Gershwin later recalled: Well, it turned out to be a long evening.
The song, which Garland later called sacred, became their hymn. When it was named Song of the Century, the headlines were usually number one in the style of Judy Garland's 'Over the Rainbow,' with little mention of the composer or lyricist. The song followed and sometimes weighed on her over the decades. It's like a grandmother with braids, she once said.
Garland would interpret Over the Rainbow differently by changing the tempo, timbre, rhythm, phrasing, diction and choice of pitch, writes Frisch and notes: It grew with her and became the highlight of her concerts. At her concert at Carnegie Hall in 1961, everyone knew she was going to sing it, but the audience had to scream for it.
Frisch's research focus was the Austro-German music of the 1820s to 1930s. People ask me: 'How did you get from Brahms to Harold Arlen?' He said. For me, the special thing about both Brahms and Arlen is that they are deeply expressive, but there is always a sense of mastery of the emotion that conveys longing and longing.
He doubts that there is a really authentic version of Over the Rainbow. There are as many different versions as there are actors and contexts, he said. Just this year in Manchester, England, Ariana Grande sang it as an encore at a benefit concert for the victims of a bomb attack at one of their previous concerts. Here the song conveyed a message of solidarity and reassurance, said Frisch.
Numerous famous singers recorded versions of the song during its long and rich life. Frisch finishes his book by honoring its creators with a reference to a scene just before the end of The Wizard of Oz : We should pay tribute to the men behind the curtain. Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg are the real magicians.Tags Musikfilm