America And West Side Story

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"America" is a song from the musical West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The story is based on Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, but is set in New York in the 1950s with themes of racial gang warfare. The musical was groundbreaking because of its sophisticated musical style and pioneering dance sequences. The music has elements of opera, musical, jazz and Latin-American dance influences. "America" is one of the most well-known songs from the show, and is a debate between Anita - the leader of Shark gang (Bernardo's) girlfriend and Rosalia - another Shark girl. I have chosen to analyse the musical version of "America" and not the film version. The difference is that Jerome Robbins (director of the West Side Story 1961 film) chose to include the Shark men in the song. I believe this was to highlight the concealed racism in American society, especially towards immigrants such as the Puerto Ricans because the men are shown as upholders of traditional culture and the women as eager to cast aside the old ways. This is arguably the main theme of the musical, and the most important as it highlights the political, social and cultural struggle of the immigrants in America. However in the original musical, it is sung between Anita and Rosalia. The reason I have chosen to analyse this is because only the film version has the rights to use the Shark men, and every stage rights available can only use the girls. So as this was originally intended by Bernstein and Robbins, and is the more commonly used, I have chosen to analyse the musical version. The purpose of "America" is to provide an opportunity for a dance number, as this musical is largely dance based and up until now we've only had ballads (M... ... middle of paper ... ... sections to show excitement and enthusiasm, for example on the syllables "mer-i" of "America". Bernstein uses sudden dynamics within every section including the final dance break. Pianissimo is used in the woodwind at the beginning of D2, and a huge tutti crescendo brings us into the final repeat of the main tune with the key change to E major. In conclusion, to analyse this essay I have scrutinized the melody, harmony and rhythm as these are elements that make this piece so popular. Included with the dynamics, articulation and use of texture, they all successfully work with each other to create a effective piece. The style and the social and cultural contexts are incredibly important to appreciating this piece and I feel I have examined the musical elements in a way that is essential to understanding the song, and its place in West Side Story.

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