Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trippin' with Chestnuts (The 12 Musings of Christmas #4)

We continue the mashup theme (surprise, surprise) for Day #4 with a particularly quirky favorite of mine. As I wrote when I created this a few years back, The Christmas Song used to be one of my least favorite seasonal staples - just too maudlin and sappy for my generally cynical tastes.* But, as A Mighty Wind proves to me every time I watch it, having a little fun with sentiment can put just enough of a spin on the experience that I end up laughing AND enjoying the sentiment. I've got issues:

Anyway, I'll save myself some time by quoting MM2010:
The beauty of this song for mashup purposes is that it's already so soupy that it blends quite naturally, like Campbell's® in a casserole - and what better to blend it with than itself? Instead of "double the Johnny [Mathis]," I've enlisted Mr. Tony Bennett to man the other half of this duet, and as an added bonus, Tony's in a different key! Yet, because both arrangements are so schmaltzy and mellow, with their hazy rhythms and beds of sappy strings, the blend doesn't sound stridently dissonant - just blurry and, well...trippy. And, quite frankly, the Mathis version was pretty trippy already; I'm just helping it towards its logical conclusion... 
To be specific, Mathis is in D-flat, and Bennett's a whole step up in E-flat - like some sort of global appoggiatura. As with my Callas-Fleming "Canon a 2 Tempi," I just set these guys off at the same time by synchronizing the "Chestnuts," and then let the individual phrases fall where they fell. Tony pulls ahead pretty early, but things settle into a satisfying, lazy back-and-forth for much of the rest of the song. My favorite happy coincidence is how Mathis finishes up (technically, his version is supposed to go over the bridge again, but I cut that) and then fades into the end of the Bennett playout, so we get an almost Coplandesque final cadence. Almost.
I'm probably as proud of the visuals as anything else, but at this point the music sounds pretty right to me as well; there's something genuinely intoxicating about letting the mind drift back and forth from tune to tune and key to key. And you may have noticed that this tune I once derided now proudly serves as the emotional climax of my In Season medley. Although it's been said many times, many ways, perhaps "Merry Christmas" hasn't been said bitonally often enough.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts

* I've also been realizing, while planning Advent/Christmas hymns for the year, that perhaps my two least favorite sacred Christmas tunes are the ever-popular O little town of Bethlehem (the "St. Louis" one) and It came upon a midnight clear. Each sports a kind of late 19th century chromaticism that just doesn't sit right. Perhaps I need to mix them together....

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