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Depiction of character through music and words

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Introduction

ECA Option 1 Taking as your example a novel, short story or poem which has been set to music, consider how a person's character can be depicted a) through words alone and b) through words and music together. "From novella to Broadway Musical - the transference of character from the page to the stage." This essay builds on my studies of Carmen and Tristan und Isolde, in which I considered how character can be portrayed through words and music. I shall examine Robert Louis Stevenson's short story "Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde" and one of its many adaptations, from novel to the Broadway musical "Jekyll and Hyde" by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn. I shall discuss how the characters are portrayed in the novel through words alone, concentrating mainly on the dual character of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, and then examine the libretto and explore whether the addition of the orchestration and vocal lines of the musical enhance or detract from the portrayal and representation of the character. I shall also explore the depiction of the duality of all the characters within the musical, as I feel that Bricusse and Wildhorn were trying to convey through their adaptation that every person has a dual character and they choose which 'Facade' to present to the world. This was certainly the premise of the original story by Stevenson. As Stevenson says in his essay "Lay Morals": "We should not live alternately with our opposing tendencies in continual see-saw of passion and disgust, but seek some path on which the tendencies shall no longer oppose, but serve each other to common end." The story of the "Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde" (note that for some reason Stevenson chose not to include the word "the" at the beginning of the title) was originally written and published in 1886. Stevenson had harboured a fascination with the idea of the duality of human nature and wanted to incorporate the concepts of the opposing sides of good and evil within a story. ...read more.

Middle

This tells us that others are noticing the change in Jekyll, his change in attitude and priorities. Fire is also used symbolically within the setting of the musical, which enhances and echoes the sentiments of the libretto. The symbolism of fire is appropriate for the presence of Satan which is ever apparent in the personality of Hyde - he is likened to Satan, and states that he will always have Satan by his side. In Jekyll's song 'Now There Is No Choice', we see his resolution to carry out his dream, and also this is the first suggestion we have in this adaptation that there is perhaps another motive for his experiments and theories - he wants recognition and glory, "One great golden chance that only I can take, when everything I've fought for is at stake, to make the mark that only I can make". This reveals a determined and reckless side to his character, as he is prepared to risk everything, even his own life, to prove his theories. However, he was also prepared to experiment with subjects from his father's mental asylum, and only subsequent to being turned down by the board of governors did he decide to use himself as the subject. So perhaps he is now also becoming a desperate man? Throughout what has become known as the musical's "anthem", 'This Is The Moment' Jekyll prepares to take his potion and begin his experiment. The song is in E Major, which gives a positive, uplifting feeing to it, and the lyrics talk of Jekyll's hopes for the future and his confidence that his experiment will work.("This is the moment, this is the day, when I send all my doubts and demons on their way") It conveys his determination, and his derision for those who have been against his theories ("For all these years, I've faced the world alone, and now the time has come to prove to them I've made it on my own") ...read more.

Conclusion

Hyde's songs are driven, relentless, and have strong, final endings. All these aspects of orchestration underpin the strength and urgency of Hyde's character. Later on in the score, as Jekyll begins to be dominated by Hyde, we hear the instruments which have signified Hyde's character beginning to appear in Jekyll's songs. This is most apparent in 'Confrontation' wherein although in the beginning Jekyll's motif is clearly signified, eventually the brass, glissando in the strings section and the choral section begin to become more dominant than Jekyll's instrumentation as Hyde emerges as the dominant force. I will conclude by stating that I feel the depiction of character in the musical Jekyll and Hyde is very effective. Although the main protagonist (and, incidentally, antagonist) is more prominent in the musical than in the original novel, I do not feel that this detracts from the narrative - indeed I feel it adds depth to the character and helps us as the audience to be drawn into the action and to empathise with a character who we could have regarded with disdain and disgust. The libretto by Leslie Bricusse uses the clever repetition of phrases from the original novel, the addition of extra characters to give the protagonists existence more credence, and lyrics which give an insight into the emotions, motivations and dilemmas of the characters. Upon reading the original novel, I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters - no empathy was encouraged and the reader was never given the opportunity to discover the true personalities of the people involved in the story. The musical addresses this by providing more background to the characters and their relationships with each other, making them more believable and encouraging more depth of thought on the part of the audience as the tale signifies that the horrendous subject matter of the story could indeed apply to any living human being. After all - "In all of us there is the duality of good and evil and the only thing that is constant is change. ...read more.

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