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"Charade" by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer

Tish Oney By

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Ever known for his peerless and timeless musical masterpieces created for the silver screen, Henry Mancini (1924-1994) opened the 1963 motion picture, "Charade," starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with a masterfully written theme bearing the same title. Over his storied career, Mancini won six Grammy awards plus fourteen additional nominations as well as a slew of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins for his film and stage compositions, among several additional awards. His 1961 classic, "Moon River," also co-created by his frequent collaborator, Johnny Mercer, (1909-1976) for yet another Hepburn film triumph, Breakfast at Tiffany's, won the Grammy that year for Best Music, Original Song. The Mancini/Mercer team managed to churn out some of the finest Great American Songbook standards ever composed for the film industry, including those mentioned as well as "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Dear Heart."

Melody and Phrase Structure

Being the mind responsible for the universally recognizable Pink Panther theme with its mystery-evoking use of sneaking, chromatic figures leading to a lingering "sharp four" (reminding us that dissonance can sound wonderful), Mancini treats the melody of "Charade" no less brilliantly. Beginning this waltz in a double-time feel with a Phrygian figure in the first three notes, the composer sets up the listener's ears for a delight of the senses. He then leaps the melody up a perfect fifth where it lands on the ninth of the minor scale, a bold departure from most popular songs of the era whose conservative, often stepwise melodies lent themselves to be sung or played easily by the average listener. The Phrygian semitone relationship returns in the next sub-phrase, but turns its contour downward, eventually finding the ninth an octave lower, in contrast with its initial jump skyward in measure two (the author considers this piece as having sixteen-bar sections instead of the usual eight as in other AABA form tunes). At mm. 9-13, a two-bar motive appears thrice in repetition with a modification on the end. This being the case, the first two (identical) A sections can be broken down into sub-phrases thusly: 4 measures + 4 measures + 2 +2 + 4, with the final sub-phrase having an extension that steps down to tonic.

At the bridge, Mancini shifts the tonal center up a third to the relative major key, giving the minor melody soaring climactic energy at a crucial point in the song. Playing up the potential for a rousing climax, he sends the melody up a full octave from whence it had just resolved into a cadence, to begin the new B theme. The melody continues to climb by step to the new tonic before falling downward by leap through a long string of thirds. The leap of a sixth and a descending delineation of a major triad precede another sixth leap to the fifth of the new key. Then the whole process begins again for the second half of the bridge where the first sub-phrase remains the same, but the last is modified to include stepwise motion that stays in a lower register, reserving its energy for the last A section's late release of built-up tension. The phrase structure of the bridge reverts to the usual stock pattern of sub-phrases, providing necessary contrast between A and B: 4 measures + 4 + 4 + 4. In the final A, the melody stays the same as the first two iterations of A until the final three measures of the tune, "best on the bill, charade," where the formerly downward contour sharply leaps upward to the (flat) third scale degree (also the tonic of the relative major key in the bridge), then resolves down by step to the minor tonic.

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