One of the major challenges of writing this column remains how to choose one song among several by a given composer that I have decided to feature. When determining to include a song by the very talented Great American Songbook composer, Bernice Petkere (1901-2000), two of my favorite songs immediately came to mind: "Close Your Eyes" and "Lullaby of the Leaves." I also marveled that both happen to be among my favorite standards written in minor keys... However, for the sake of simplicity I am behooved to select one at a time, so for now we shall examine the structure and design of "Close Your Eyes."
Bernice Petkere spent her life in show business, performing on the vaudeville circuit while still a young child, then becoming an important Tin Pan Alley songwriter. Given the distinguished moniker "Queen of Tin Pan Alley" by none other than Irving Berlin, Petkere wrote music for radio shows and worked as a writer in Berlin's production company. She later relocated to Los Angeles, immersing herself in writing film scores. "Close Your Eyes" was published in 1933 and has been recorded and performed by a slew of performing artists including Ruth Etting, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and many more.
This classic American song begins with sixteen bars (plus a pickup bar) whose antecedent melodic phrase ascends the melodic minor scale as if introducing the theoretical premise of the entire piece. The three-and-a-half bar consequent phrase that follows provides an appropriate release of tension, and guides the melody along a wavelike path which ultimately descends to the midpoint of the scale. The initial scale in the opening phrase is then repeated over the next four and a half bars, and the final consequent phrase in the introduction descends majestically by third leaps (emphasizing and repeating the flatted third which reinforces the minor context) to the octave below. The text that Petkere penned for this introduction (including images of "a midnight sky," "a single star" and "a steel guitar") provides a sultry, romantic backdrop describing the visual and aural stimuli that set the stage for the song's sexy lullaby to follow. I prefer to perform this as a tango, as the minor tonality and strict Latin feel create a wonderful backdrop for this text of mystery and seduction.
At first glance, budding theorists may assume this piece represents a classic AABA form. However, upon closer examination, there are variations in each A section which necessitate the attribution of "prime" (') to indicate said variations. Technically, the piece assumes the form AA'BA," although some might convincingly assert that it possesses an AA'BA form. Theorists often disagree about how much variation should be required to allow A,' A" or even C formal designations to stand. Many of these distinctions can create debate regarding whether a section is different enough to justify using a different sectional designation. I would argue that the harmonic and melodic change at measure 30 ("oh this is divine") requires a related, but distinctive designation since the third melodic pitch of that measure is raised a semitone higher than its counterpart in the A section (m. 22, "and I will close mine."). Also, the harmony resolves to the parallel major key at the end of the second section (A'), whereas it previously resolved to the minor tonic at the end of A. The rhythmic change toward the end of A" (m. 46, "so won't you close your eyes?") presents a bit vaguer situation analytically, and, I believe, creates a varied enough rhythmic emphasis on the title text to warrant its own related, but distinguishing designation apart from A. However, some theorists would likely prefer to consider the overall form to be AA'BA due to the fact that a slight rhythmic change in the final phrase (at m. 46) is not a major variation from the original A theme. To each, his/her own! Each section of the post- introduction portion of the song consists of eight measures, forming a standard, thirty-two bar form.