Listening Log – [Pt. II- Proj. 3]- Perry Como’s ’I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ 1946 VERSUS Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromtu’Op.66 1834/1855.
Perry Como’s ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ 1946 VERSUS Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromtu’ Op.66 1834/1855. In October and November 2019 Listened (streaming) to youtube clips embedded below:
Perry Como’s ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ 1946 VERSUS Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromtu’ Op.66 1834/1855.
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows is a pop tune published in 1917 but popularised by the singer Perry Como in 1946 reaching the no 5. Slot in the American Billboard Chart.
Perry Como (1912 –2001) was an American singer best known in the 40-50’s although his career spanned over 50 years. He recorded extensively for the RCA Victor label. He won many awards during his lifetime and charted countless times with his hit singles. He also started a weekly music television show.
Many of Perry Como’s charting songs where in fact adaptations of Chopin pieces. This is in fact the case with the song named above, which is based on Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ Op.66. Generally, the musical segments lifted from Classical composers were pretty much exact copies and had they been under copyright these would have been considered ‘cover’ versions rather than original pieces of music. In cases where the original composer is not even credited as a songwriter I would go as far as to say that it is outright theft. So, is there any merit at all then, to these ‘cover’ versions? Is there any originality or added value in these adaptations and what would the original composer have made of these pop songs? This is the angle I’d like to explore, and it is with this issue in mind that I am listening to these songs in my listening log.
‘At the end of the rainbow there’s happiness
and to find it how often I’ve tried
but my life is a race, just a wild goose chase
and my dreams have all been denied!
Why have I always been a failure?
What can the reason be?
I wonder if the world’s to blame?
I wonder if it could be me?
I’m always chasing rainbows
watching clouds drifting by!
My schemes are just like all of my dreams
ending in the sky!
Some fellows look and find the sunshine
I always look and find the rain!
Some fellows make a winning sometime
I never even make a gain!
Believe me . . .
I’m always chasing rainbows
waiting to find a little blue bird in vain!’
(Songwriters: Carroll / Mccarthy I’m Always Chasing Rainbows lyrics © EMI ROBBINS CATALOG INC)
3.16 min typical pop song structure. Slow tempo ‘gently flowing’ throughout and generally soft dynamics mp.
In 4/4, F major.
- Intro starting with soft string swells introducing tonality and main melodic elements.
- Verse 1 Vocal theme 1 over string sections, with a few glockenspiel and piano punctuations playing broken chords.
- Chorus Vocal theme 2 over strings at a louder dynamic and strong straight forward chord progression.
- Outro Chorus Shorter and louder version of chorus rising up to the brief outro.
- Outro fast string swell rising figure with a faster rhythm.
Fantaisie-Impromptu is a solo piano composition in C♯ minor from 1834, posthumously published as Op. 66 in 1855. Chopin had not wanted any of his unpublished materials published after his death but did not get a choice. Speculations have suggested that he did not want this piece published because it bares striking similarities to Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ both in terms of key and harmonic progression and in terms of certain sections of melody which are identical. It is perhaps an irony of life that it is one of Chopin’s most plagiarised pieces.
It is the Second Movement of Fantaisie-Impromptu which was copied for the pop song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.
Second Movement – 2 min long. Db Major key. Common Time. Moderato Cantabile.
As is clear from the two scores the melody of ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ albeit in a different key, is an exact replica of Chopin’s main melody in the Second Movement of ‘Fantaisie-Impromptu’. The orchestration is obviously different with the pop song mainly relying on a string section and solo vocal. The pop song is slightly slower and at a softer dynamic. It is also rhythmically less interesting than Chopin’s nocturne which uses more accents and shorter note durations. Chopin’s piece is generally more varied in terms of tempo and dynamics, covering a broader range whereas ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ is far more linear and more melancholy in flavour. The pop song loses a lot of the drama by only having ‘one movement’ and therefore less material to contrast it against.
So, do I think the piece has gained anything at all from the ‘pop treatment’? I would say, that in some respects it has. The obvious advantage is the vocal. After hearing the pop version, I find it near impossible to listen to Chopin’s second movement without hearing the lyrics in my head. It is instantly memorable in a whole different way than just instrumental music is. The words are forever tied to those notes in my brain. There is an instant story and mood, pretty much set in stone. It has become a mantra and therefore iconic. What the pop song has in effect done is draw attention to the genius melodic writing of Chopin, through simplifying it and crystallising it with the help of lyrics and the human voice. It really shows the excellence of the underlying material. A bit like enlarging one section of a masterpiece painting to discover how delightful the details are. One could probably extract a myriad of songs out of any of Chopin’s compositions. Perhaps Chopin’s music, written as it was to mimic ‘bel canto’ singing is particularly suitable for pop music? Although I would think Chopin would find these songs a tad banal, I also think he might have been a little bit pleased by how singable they are.
I have embedded a whole playlist of 40’s-50’s songs which use various Chopin melodies. After each song there is a clip of Chopin’s original for comparison. The alterations roughly follow the same method outlined above, namely picking a slow movement, taking the melody, simplifying the rhythm and adding lyrics and vocals on top.
My conclusion is that although Chopin’s work is far superior there is some merit to these pop song interpretations and I enjoy listening to them on a very simple, sentimental level. However, I do very much feel that these are just ‘cover versions’ with lyrics, rather than original pieces of music in their own right. I think that is perfectly fine, as long as the composer is given due credit.