Relationship’s ambiguities in music: Barcelona

In Sondheim’s musical “Company”, the musical scene “Barcelona” is one of the most significant to  understand the relationship that Robert, the main character, has with the women he tries to establish a relationship with. These relationships are dictated more by the social conventions of having a girl and being married at a certain age (“I do not have a girl “) than by a state of actually being in love.

The structural form of the song  is A B A’ + short coda. The scansion of the text is binary, it is a trochaic dimeter in the A section, that in the B section becomes iambic tetrameter. Sondheim is clearly trying to emphasize the difference not only of rhythm but also of content between the two sections.

A section

| U  /   | u

| U  /   | u

B section

u |  /   u |  /  u |  /   u |

A section

It consists of a boring duet with conventional questions between Robert and April:” where are you going? Barcelona, Oh! Are you angry? No, I am not. Yes, you are”. Questions that for Robert are meaningless, dictated more by April’s alarm sound at the beginning of to the scene than by a true interest in her, but those questions instead are very significant for April.

B section

Robert explains to April first that it was not a “one-night-stand” adventure, but then he is taken from his thoughts and seems to speak to any girl and not to her in particular, and says that she is a special girl not because she is bright (and the implication is ably that she is a special girl just only because she is a girl), and then he corrects himself by repeating the sentence and adding “only” immediately after the “not”.

Sondheim let the metric stress exactly on the word “just” in order to emphasize it in a special way. Accidentally Robert mistakes the name of the girl quite at the end of this section and here, for the first time in this part, April, who until then has been listening quietly probably hoping for something more, takes action to correct her name.

A’section

Back to the boring sequence of questions between Robert and April, there is a change in the coda, when April decides to remain with him and Robert is really almost speechless with a surprised and final “Oh! God! “

In the music, the metric is ternary in the A section and binary in the B section on a first level of metric analysis. At a higher level of hypermetric analysis the meter is overall binary.

In the two A sections the musical meter and the scansion of the text are in contrast (binary/ternary): metric and rhythmic accents of the music are overlapping, but they are not coincident with the scanning of the text itself, except in one point in particular, where the sequence of questions and answers between April and Robert comes in rapid succession.  In the b section the metric scanning of the text (binary from the beginning to the end) coincides with the metric and rhythmic stress in the music.

Harmonically the piece is also built on different parallel and conflicting levels.
A section

The A section is mainly built on two levels: the first level has the representation of harmonic normality with a long sequence of Tonic-Dominant in Bb, modulating in the second part for few measures preserving the cadence  V-I, to come back in Bb at the end, which however does not respect the key signature  of the piece (Eb or C minor), while the second level presents an almost completely independent harmony, actually in G minor, that alternates consonance and dissonance throughout the section.

B section

In the b section the harmonic levels become three:  bass, melody and harmonic accompaniment in the middle part. It seems that they represent the three different levels of the inner state of Robert: being, appearing, subconscious. The bass descends chromatically to create a perfect tonic /dominant cadence on the climax of the piece, where Robert finally let talk freely his subconscious. When Robert calls April as “June”, blatantly wrong about the name of the girl in front of him, in the more acute register of the piece and in crescendo, the seventh chord is going to solve, but it doesn’t. April repeats exactly the same phrase saying her name, and Robert corrects singing one octave below, accompanied by a diminished 5th chord.

Sondheim is slyly showing in both text and music what happens in the interior life of Robert: friends and the pressures of the society in which he lives led him to meet with any girls to be able to find the one to marry, because `”he is now 35”, while Robert expects that someone special (“you’re a very special girl”) for him.

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