Ready to geek out on composition analysis? Musical dramatist and composer Robert Vieira continues to break down theory and thoughts on the musical score of Stephen Schwartz’ masterpiece: Wicked.
Track 12: “Thank Goodness”
After intermission, Wicked’s music picks up right where we left off; we can almost hear Elphaba flying over Oz’s terrified citizens because the underscoring is drawn directly from Act I’s last song. The underscoring links Act II’s opening to the moments at the end of Act I when Elphaba leapt and declared no one would bring her down (“Defying Gravity” 1:10, 2:04).
The chorus enters, reprising “No One Mourns the Wicked,” but the song now wears clothing different from its “later” presentation at the start of the show. Starting with “every day more wicked” (0:15), Ozians check off Elphaba’s sins until the tempo slackens at “save us from the Wicked” (0:49). The music then trails off as terrified citizens in the always-on-alert land of Oz drop their voices and repeat, “where will she strike next,” while looking skyward (1:10). The resonance of this scene with the events of 9/11/01 is not lost on New York audiences. The scene’s many breaks profile the drama.
Glinda then delivers her pep talk, but she will remain troubled. Glinda’s internal journey is in fact revealed over the course of this song. As terrifying as terror is, this journey scares Glinda more than wicked witches because she knows she must face her true self, not her persona. (She also knows the Wicked Witch is not so wicked.)
When we enter a 5/4 section (1:22), it sounds at first like the most sunny music this side of “One Short Day.” But Glinda is limping inside. The angular, odd-metered undertone in 5/4 expresses Glinda’s straining to assure us she is happy. Before our ears, Glinda evolves. Simple, sunny self-absorption, and callous, calculating cunning no longer satisfy her. At another break, Glinda tries to reassure herself and Fiyero that all is well, but she doesn’t quite convince us (1:44-2:32). Schwartz sets Glinda’s declarations of happiness to melancholy music, and the complicated, kind of sort of cost of Glinda’s growth is clear. Starting with this section and lasting throughout “Thank Goodness,” stunning performance decisions led Kristin to change tone and enunciation so steadily that we hear every gradation as Glinda strains between the two points of her transition.
Morrible’s speech gives us dramatic relief from this first expression of Glinda’s pain (2:34). The speech, of course, provides Glinda with no relief; it only codifies the persona she now sees as limited. A piquant use of harpsichord lets us know we are in a mock regal universe—the Munchkins in the 1939 film could have sung their “undeniably and reliably dead” lyric in this universe. The chorus then returns, their fear having turned into anger, which culminates in another lyric reference to the 1939 film: “Melt her….please go and melt her!” (3:39). Another break follows in this, the most dramatically packed song of the score. Fiyero underscores the mindless ways of “the people” as we continue to observe Glinda’s conflicted emotions.
Glinda once again tries to convince us she is happy, but the music and the 5/4 meter tell a more honest story. When we hear Glinda’s line, “Well, not simple,” the final leg of Glinda’s transformation begins (4:28). What follows is a tour de force of musical theater writing and performance. As anticipations become complications, Glinda finally sees she has crossed bridges (5:00), and at this crucial moment the orchestrational understatement provides dramatic power. We cry for Glinda’s lost innocence as the orchestra draws back to expose all her pain. The formerly perky witch realizes her earlier definition of happiness lived only in the shallowest part of Oz. After a final break, during which she asks her anxious rhetorical question—”Well, isn’t it?” (5:35)—Glinda sings with forced joy because of her newly-transformed internal state. Just listen to how Kristin sings Glinda’s final “thank goodness” (5:51) and this transformation is unmistakable. Glinda’s persona is no longer her identity; she has been changed for good.
Track 13: “Wonderful”
The Wizard’s charm song is part of Schwartz’s Shavian desire to give his villain the best argument. The winsome lyrics of “Wonderful” puts the Wizard in a very favorable light. Like Elphaba and Glinda, the Wizard was fated to become a victim of his persona, of other people’s expectations and their willingness to give away their power.
“Wonderful” also provides essential relief of tone, something most musicals require. The satisfying alternation of song types is a successful part of this score’s construction, and “Wonderful” provides relief as the only true pastiche song in Wicked. Its ragtime chromaticism reminds one of the era when a certain “corn-fed hick” left Kansas.
In addition to helping the Wizard win over the audience by becoming a multi-dimensional character, this number “lands” the dramatic theme of ambition. The Wizard assures Elphaba there will be “a celebration throughout Oz that’s all to do with you” (4:06). Although he was not a “singee” (the person being sung to) during “The Wizard and I,” this kindhearted charlatan uses exactly the same words as Elphaba had in Act I to express her dream. We should expect nothing less from our clever and all-powerful Wizard. Or—given the Wizard’s sham clairvoyance—maybe his own ambition is simply wonderfully synchronous with Elphaba’s. Perhaps the Wizard combines Glinda’s love of adulation with Elphaba’s ambition. In any event, Stephen Schwartz completes an important dramatic arc by having the Wizard mirror Elphaba’s lyrics.
We must also note the music to which Schwartz sets these restated lyrics about the upcoming celebration; it will become a leitmotiv used later in the show to baptize a celebration of a very different sort.
Track 15: “As Long As You’re Mine”
Track 16: “No Good Deed”
Like points on a mountain range, 2/4 measures make this 4/4 song distinctive (0:28, 0:49, 1:13, 2:46, 3:12). Along with the sixteenth-note patterns of the orchestration, these shorter measures produce a powerful, churning, non-pop texture. The last of these 2/4 measures delivers the dramatic peak of the song: “No good deed will I do.” Schwartz also groups notes in 4+3 combinations to express Elphaba’s sense of utter failure (2:58-3:04). Breaking out of a fixed meter allows drama to explode on stage as Elphaba renounces goodness for good.
Another strong performance decision led Idina to give us a diphthong transition from Heaven at a very Hellish moment (1:43): she sings “unpunished” and blithely navigates the ungainly “unish” part on a held note by transitioning the word’s internal sounds and changing volume at the moment Schwartz shifts key to G#-minor. A bit later, we hear in quick succession an exhalation and an inhalation from Idina as Elphaba sings about Fiyero and examines her motives (1:58). Intimate, powerful, live cast recording lets us hear every dramatic movement of breath—and Elphaba is the great bellows for a song that is already on fire and will only get hotter.
This volcanic song is stoked as Elphaba’s sustained notes are supported by the identical material we get at the start of the show—our by-now famous “Wicked Witch Theme” (2:00). Elphaba is very close to the moment when she will accept the people’s judgement that she is wicked. As in “Thank Goodness,” Schwartz again uses 5/4 to express a character’s inner conflict—in this case, Elphaba’s agony as she plumbs her soul (2:14): Was her true motive attention? Could she be at fault for the Ozians’ animosity?
At the peak of Elphaba’s transformation (2:31), we are reminded of Glinda’s struggles at the top of Act II. Glinda crosses bridges during her transition; Elphaba questions all ambition during hers. Elphaba, however, is at her second epiphany; she had a big transformation at end of Act I—she goes solo and rejects Oz’s status quo—but here in Act II she accepts that she is wicked. She gives in to the status quo and accepts her banishment. Elphaba’s resignation prepares the drama of “For Good,” when we watch her receive love from the one person who has been changed for the better through her influence. Schwartz respects the solemnity of Elphaba’s transformation by well-chosen rhymes, such as “…circumvented” / “…look what well-meant did” (2:37-2:48), and by broadening the rhyme scheme. This stands in stark contrast to the deliriously over-rhymed intro of the comedic “Popular,” where rhymes are separated by milliseconds (“case/face,” “succeed/lead/indeed”).
The handling of recitative is successful throughout Wicked. For example, when Elphaba asks for forgiveness in “For Good” (3:30), a più mosso passage provides the right environment for Glinda and Elphie to take care of unfinished business. An even clearer example appears in “No Good Deed” at the meno mosso, when Elphaba accepts she is wicked (2:54). A superb performance decision led to “I’m wicked!” being spoken (at variance with the Vocal Selections). This parlando break makes a powerful dramatic contrast to the giddy way Elphaba whispers her wickedness at the end of “As Long as You’re Mine.” And, of course, both of these moments are very different from the choral declaration of “Wicked!” on that G# at the end of “No One Mourns the Wicked.” The title of this show is cast in all the colors of the wind.
Track 18: “For Good”
This song’s introduction combines the use of leitmotivs with recitative—in other words, links and breaks. Starting with the “Unlimited” theme, the lyric is now “I’m Limited.” The use of linking themes continues when Elphaba sings to Glinda: “And look at you, you can do all I couldn’t do.” That lyric is set to exactly the same music that in “The Wizard and I” supported “And I’ve just had a vision almost like a prophecy.” These last lyrics introduce Elphaba’s all-important declaration that there would be a celebration all to do with her. With a leitmotiv, Stephen Schwartz links Elphaba’s false prophecy with the pain she now feels.
Realizing her limitations, Elphaba decides to pass the torch to a reluctant but grateful Glinda. Nessa might have wept at the event, which is handled within a bittersweet recitative break. This recitative section ends with an instrumental quotation of the upcoming A-section’s ending (0:37).
That instrumental quotation is the first time in the whole show we hear material from the main section of “For Good.” This is significant. The use of leitmotivs means each theme carries dramatic dynamite. Knowing when to use that explosive power is essential. By not using the music of this song earlier, Schwartz saved his dramatic capital. The sad sunshine of the A-section’s melody has maximum impact by being completely new. Moreover, because it has no musical connection to any other part of the score, this song’s musical independence provides a unique emotional space for Glinda and Elphaba to show us they have forged a friendship that transcends all the other characters in Wicked.
Glinda begins the A-section gently (0:51), and “For Good” is the right song at this point in Wicked because it is hesitant. The biggest money notes and highest beltings are finished, but the evening’s drama has yet to reach its peak. This song is the correct vehicle to reach that summit. Schwartz did not lyricize a melody or set a lyric to music; rather, he produced a single expression that unifies words and notes seamlessly: “come into our lives” and “most to grow” reflect the ups and downs of life, and the melody says so; “reason” and “lifetime” drop down into our hearts with a descending interval; “something we must learn” moves up; “if we let them” falls into a vulnerable soul; “we help them in return” is static and firm; “I know I’m who I am today” and “handprint on my heart” are ascending affirmations. The lyrics do not simply scan; they seem to have been born at the same moment as the melody. Even the use of melisma in this song sounds completely natural.
After Glinda and Elphaba have been transformed, beautiful two-part voice writing shows how complementary these two witches (4:10-4:21) are. They changed each other in very different ways, but each has moved a similar distance down their fated paths.
Track 19: “Finale”
Either Schwartz or Brohn made the “wonderful” decision to open Wicked’s finale with a lone trumpet playing the music that supported the Wizard’s earlier lyric, “A celebration throughout Oz that’s all to do with me!” The irony and poignancy is unmistakable; this is not the celebration the late Elphaba had in mind. And, we must remember, this lyric began its life as Elphaba’s dream in “The Wizard and I.“
The lone trumpet’s leitmotiv quickly melts into a sad re-statement of “No One Mourns the Wicked” (0:07), where the line “joy throughout the land” is set to very un-joyful music. The whole finale is slow and gentle, but its metabolism is fast—we burn through leitmotivs at a furious pace. We hear the “Goodness” theme (0:25), but now it is a lament—at best, a hollow triumph. “No One Mourns the Wicked” becomes the mournful antiphonal response to the re-stated lyric from “For Good”: “Because I knew you” (1:04). This beautiful antiphonal writing might be interpreted as an indictment of Glinda’s persona: if Glinda had not led Oz’s superficial culture, Elphaba might not have been scorned. Is it purely coincidental that the chorus introduces this theme at exactly the same point here (1:04) as it does in “No One Mourns the Wicked?”
There is no hidden track, but if you have the soundtrack on repeat, you’ll hear why “No One Mourns the Wicked” might be called Track 20. Only after listening to the whole score does one get the full meaning of the first number’s journey back in time. Listening to the Wicked CD in this odd way lets us understand:
- Glinda is clearly conflicted during “No One Mourns the Wicked.” Her very first aria can be interpreted as a lament to the deceased Elphaba, ending with “for you and [I]”—the inferred “I” being setup by an unanswered rhyme (like the implied “breast” in Camelot’s “Fie on Goodness!”). This lament is rudely interrupted by the frightened Greek Chorus of Ozians who have given their power to Elphaba and created the Wicked Witch of the West (2:26). After the citizens have listed all the ways wicked souls are wretched, Glinda ostensibly joins in, but she also makes the case for Elphaba (2:49). The audience is emotionally involved at this point and they know—from the 1939 film and from this opening number—that they should be afraid, but the subsequent break clarifies matters. Initiating the historical section on Elphaba’s birth, this section extends from Glinda’s important rhetorical question about Fate (“Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”) to the crowning realization of her whole journey: “You see, it couldn’t have been easy” (3:36-5:23). These words are highlighted by keeping them spoken.
- Galinda is a bit of a “Judas” when she denies a close friendship with Elphaba at the top of “Dear Old Shiz”: “It depends on what you mean by friend.” In her mind, Galinda was a friend of Elphie, not the creature Oz fears. She may feel Elphie and the Wicked Witch are different creatures—a bit like Galinda vs. Glinda. In both cases the public—through acclamation or condemnation—changed a character’s name. Elphaba becomes the Wicked Witch and Galinda jettisons an “a.” The Wonderful Wizard of Oz experienced this phenomenon too. He came to appreciate the importance of a name to self-marketing.
- Glinda’s sympathy increases over the course of the show as she becomes involved with Elphaba’s ill-fated life. Kristin’s emotional interpretation of “And goodness knows, the wicked’s lives are lonely….” has added resonance when one listens to this song as Track “20.” Glinda is informed by Galinda’s whole journey. As the self-righteous chorus of “No One Mourns the Wicked” gloats that wicked creatures die alone, Glinda sings sadly that Elphaba died alone (5:53). Glinda’s apparent agreement with the Ozians’ indictment of the Wicked Witch is a sham. Schwartz’s well-turned lyrics can be turned on their head. Glinda’s words easily become a sympathetic support for “wicked” souls who die alone, while the chorus hears the same words as a moral indictment of Elphaba. I would call these “enharmonic lyrics”—the same words have two nearly diametrically opposed meanings. Like the enharmonic shift in the melody note of “Dancing Through Life,” the dual meaning of these lyrics allows for more dramatic movement. This section completes the idea enunciated by a reflective Glinda that Elphaba’s life couldn’t have been an easy one. A central marker of Glinda’s journey is her younger self’s realization that life is “Well, not easy really,” as her eyes are opened (“Thank Goodness,” 4:28). This progressive appreciation for life’s hardships is the lynchpin of Glinda’s journey from surface to substance.
Glinda’s words could also be applied to the process Stephen Schwartz, his collaborators, and cast went through bringing us the wonder that is Wicked. It couldn’t have been easy.
Robert Vieira is a musical dramatist whose music and words can be found on over 50 video games, TV’s Sesame Street, interactive toys, and a history dissertation at U.C. Berkeley. See IMDB link here. Hyperlinks © Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary