Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Agony" from Into the Woods by Sondheim

This song is so wonderfully over-the-top and overacted that it can't help but be hilarious. We start with a slow pulse on harp and bassoon. The first prince comes in, telling the story of how he has been chasing this girl through the forest, not understanding why she is running. He sings about the "agony" of being in love. In the wood he meets his brother, who is trying to find a way to reach his love, who is locked away in a high tower. His "agony" is much more painful, since she agreed to go with him, if he could only get her down. Not really paying attention, the first prince speaks of all his many virtues, which is hilarious, as the strings rise with his ascending line, adding this great dramatic tension, even though he is merely talking about himself. This passage is echoed by the other prince, who speaks about climbing the hair of his maiden to reach her, while she only sings her "light-hearted air" which he mimics over this very dissonant chord by the strings, which distorts the lovely melody into something rather grotesque. The song battles back and forth until the end, the two princes arguing about who is in more pain because of love, finally agreeing that they must marry the two "unattainable" girls merely because they are princes who can have everything. The accompaniment is rather simple, merely pulsing out a waltzing triple meter, slowly rising and falling with the action in the words. The ingenious part is the clashing string sections, which take this sweet song and add this underlying ugliness about it. This whole show has this approach to it, making everything good have something sinister beneath it. This song is about how love can be selfish and just a display of power, and not genuine.

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