‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story (1958) by L. Bernstein Analysis – Anthology of Music

Bernstein’s music reflects the style of his age – bebop jazz and the blues. From bebop, we can see Bernstein’s use of dissonances and fast driving rhythms, and from the blues, the use of syncopation and blue notes. West side story combines these two elements as well as several Latin American dance rhythms.

The idea for West Side Story cam from the American choreographer, Jerome Robbins. His idea was to create a musical based on Shakespeare’s tragic drama Romeo and Juliet. The romantic world of Renaissance Italy was to be transformed into the run-down , violent world of the West Side of New York. The appealed to Bernstein, who wanted to write hard-hitting, jazz-inspired music about real human conflict and tensions in a harsh inner-city environment. For more information on Musical Theatre in America, click here.

The Music of the solo song ‘Something’s Coming’
In both the instrumental prologue and the ‘Jet Song’ before ‘Something’s Coming’, Bernstein has already stated the key musical elements that I will highlight in this song:

  • Dissonant notes (not nice sound).
  • Blues notes.
  • Syncopated rhythms permeating the music, including the ‘push’ rhythm anticipating the beat.
  • The tritone (none as ‘diabolus in musica’ or ‘devil in music’) – the tritone in ‘Something’s Coming’ involves a G#, A and D. 
  • Extensive use of short riffs.
  • Cross rhythms.
  • Combination of snappy short phrases and long sustained notes.
  • Layered textures of independent parts – listen to the orchestration!
  • Structure in verse/chorus.
  • Homophonic texture.
  • Use of a 3 note ostinato (repeats) with staccato achieves excitement.
  • It’s a jazz-inspired harmony.
  • The introduction provides a mood of excitement.
  • Range of dynamics from pp to f.

Overall, the main features you should point out of this solo song is that:

  • It is designed for a musical in 1950s.
  • Homophonic texture.
  • Follows structure of verse/chorus.
  • Uses ostinato.
  • Uses tritone to represent something bad is going to happen.
  • Syncopated rhythms.

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