Sunday, June 28, 2015

'Sincere Flattery'

One of the most common phrases to describe Elton is that he's the ultimate musical magpie. Taking bits and bobs from here and there and making it his own. But he's also a bit of a stork, delivering influences far and wide. 

To highlight this I'm looking at some classical pieces that undoubtedly have possibly lent themselves (at least to this untrained ear!) in terms of influence on Elton and then I'll look at another piece that has an (possibly) unmistakable influence taken from Elton. When he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London he unconsciously (as do most reluctant students!) took on board more than he thought during his time there. If the building blocks of basic structure were indeed just that, he soaked up how those blocks could be built into a super structure. Like a sponge he took on board the multiple facets of his art. But like a real sponge he works both ways. When you squeeze him a mix of musical juices that were a combination of what he learned and what was his own personality spilled out. The depth, breadth and width of what makes 'Elton John' the composer is truly epic.

Schubert - Impromptu No. 3 in G flat major Op. 90 (D899)

This piece played by the 'go to' interpreter of solo piano pieces, Alfred Brendel, is a fairly clear example of Elton delving into a timeless melody and subconsciously giving it a new twist. A well known piece in the piano repertoire of any student or teacher, the obvious traits of this piece are clear to hear on FFF/LLB, especially on the solo live version with Ray Cooper. The carefully paced steady progression treads a path we know very well. Slower here, Elton's brisker adaption is carefully judged. The contrast of intense and contemplative passages is also trawling familiar ground, never at odds with each other but merely jostling lightly for equal attention.

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

The buildup to the climatic conclusion of Carla/Etude has certainly been influenced in no small part here. And what makes this even more special is the fact that's its a non piano work so again Elton's classical studies were broad and engaging. The second movement is what we're interested in here, but only a small part of it. It's great piece but if you don't have time to listen to it in full, then listen from 18:53 to 19:04 to hear a fragment of the theme or motif that appears throughout the movement that has more than hint of familiarity; the progressive nature of the melody is highlighted by the more urgent woodwind arrangement of James Newton Howard replacing the violin interpretation for a subtle yet crucial transfer to the final overture of what is without question one of Elton's (and by default because of it's arrangement, James Newton Howard) finest moments.

Arvo Pärt Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten 

This piece is highly unusual but the most striking part of it, the sudden stop, should be familiar to Elton listeners. But that's not the only element of familiarity at play here. The original version of Sixty Years On with the device of it's bare naked strings coming to life is very much in evidence here. Buckmaster's arrangement starts slowly and broods steadily but has possibly been taken one step further here. With the added tolling bell, the individual elements are with a greater sense of foreboding and a quite deliberate corralling of the elements into forming one body mass. At the same time the sound becomes heavier and darker full of self generating power. Almost overwhelming us in grief (as it's intention is) the sudden stop into bleak nothingness is only broken by the fade of the bell toll.

The composer in all likelihood may not have ever heard the original version of Sixty Years On whilst living under the cloud of the USSR, but then again we do know they were resourceful in hearing Western music during those times. So it's not beyond the realms of possibility Pärt may have stumbled upon it, accidentally or otherwise.

What have we deduced? Elton never went down the Eric Carmen route thankfully but as we can see he slipped in tiny, tasteful elements of his vast music knowledge (probably more vast than even the most wildest imaginations can imagine) and making his own material even more fulfilling. Plus we can only speculate on how his own influence has spread far and wide. Maybe further than even he imagines... 

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