Musical Styles and Song Conventions

Paul Laird

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Musical Styles and Song Conventions

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The composers seeking appropriate music for the American musical theater have used many styles over the years. The popular music has changed greatly over the years but some old musical styles have stayed current in the theater for long. One of the composers, Lehman Engel, provides a useful typology in The American Musical Theater (1975) for songs in musicals. Broadway opera include several song types, such as the “I want” song and “eleven-o-clock number”. The most typical popular song form used on Broadway is a verse followed by a chorus or refrain. A verse is often rendered in speech rhythms, often over a simple, chordal accompaniment, somewhat like operatic recitative. An operetta score might include a variety of musical types, from the familiar strains of the waltz and march to contemporary popular music. Opera itself has also appeared on Broadway. The style includes virtuosic vocal writing for large voices and major segments of the show that are sung throughout. The most famous opera on Broadway was George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935), with vocal demands on the major characters necessitating that the show be double or triple cast for Broadway runs with eight performances per week. Jazz emerged as a popular musical style after World War I, and it was a major influence on musical theater. Folk music has been an occasional influence on musical theater and films and often appearing in shows where the plot or a particular character renders such music appropriate.

Keywords: American musical theater; opera; Broadway; jazz; blues; folk music; Latin music

Article.  6177 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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