Poetry in Harmony for the Common Listener – The Crisis by Ennio Morricone

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To the untrained ear, masterful compositions can seem to be the result of darts thrown at a dartboard with musical passages as targets. Although many would agree that music is especially moving to its listeners, articulating exactly why that is can be difficult. Of course, lyrics are relatable. But if you stop and think for a second, is it really the lyrics that give you chills? Are lyrics what make you want to get up and dance or, on the contrary, sit down and sink into a tank of introspection? The power of music is spoken not through lyrics, but through harmonies that subliminally manipulate the human soul.

A crisis can be defined as a point in time noted for its immense danger and lack of a clear resolution. Such is the reason why there is no better title for Ennio Morricone’s The Crisis. The crisis in question can be heard within the first seconds of audio, and it relentlessly exists throughout the entire composition, even serving as the closing statement. Upon the first listening, we might wonder why it is that such a harsh occurrence is allowed to be so prevalent. What the listener experiences, though, is the result of two key notes in music fighting for dominance. The dissonance (a combination of tones considered to be unresolved or uncompleted) is centered on what defines a song as in a major key or minor key – major keys typically being associated with satisfaction and minor keys typically being associated with unrest. The two notes being struck simultaneously represent the crushing, overwhelming combination of satisfaction and unrest. The two emotional states compete – as do the two notes – each having a tendency to resolve to the other but also to stubbornly stand ground, ultimately resulting in a most fatal stalemate.

When The Crisis begins, the dissonance is faint and almost unperceivable (0:02), similar to the human tendency to deny the presence of unrest within general satisfaction. As the dissonance becomes more noticeable, the underlying melodic line continues with little interruption (0:37 onward); life can continue in the face of emotional compromise. Eventually, though, even foundations are interrupted. As we further approach the climax of The Crisis, the music begins to suffer side effects of the ongoing battle. Time slightly shifts, but the melody persists and breaks free! (1:36-1:47) This is a crisis, though, and such success is not allowed to exist for more than a short while. The battle returns with fading energy (1:54 onward), and it eventually slows to the acceptance of its inevitable fate (2:36). The crisis remains unresolved, and we are tactfully left without a resolution.

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