Rodgers and Hammerstein: Bali Hai

September 13, 2008

Remember this one? I had once thought that it was John and Yoko that were the trail blazers for Asian-Caucasian relationships, but no, South Pacific was. I looked at the population statistics for Hawaii and saw a huge spike right after this movie came out. But it wasn’t until after 1968 that interracial relationships were legal in America.

As I listened to the score of SOUTH PACIFIC, one of the most important harmonic colors is sharp-4. The sharp-4 (on the syllable ‘Hai’ in Bali Hai) gives a feeling of exoticism. The parallel chords in the introduction to this song evoke impressionism––a style that was also strongly influenced by the East (Debussy heard the Balinese gamelan in the 1894 Worlds Fair). The final chord of the song has a tonic add-6 chord that gives the impression of a magical hovering, not unlike that magical island in the distance in the film.

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Brad Wood September 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm

Regarding sharp 4: a lot of that going on in The King and I as well, another lovely R&H work.

I am so glad that Messiaen redeemed for me the chord of the added sixth (it could have been someone else, name begins with B—but Olivier was first). Doug Dutton and I used to practically barf when we heard it in pop music—but in defense, we were in our trying-hard-to-be-sophisticated teens.

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