A little while back, I was asked to provide a mix-tape for The Voice of Cassandra radio show. I confidently called it The Most Beautiful Tune in the World without hubris or fear of contradiction because the title is backed up by the facts. It will be broadcast at various places around the globe this week. Full details of where and when are here if you would like to listen to it amongst all the other things you have on – or here it is starting about 1 minute in on Mixcloud:
What do Ken Dodd and Serge Gainsbourg have in common? Or how about Leroy Homes and Sarah Brightman? And what do they all share with Muse and James Last?
The list could get much longer because they and many others have written or performed songs derived from one melody: that of Chopin’s Etude Op.10 No.3 in E Major
. Some have credited him, some haven’t but fortunately for all of them, music copyright does not extend back beyond the first couple of decades of the twentieth century.
If it did and if there was a still a Chopin estate, it would be very wealthy on the back of this sequence of notes alone. There is probably no need to analyse why when you have heard it – the composer himself considered it his most beautiful tune and one he couldn’t surpass.
Fairly early on, the poignancy of the melody led to it being christened “Pathetique”, “Farewell”
and most popularly: ‘”Tristesse'”
although Chopin himself never used that name. The titles of the various derivatives have often had a similar air of romantic melancholy: “Autumn in my Heart”, “My dreams of love”, “Never Again”
and so on.
The original has been used to improve the score of several movies and even recently a manga animation (Wakare No Kyooku). I have included a bit from that and from the 1943 film “I walked with a Zombie” because it is such a great movie.
The various derivatives vary in quality enormously. I had to leave out some (“Parting Person Melody” by Jolin Tsai Li Ren Jie for instance is unbearably awful). Jerry Vale’s ‘This Day of Days’ only made it because it sounds old and scratchy. The lyric makes me gag as I suspect would Jose Jose‘s ‘Divina Ilusion’ if my Spanish was any better. I quite like the corny Ken Dodd sixties hit “So deep is the night” (although it’s difficult to get into to a fully romantic mood thinking of Ken with his mad-hatter buck teeth and tickling stick). Most recently, those cheeky magpies Muse smuggled a bit of the melody into their Olympics piece “Survival” which also contained a bit of that other much copied classical tune Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (plus what sounds like Laurie Anderson’s “Oh Superman” and a couple of Queen songs..).
My personal favourites are the gorgeous ‘No other Love’ by Jo Stafford and of course ‘Lemon Incest’ by the Gainsbourgs – the latter being the only version which seems to have a healthily careless disregard for the romantic naivety of the original.