Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long since my last blog post. I finally found a new subject that I thought would be perfect. Also apologies for the lack of formatting. I'm writing this from my phone on a train in Rome. When I get to a laptop I'll clean it up.
In this article we're going to examine a device used by John Williams in many of his love themes. In the past I've examined how he uses the harmonic minor to great effect. Here we are going to look at his usage of the melodic minor.
The technique again relies on starting with a major chord which feels like a tonic chord but turns out to be a dominant chord. This time we do move to the minor tonic but we make a point of using the melodic minor scale adding a major sixth to the minor triad, either in the harmony or prominently in the melody.
For example Princess Leia's Theme uses this technique with the opening harmony going from G to Cm6. The A note is very prominent over the Cm.
Similarly Marion's Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark uses this device. Again it works beautifully for that poignant sound.
You may also notice James Horner using the same device in his track Jenny from The Rocketeer. Clearly he was being asked to create a love theme in the Williams mould here.
A variation on this is Williams' wonderful bittersweet theme Han Solo and the Princess introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (32 years ago - wow it really is 'a long time ago').
For this beautiful chromatic theme, we open with the same device going from the V to the i using F# melodic minor but then Williams introduces a new chord derived from the harmonic or natural minor. This is the bVI chord which is D. For the final turnaround, he makes this into an augmented sixth (enharmonically the same as a dominant seventh chord but with different function and voice leading) which leads back to the V chord.
C# F#m6 D Daug6 C#
So the D is a German sixth which is spelled D F# A B#.
Ok so a very quick post today but hopefully useful and enough to spur some interesting discussion. I'm sure there are plenty more examples of this device in the film music and classical world. I'd love to hear your thoughts.