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Carla-Etude
ALBUM
The Fox
DATE
1981
33 KB
11 KB
157 KB
ARRANGEMENT
Studio Version
DATE
1981
Key: B Structure: A-A-B-B-C-C-D-D
 

You know, deconstructing a song in order to create these midi files allows me to gain an appreciation of a song in a way that no other process can. I was aware of Carla / Etude; I thought it was nice, and I heard Elton play it solo in 1999, but I can tell you now that THIS IS ONE INCREDIBLE PIECE OF WORK. I’ve provided both the full orchestral version and the piano solo version for your enjoyment.

Overview
Carla / Etude is an instrumental tune with a classical sound. Yes, yes, yes Elton creates a wonderful piano landscape that sets the tone, but in my mind this song comes alive because of James Newton Howard. Howard had quickly established himself as a master of creating lush orchestral arrangements for pop music’s biggest stars when he got involved with Elton in the late 70s. This song is one of many where Howard shows his brilliance. He’s since moved on to become one of the great film composers of our time.

For more well rounded music lovers, Carla is probably best characterized as quasi-classical. That's not a knock on the music, but lets not confuse it with Beethoven either. Elton sticks to triad harmony throughout. His melodies are certainly strong and well crafted, but he repeats them rather than developing and expanding them in the classical tradition. His structure is simple and follows pop sensibilities, primarily working in a 4-bar framework and moving from one short section to another.

Elton's Piano
Elton exhibits none of his trademark playing style in this song, preferring an approach that is more like a traditional cocktail piano style as played by thousands of pianists in bars around the world. Hallmarks of this style include the left hand playing up and down arpeggios in 8ths or quarter note intervals. Elton doesn't fill up a lot of space with his right hand playing, doesn’t do his Mozart style arpeggiating, doesn’t do his syncopated rhythm stuff, doesn't riff. No. He just concentrates on the melody, keeping it very simple with just basic chord support.

One of the keys to achieving this classical sound is that Elton rarely plays on the root of his harmonies, using voicings that are open and expand the triad palette of sound quite a bit. The result is a strong counter melody in the bass that Howard absolutely capitalizes on with his orchestration. Another key to Carla is that while Elton uses a rigid pop structure, his chord patterns by contrast are much looser. The chords flow effortlessly from one key to another in a rather deft fashion that allows the song to evolve and stay interesting.

Orchestration
Of course, this song gives Howard tremendous room to explore an amazing assortment of orchestral riffs that are woven in and out and around the melody. His orchestra includes strings, acoustic brass (french horn) and woodwinds (flute, oboe and bassoon) which he combines in different ways to create different textures and moods under Elton’s playing. A 4-bar melody will be accompanied one time with the entire orchestra, providing a triumphant and grand sound. The next time, that same 4-bar melody might be accompanied by a flute and a bassoon, achieving a more delicate mood. The variations are staggering and it reveals Howard to be a truly gifted orchestrator. Its very different from Paul Buckmaster’s efforts: grander, more sophisticated, more counter melodies, greater use of the orchestral sections to create different colors.

Here's one brief example of Howard's brilliance. The flutes start the line in bar 37. Then the oboe joins in on the lower harmony in the next bar. Then the oboe finishes the line in the next 2 bars with the flutes shifting to a supporting role. The arrangement is just packed with these little nuggets.

Listen to the lines folks. Listen to the way the instruments interplay, exchanging the lead role, the flute hands off to the violin, the french horn picks it up. This is a thing of beauty. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.