Blue Moves
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Live Solo Piano Version
Key: Dm || Cm || Dm Structure: A-A-B || C-D-D-D || A

Tonight is one of what we might call Elton's epic compositions. It features two distinct sections, the first one being an instrumental, and a total length of just under 8 minutes. This is probably as close to classical music as Elton has ever gotten, a point I'll discuss in greater length. This particular version was another part of Elton's fabulous solo tour as performed October 15th/16th, 1999 at Madison Square Gardens, New York. (Elton's piano triggers a synthesizer through portions of the song, providing a string sound.)

The original Blue Moves version featured the incredible orchestrations of James Newton Howard. Howard graduated from USC with a classical piano degree, but was hugely interested in how to use an orchestra in the pop-rock medium. He was a big fan of Buckmaster's work with Elton's first few albums and had been quoted as saying the strings in "Levon" and "Tiny Dancer" were seminal pieces in the history of popular music. He welcomed the opportunity to work with Elton for several years, appearing on six albums and touring for two years. From the reputation he gained with Elton, Howard moved on to work with artists such as Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Neal Diamond and many other major stars. He is now one of the great film soundtrack composers, doing several major films a year.

Now let's talk about this performance. Tonight is a song that presents emotions, both musically and lyrically, as it takes the listener through the journey of a relationship that is falling apart.

The first section presents the melancholy opening theme. It's a sad yet hesitant theme that is built from a simple motif that's repeated in D-minor, B-flat and G-minor. It's voiced in a manner to give it elegance, using sixths and octaves. For the most part, restatements of this theme use the same approach, although Elton will shift octaves and dynamics so that the theme is never repeated in note-for-note exactness.

[Note for pianists: although not always the case, Elton tends to play with a heavy thumb. For the octaves in the right hand, he leads with his thumb.]

We find here some of the most significant left hand work that we've ever seen from Elton. Although staying within simple harmonic boundaries, the left hand provides a bed to support the right hand theme. Elton plays it with great expressiveness, his phrasing incorporating dynamic and tempo swings in the classical tradition. The 4-bar theme ends with a dramatic Am7-sus4 voiced as a quartal.

From a classical composition standpoint, Elton does not expand his themes using devices such as theme development, exposition, or call-and-response techniques. Rather Elton uses the piano to state the theme and then leaves it to Howard to work these into the orchestra. This is fairly standard in the pop format and its why I tend to refer to this as quasi-classical - it has the sound of classical music, but its simpler structure is easier for the audience to digest.

After the first 8, Elton takes off into a rumbling section in A. This is a colorful and menacing followup, perhaps expressing an anger or mounting rage that is purely designed for the orchestra. It also sounds great in this solo piano rendition, with the repetitive left hand figure providing the low rumble while he replicates the fast moving strings with his right hand. It resolves up a half step into a Bb mixolydian run that jumps in 4ths, Bb - Eb - Ab, up the keyboard.

The harmonic contrast of this second 6 from the first 8 is magnificient, perhaps representing the conflicting emotions. The run up the keyboard resolves neatly back to D-minor.

After repeating the entire 14-bar section, Elton resolves his piano run to Eb to begin the second section of this song. In this section we shift to something a little more familiar to Elton fans. Elton uses his 4-note arpeggiating style with 16th notes in the right hand and octaves in the left hand. It starts with a melody neatly woven in Elton's right hand in kind of a tinkly piano style. The harmony uses a descending bassline starting from the Db, the flat-7th of the tonic.

The first section can be viewed as presenting the conflict between the emotions of sadness and anger. This section serves to calm things down before the singer finally begins to express his feelings lyrically. The Eb gradually evolves into its relative minor key of C-minor. Rather than the simple 4-bar theme statements of the previous section, this section evolves and slowly moves towards a target.

After all of the emotional build up of the instrumental portion, we finally reach the song itself.

[Note for pianists: As always, the pianist should observe the voicing. Elton anchors either the bottom note or the top note in his right hand with either the thumb or the 4th or 5th finger. This helps to provide a smooth legato phrasing to his 4-note arpeggio figures.]

The song uses a straight verse - verse - verse structure. The title of the song is stated at the beginning of the first 2 lines of each verse. No chorus per se. The odd number of lines works out to an 18-bar song structure. This is merely a reminder that Elton and Bernie have worked with and created songs with diverse structures throughout their career.

After a brief restatement of the opening section, Elton ends the song with a grand classical flourish. I've done my best to suggest how to play this run up and down the keyboard.

While Tonight never gained the stature of some of Elton's other so-called epic compositions, it has grown in reputation over the years. It has become recognized as a significant accomplishment and Elton's fans love to hear it in concert.