Stephen Banfield's Sweeney Todd

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Throughout Sweeney Todd the plot is consistent. There are two main storylines (Todd and his revenge and Anthony and Johanna) that propel the action. Both storylines are easily to follow, making the flow of the piece stable. This stability provides a sense of continuity to Sweeney Todd. Sondheim communicates through Sweeney Todd with his use of leitmotifs and dialogue. He uses leitmotifs to communicate the relationship between the beggar woman, Johanna and Todd, although it may not be obvious. In “Green Finch and Linnet Bird”, Johanna briefly visits the weeping motive (“Alms . . . alms . . . for a mis’rable woman) which hints to Johanna’s relationship with the beggar and shows her flirtation with madness (Knapp, 334). Similarly, Todd sings…show more content…
However, there are a few moments of dialogue throughout the show. Although some of the parts which are spoken are due to Sondheim’s lack of time to write them before the show opened, this spoken dialogue creates a dramatic effect in Sweeney Todd (Block, 351). Sondheim scholar Stephen Banfield says, “Sweeney Todd, even if by authorial default at this point, demonstrates the dramatic potency and rightness of music’s self-denial in this genre that is not opera, just as Maria’s final speech does in West Side Story” (Block, 351). Banfield compares the dialogue at the end of Sweeney Todd to a moving moment in West Side Story. Maria’s speech was originally intended to be sung, however, both Bernstein and Sondheim were unable to create an aria that would effectively communicate the emotion they wanted the audience to feel at the end of the show (Block, 295). While this was not necessarily Sondheim’s intent, some might say that it was the effect achieved. Sondheim’s use of both Classical and Romantic elements are a firm foundation for the Modernism in Sweeney Todd. A modernist is a “composer who made a radical break from the musical language of their predecessors and contemporaries while maintaining strong links to the tradition” (Grout, A11). There is no doubt that Sondheim was a modernist and Sweeney Todd proves just that. Sondheim used all of the elements mentioned previously and made them his own. Due to its spoken and sung nature,…show more content…
One example of this is “Green Finch and Linnet Bird”, a ballad sung by Johanna. While the melody is tuneful, the harmonic support is unusual. Swanye compares Sondheim to Prokofiev in this piece. Prokofiev was a Russian modernist composer (Grout, 889). The unexpected harmonic progression provided by the orchestra for the melody is almost identical to the Prokofiev style (Swayne, 27). Another way Sondheim made Sweeney Todd a Modern work was through inspiration from his predecessors. Sondheim drew inspiration from many places when composing Sweeney Todd. He used Sweeney Todd to pay homage to Bernard Herrmann, a famous film composer known for movies such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Psycho (Grout, 916). On this inspiration Sondheim is quoted as saying, “What I wanted to write was a horror movie . . . there’s a chord I kept using throughout, which is sort of a personal joke, because it’s a chord that occurred in every Bernard Herrmann score” (Block, 353). This inspiration provides Sweeney Todd with a very modern and film-like feeling as opposed to the Romantic and Classical sound of his predecessors. Sondheim also used the Gregorian chant, Dies irea, as previously mentioned and

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