27 October 2015

Post 284: 'C'EST SI BON'

The period between 1940 and 1980 was a Golden Age for popular music. Songs had words that were important and worth listening to, with a narrative and drama; and those words were articulated clearly by great singers, accompanied by a real, accomplished pianist or band or orchestra, playing from an arrangement that would include adventurous harmonies, changes in rhythm and key; and even accelerandos, rallentandos and pauses.

Some of the best tunes came from France. One of them was C’est Si Bon.

It is a catchy, happy, leaping tune. But I particularly admire the extraordinarily adventurous harmonies, as well as the surprises in the melody.

You will remember that it begins:
Already, after the anacrusis, we find the opening accented note (the E flat) is the fourth note of the Bb scale. This is an unusual opening gambit, though not totally uncommon. But look too at the harmonies:
We start on the chord of C minor 7th; and it will take the whole of the first eight bars to establish that we are in fact in the Key of Bb.

We soon begin to feel that – in structure - this is going to be one of those conventional 32-bar tunes, shaped A – A – B – A.

But two more daring developments are in store.

First, the ‘middle eight’ (Section B) begins with an amazing melodic line. Remember we are in the key of Bb; and yet the melody descends the scale of Db! On the face of it, this seems simply not do-able. What on earth can the composer be playing at? And yet – when you have heard it a few times and become accustomed to it – you have to admit the trick works just perfectly.
Here again, the harmonies add to our sense of amazement.
How often would you find a popular tune in Bb that included the chords of B natural, Db7th and Gb? Nowhere else, I guess.

The second half of this ‘middle eight’ returns us eventually to the secure ground of Bb.

We move into what we think will be the final eight, only to discover that the melody goes stratospheric in the 7th and 8th bars, leading into a further ‘final eight’.

So in fact we have a 'final sixteen' and the complete tune comprises 40 bars, not the expected 32.

How daring is that?

C’est Si Bon was composed by Henri Betti in 1947, and its words were written by André Hornez. Betti, who died in 2005 at the age of 87, was – you may not be surprised to hear – a classically-trained pianist who made a good living as a writer of music for films.

As usual, having worked on C'est Si Bon, I wrote it out on mini filofax paper so that I have an aide-mémoire and also so that I could learn it by heart to avoid boredom on a bus journey. I put it in to the key of C, which is how I fancy it as a Bb trumpet player.