Saturday, November 30, 2019

Putting it Together - Minuet Chorus

Today's post provides a rich backstory on my latest YouTube video, the "Minuet Chorus" from L. Frank Baum and Paul Tietjens's 1901 first draft version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This video recording marks the first time anyone has paired these lyrics to this music since 1901.

I am quite proud of this discovery, reuniting Baum's lyrics of the "Minuet Chorus" from  Act II of the 1901 first draft Wizard of Oz script with the original Tietjens music, though it took me awhile to fit the puzzle pieces together. While the "Minuet Chorus" was cut from the show by the next draft, Baum and Tietjens liked the music well enough that Baum wrote new lyrics for it, turning it into the "Poppy Song."

When I first obtained a copy of Baum's 1901 libretto I did not immediately make a connection between Baum's "Minuet chorus" lyrics and Tietjens's "Poppy" music, in part because Baum's lyrics seldom sit on the melody well, so the relationship of the "Minuet" lyrics to the published "Poppy Song" sheet music was not particularly evident. But the performance version of the "Poppy Song" in Witmark's stock-rental package contains a much longer version of the "Poppy Song," including a "B" section not in the sheet music version. The B section is part of the Poppy ballet in the produced show. This B section perfectly fits Baum's lines "Glide—with proud and stately stride!" I sang the "Minuet" lyrics to the full length Poppy arrangement and the rest of the words fell right into place.

Paul Tietjens was very proud of this piece of music. In November of 1903, when Tietjens was in New York City preparing to sail for Europe, he visited W. W. Denslow and his wife in their new NYC home. Also attending the dinner were Grace Duffie Boylan and Denslow's old friend Charles W. Waldron, who later wrote of that evening in the Lewiston [ME] Journal on Feb 17:
After dinner we listened to some of the finest music it has ever been my luck to hear, as Paul Tietjens treated us to selections from The Wizard of Oz. Some of the music was grand. A minuet from the opera was one of the sweetest numbers, full of melody and well balanced. It was a regret to the composer that more was not made of it in the opera. Denslow suggested that it could come in during a snow storm after the poppy field scene and should be stepped out by eight maidens dressed in spotless white and arrayed in furs. It was a happy thought and may be arranged in the future. This minuet should be as popular as the lullaby in Erminie. It was to my ear much prettier.
But Baum and Tietjens had been fond of this music even before it was introduced into the early draft of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Tietjens originally wrote the music for his first collaboration with Baum, the now-abandoned comic opera The Octopus.

Through Tietjens's journal we can follow the writing process of the song.

On the morning of April 18, 1901, Paul Tietjens arose and went for a morning walk. He'd had a quarrel with his friend Ike Morgan the night before and the two were not speaking to each other. After the walk Tietjens spent all morning working on his piano technique, took a break for lunch, and returned to the piano to continue his exercises. But during his afternoon exercises he developed "the nucleus of a Minuet. I think it promises to be a real good one." The next morning Tietjens and Morgan made up their differences at breakfast.

Ten days later, Tietjens again mentions that "the Minuet is in the nucleus," but makes it clear he intends to use it in Act II of The Octopus.

On May 4 Tietjens recorded, "I worked at the Minuet this morning and have now all of the material for it, but have not decided how to put it in the opera."

That evening Tietjens walked to the Studebaker Theatre to see The Pirates of Penzance, which Tietjens liked very much indeed.

The Pirates of Penzance at the Studebaker Theatre, Spring 1901.
[The Pirates of Penzance] is not the style of opera we are writing. The second act consisted of nothing but music, and the comic element was subordinated to it. While it has very little music in it that can be remembered or whistled by the average operagoer, it is replete with beautiful music that is not above the heads of the audience.
Tietjens also jotted down . . .
. . . a remark that was made by a young lady sitting behind me. She spoke of it not being funny in a dissatisfied sort of way. The people want to be amused after all, and that is the reason our opera ought to be a success, for it certainly is funny enough . . .
Tietjens continued his work on The Octopus, seemingly jumping from number to number, each in a different state of completion. On May 6, he noted, "Have made some alterations in the Minuet and have now gotten it almost the way I want it." Tietjens finished arranging "The Minuet" on May 9, 1901.

Years later, in the July 7, 1909, issue of the San Francisco Call, Baum told a fanciful story about how the Wizard of Oz stage show came to be written. Baum has compressed the history and deleted any mention of The Octopus, but he ends the story stating that Tietjens used the "Minuet" as an audition piece to entice Baum into adapting The Wizard of Oz for the stage.
[Tietjens] sat down at the piano and began to play. It was a minuet, a delicate, dreamy morceau, so dainty in conception, so rippling with melody that I drew a long breath when the last sweet notes died away. It was afterward the famous "Poppy chorus" in The Wizard of Oz.
While Baum's chronology is out of order, his fondness for Tietjens's melody seems authentic. The music began as a number in the Fancy-Dress Ball in The Octopus, it became a "Minuet Chorus" for the Attendants of the Wizard in the earliest draft of The Wizard of Oz, and finally found its home in the deadly Poppy Field.

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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