Irving Berlin’s ‘snow business’ – I love it!

Yes – there are Berlin tunes I love, but this piece in today’s New York Times is a gem in itself and started me digging for appropriate Youtube material. It begins:

IF you didn’t know better, had never been taught the proper technique, you might approach a piano with your hands flat and fingers splayed, as if instead of striking the keys you were going to dribble them. This may be why Irving Berlin, who never studied music except with his ear, favored the ebonies over the ivories when he first started playing. His melodies found their home among the black keys, making excursions as necessary to the white, with the result that the tunes all emerged in the absurd six-sharp thicket of F-sharp major or its corresponding D-sharp minor.

My first Youtube venture struck gold with a version of White Christmas I had not seen before. I should add that the story points out that this is the single most popular song ever recorded!

Why has Berlin lasted?

Others of the Big Five found their sound in the opera house, the dive, the theater, the boîte; Berlin found his in the street. This is what Kern meant when he said that Berlin had no place in American music: he was American music.

“There are composers who make you come to them, and there are composers who ask you to meet them halfway,” Mr. Pomahac said. “Of the Big Five, Berlin is the first one to race across the room and grab you by the lapels.”

And here’s a wonderful musical tribute – and brief bio of Berlin – on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

My grandson is fascinated with WWII which reminds me that one of my favorite songs when I was 12 – soldier songs – was this one. Talk about grabbing you by the lapels – by being ritical of the Army this song made me love it – in my 12-year-old fantasies!

And the article concludes quite nicely:

But his insistence, in melody if not always in words, that nothing lasts forever turned out to be a trick for the ages. Even in “God Bless America,” an anthem that sounds as if it were not composed but mined, the word “America” descends into tonal ambiguity as its syllables play out. The man couldn’t help it. As he wrote in another classic you can hear at the Marquis: “If my song can start you crying, I’m happy.”


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