Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cavatina (From the Deer Hunter)

Cavatina is one of those magical instrumental pieces that can make a movie climb from just "very good" to "classic".   The emotional heft that this theme gave to "The Deer Hunter" made all the difference in the greatness of this picture  IMHO.

"Cavatina" is a 1970 classical guitar piece by Stanley Myers and best remembered as the theme from The Deer Hunter.

The piece had been recorded by classical guitarist John Williams, long before the film that made it famous. It had originally been written for piano but at Williams' invitation, Myers re-wrote it for guitar and expanded it. After this transformation, it was first used for the film The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded the song as "He Was Beautiful", accompanied by Williams.


When I was was playing guitar,  this was a number that I always wanted to get around to.   Unfortunately,  I never did.   I have now taken the opportunity to attempt a nice arrangement for piano.   Since Cavatina is most famous as an acoustic guitar piece,  it is not often covered as a piano song.    So there were not that many versions for me to listen to  for good ideas.  I really have enjoyed listening to the solo arrangement by Monty Alexander,   and the group arrangement by Kent Wehman.   Really nice jobs.

I think the trick with doing a jazz arrangement of this song is that you don't want to completely kill   the emotional qualities of the song.    I heard a couple of treatments  that made this sound like just any other jazz tune,  and I don't like that at all.

The song is in 3/4 time, and my arrangement is a jazz waltz.   The first intro verse is rubato.    There is no repeat of the A section, however.    Just one A and one B section are played.   I thought it would be a little too boring to repeat the A section in the intro. On Monty Alexander's solo effort,   he skips the repeat of the A section,  but actually plays the B section twice.   Very interesting.

I then have the trio come in for a full second verse,   then repeat the A melody section twice before ending.    It is a pretty short song overall.

I try to use some jazz-ier substitutions without hurting the beautiful character of the song.

- E7#9  instead of Em7 when it follows the Cmaj7
- C7b9  instead of just C7 when it is in a ii-V going to Fmaj7
- In the B section,  instead of the plain Am7-D7 Gmaj7 change,  I use Am7/Cm7/F7/Gmaj7
- tritone substitution of Db7 for the G7
- I have an ending that uses a Fm7/Bb7/C69/Ab13 set of changes

There are a couple of other ones in there too.

The Deer Hunter




John Williams




Monty Alexander

Kent Wehman




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