What makes a melody beautiful, interesting or memorable?
I wish I knew the formula to make that happen. Of course, there is no “formula” (fortunately). But we can all look back at songs we know of and make these sorts of assertions.Here we will look at examples of melodies and deconstruct them for the purpose of shedding light on the craft of songwriting.
On a big poster you could write the names of all 600+ songs Franz Schubert wrote in his 31 years on the planet, throw a dart and hit a gem. Let’s look at his song An Die Musik. The song was once sung (really well) by Garret Morris on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (The gag was joke text scrolling by as he sang).
The song is an homage to music, as you can see in the english translation (it doesn’t translate very well from the original German):
Oh lovely Art, in how many gloomy hours,
When life’s fierce orbit entangled me,
Have you kindled my heart to warmer love,
have you carried me away into a better world!
How oft’ has sighs, flown from your harp–
A sweet, sacred chord from you–
Unlocked for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you for this,
You lovely art, I thank youI
Looking at this song from a compositional standpoint, let’a see if there are any clues as to why the song works so well. There is just enough intro (2 bars) to establish the key and to set the singer up, that is, enable the singer to get the beginning in his/her head. The bass in the piano does that, and the pattern is echoed throughout the rest of the song. Then the intro resolves to home key in the 1st beat of the 3rd bar, Now it’s the singer’s turn. When it goes to the IV chord, the piano’s high note changes, and “clues” the singer for the chord change (bar 7). It goes the the relative minor after that, and back home, setting up the piano. The piano then does an interesting sequence to get to the I, where the singer comes back in; but that line is mostly on the V chord, and the piano is right there with it. Shortly, the piano part plays an obvious build-up to move the the IV chord, which soon becomes B minor, the climax of the song. Then the vocal line’s movement brings us to the end of the 1st verse. The piano interlude, bringing us around to the 2nd verse is memorable. It even briefly includes a lydian mode IV chord, and later, an E min/maj 9th chord.