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The Melody Lingers On: Mystery solved

Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I've found thee
Oh, at last I know the secret of it all
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
The idle hopes, and joy and burning tears that fall…

Tony Thornton, Open Writing’s star columnist, the man with a song in his heart, writes about one particular song which affects him deeply.

Tony also introduces us to a wonderful new book, The Films of Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy. (See links at the end of this column)

Fifty years ago, I sat in a factory window overlooking a canal in Burnley. I was whistling the most emotive tune ever written: Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life. It came from Victor Herbert's operetta Naughty Marietta (considered to be his masterpiece), set in 18th century New Orleans. I’d just seen the film at the Bug Hut and the song stuck in my head.

I had no musical training yet this tune overpowered the pop tunes of the day and has remained with me ever since.

Naughty Marietta was originally presented on 7 Nov 1910 at the New York Theatre. In the 1935 film, the song is sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (their first film together). I urge you to watch it. The song is hinted at early on by a snatch of the melody and this charges you with anticipation – like setting up a chessboard, opening a bottle of wine or watching a theatre curtain go up. When it comes, at the climax to the film, you will be gripped by the passion and intensity of the most endearing duet in cinema history.

I watched the film last week for the first time in 50 years and the song affected me just as deeply as it did by the canal.

It’s interesting to note that Jeanette starts the singing in D major. Nelson, being a baritone then sings two tones down in Bb major. They then sing together in Db major but Nelson sings the harmony lower down. These seamless key changes add magic to, what for me is, a tearful experience.

I have special reasons for recounting this story. The factory window was where I started work and across the room were two lads, Tom and Ron. The three of us became great friends and we were reunited this year after 50 years apart. 2006 also marks the issue of The Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy – a book by my dear friend Eleanor Knowles Dugan.

And so I dedicate this story to these three. After all, a great thing about having a column is that I can use it to honour my friends.

Click here: The Films of Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy by Eleanor Knowles http://www.amazon.com/Films-Jeanette-Macdonald-Nelson-Eddy/dp/1419601008/sr=8-1/qid=1157575405/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-3683275-7448812?ie=UTF8&s=books

www.jeanettemacdonaldandnelsoneddy.com

Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life
These glorious lyrics are by Rida Johnson Young. After reading them, if the mystery isn’t solved for you – it never will be.

Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I've found thee
Oh, at last I know the secret of it all
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
The idle hopes, and joy and burning tears that fall
For 'tis love and love alone the world is seeking
And ‘tis love and love alone I've waited for
And my heart has heard the answer to its calling
For it is love that rules for ever more

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