Monday Notes

Jack Haley, If I Only Had a Heart. A fable about artificial intelligence

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[Monday Notes no. 68] Although the most famous song from the musical film The Wizard of Oz is Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the most important song for the unfolding of the story is undoubtedly If I Only Had a Heart. The song is performed in turn by Dorothy’s three companions: the tin man, the scarecrow and the fearful lion.

In singing this song, each of the three characters reveals their greatest weakness: the lack of a heart for the tin man, of a brain for the scarecrow and of courage for the fearful lion.

The Wizard of Oz was made in 1939 and marked the consecration of an astounding Judy Garland, just 16 years old. The Tin Man was instead played by Jack Haley, also an amazing actor, who was also skilled in singing and dancing.

The song has become timely in more recent years as it is associated with a much debated topic: that of artificial intelligence. At a time when self-driving cars are starting to circulate and there is debate about what decisions can be entrusted to a computer, the song of the tin man who wishes he were alive but knows he is not, comes back into relevance.

It is no coincidence that in the famous 1990s sci-fi TV series Star Trek The Next Generation, the robot called Data often invokes the song of the Tin Man to express his own dilemma as a partly living, partly artificial creature.

Data, star trek TNG
In the TV series ‘Star Trek The Next Generation’, Data is a robot but his nature is at least partly human.

Musically, the piece is a kind of march. The harmony of part A is built on a perfect cadence II V I (in the key of E♭ ).

If I Only Had a Heart, Part A

If I Only Had a Heart - parte A
The first part of the song is built on the II V I cadence

Part B is more interesting and features a short modulation to the relative minor Cm (measures 21-22). The piece is on the whole very simple and lacking in surprises, the melody composed entirely of eighth notes allows the lyrics of the song to be emphasised, functional to the unfolding of the story. The film’s soundtrack was composed by a great master of American song: Harold Arlen.

If I Only Had a Heart, Part B

If I Only Had a Heart - parte B
Nella parte centrale il brano modula alla tonalità relativa minore, Cm

When a driverless car cuts you off or is quicker than you to occupy a parking space, don’t get angry. Think of the inner conflict of that poor machine: certainly more skilful than you at driving, but still without a heart…

Until Next Monday

Download the sheet music with the transcription of the song

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