[Monday’s Note No. 43] Bing Crosby was an actor and singer, a great interpreter of the American Songbook. Taking advantage of technological advances such as more sensitive microphones and the radio, Bing Crosby was among the first to adopt a whispery, intimate and confidential singing style. We hear him here in his interpretation of a famous Christmas song, White Christmas.
White Christmas is a song composed in 1942 by Irvin Berlin, one of the greatest composers of American music. It is said that the song was proposed to Frank Sinatra, who declined it as a weak piece.
If this is indeed what happened, Sinatra was very much mistaken! Bing Crosby made it one of his biggest hits, and made the song a true Christmas classic, on a par with older songs such as Adeste Fideles or Silent Night.
The melody of White Christmas has an exclusively chromatic beginning, in the first four measures moving in semitones. In the following measures 5-8, the theme moves diatonically on the A major scale.
White Christmas alternates semibreve notes and quarter notes. At measure 4 the theme lingers on the word Christmas, which is emphasised by the D# E chromaticism and by the rhythmic shift created by the quarter note-dotted minim sequence (1/4 + 3/4).
The arrangement of the song is rather predictable, as is to be expected from a Christmas song. However, Bing Crosby’s performance is of the highest quality. For example, at minute 0′ 44” the singer prolongs the word snow for a full five seconds, with a control of sound that is astonishing, as the note is attacked and maintained with pianissimo (pp) dynamics.
During the choir’s performance of the theme (1’29”), the singer then whistles a delightful counterpoint passage (2’09”).
The character created around the figure of Bing Crosby today appears stereotyped and outdated, that of the ‘good father and good American’. Nevertheless, Bing Crosby was an extremely talented and capable singer, and his music retains all its charm.
Until next Monday!