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Music: the Blue Piano and the Varsouviana

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Nicole Palmer

on 10 June 2014

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Transcript of Music: the Blue Piano and the Varsouviana

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In
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams, symbols like the blue piano and Varsouviana polka music are used throughout the progression of the play. Both are strong symbols of emotion, primarily for Blanche. After losing Belle Reve, their plantation, Blanche comes to stay with her sister Stella and Stella's husband, Stanley. Considering Blanche's past, both with her first husband committing suicide and the consequential events following, Blanche clearly has some emotional damage. Thus it comes as a minimal surprise that that damage shows through her actions towards Stella, Stanley, and others in the play.
Overview
Varsouviana
The Varsouviana polka is another example of how music acts as a symbol in
Streetcar
. At first, the song is mysterious, with no explanation as to why it appears. However, we soon learn that the Varsouviana was playing when Blanche's first husband committed suicide, and she began her downward spiral into insanity. After this event, Blanche loses her reputation as a 'Southern Belle' of sorts, and starts a new life of promiscuity, highlighted by the Varsouviana.
"[Polka music sounds, in a minor key faint with distance.] "We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance, the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later--a shot!"

"
(Blanche telling Mitch about her husband, Scene 6, page 355)
"The Varsouviana music steals in softly and continues playing. Stella rises abruptly and turns her back. Blanche tries to smile. Then she tries to laugh. Then she gives up both and runs into the next room. She clutches her throat and then runs into the bathroom. Coughing, gagging sounds are heard."
(Stanley gives Blanche a bus ticket for her birthday, Scene 8, page 377)
" "Flores para los muertos." [The polka tune fades in] "
(Blanche is confronted with the thought of death and desire when approached by the Mexican woman, Scene 9, page 388)
"She rushes past him into the bedroom. Lurid reflections appear on the walls in odd, sinuous shapes. The 'Varsouviana' is filtered into a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. Blanche seizes the back of a chair as if to defend herself."
(Blanche is about to be taken away by the doctor, at the peak of her insanity, Scene 11, page 414)
Conclusion
The musical component of the play was crucial to dynamic events occurring, including Blanche's interactions with others, like her arguments with Mitch and Stanley, to her own personal flashbacks to her late husband's death. Music is arguably the most important symbol in the play. It foreshadows the mental decline of Blanche and highlights the events that are seemingly responsible for her slippery slope into madness. Considering Blanche's deterioration of sanity is ultimately the climax of the play (particularly Stanley raping her and the time following) the music helps indicate that these events and Blanche as a character are both hugely vital to the story as a whole, and most prominently contribute to the theme or purpose of the play.

Blue Piano
The "blue piano" music arises at different points in the play, all seemingly unique, but have Blanche in common, or more specifically, her rising emotions. The music is especially loud when she argues, often with Stanley. It serves to highlight her extreme emotions when Blanche is presented with a situation that either concerns conflict, desire, or both.
"In the ensuing pause, the blue piano is heard. . . Without waiting for him to accept, she crosses quickly to him and presses her lips to his."
(Blanche and the Delivery Boy, Scene 5, page 339)
"The barely audible 'blue piano' begins to drum up louder. The sound of it turns into the roar of an approaching locomotive. Blanche crouches, pressing her fists to her ears until it has gone by."
(Blanche in conflict with Stanley, before the climax of the play, Scene 10, page 400)
"Blanche slowly nods her head and Stella looks slowly down at her hands folded on the table. The music of the 'blue piano' grows louder. Blanche touches her handkerchief to her forehead."
(Blanche and Stella discuss Belle Reve, Scene 1, page 261)
" The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling of the 'blue piano' and the muted trumpet."
(Blanche is taken away by the Doctor and the Matron, Scene 11, page 419)
Nicole Palmer, Amy Stevenson & Rachel Stelmach
Music: the Blue Piano and the Varsouviana
Quotes and Scenes
p. 268, 355, 376, 379, 380-381, 388-389, 406 411, 414 (Varsouviana)

p. 261, 243, 306, 400, 401, 419, 339, 390




Varsouviana
Full transcript