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Music in 'A Streetcar named Desire'

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Claire Tierney

on 18 September 2017

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Transcript of Music in 'A Streetcar named Desire'

Music in 'A Streetcar named Desire'
Tennessee Williams use of Music
Music plays an important role in A Streetcar named Desire because it appears in almost every scene and stresses the atmosphere in a very distinct way. There are two main types of music used in the stage directions: the blue piano and the Varsouviana Polka. Each one appears in scenes which are occupied by a certain emotional state of the main character Blanche.
The Varsouviana Polka
In scene one the music sets the mood for Blanche's unstable reaction to hearing about her dead husband.
She cannot escape the memory of his death, and likewise the music...



Scene 2
From the Land of Sky-blue Water,
They brought a captive maid,
And her eyes they are lit with lightnings,
Her heart is not afraid!

But I steal to her lodge at dawning,
I woo her with my flute;
She is sick for the Sky-blue Water,
The captive maid is mute.
Scene 6 - 'Only a Paper Moon'
'Only a Paper Moon'
You say it's only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me
Yes, its only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me

Without your love it's a honky tonk parade
Without your love it's a melody played in a penny arcade
It's a barnum and bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me

Jelly Bean Blues

The lyrics of this eerie little folk song suggest a world of myth and legend which is certainly commensurate with the fantasy world inhabited by Blanche DuBois.
Can you draw any similarities with the lyrics?
“Paper Moon” - The song symbolises Blanche's relationship with Mitch

In Scene Seven, Blanche sings this popular ballad while she bathes. The song’s lyrics describe the way love turns the world into a “phony” fantasy. The speaker in the song says that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality, then it’s no longer “make-believe.” These lyrics sum up Blanche’s approach to life, and to Mitch. She believes that her 'act' is only her means of enjoying a better way of life and is therefore essentially harmless.

As Blanche sits in the tub singing “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Stanley tells Stella the details of Blanche’s sexually corrupt past. Williams ironically juxtaposes Blanche’s fantastical understanding of herself with Stanley’s description of Blanche’s real nature. In reality, Blanche is a sham who feigns propriety and sexual modesty. Once Mitch learns the truth about Blanche, he can no longer believe in Blanche’s tricks and lies.

The blue piano is first mentioned in the introductory stage directions of the first scene: “This ‘blue piano’ expresses the spirit of the life which goes on there” (Scene 1). Throughout the play, the blue piano always appears when Blanche is talking about the loss of her family and Belle Reve, but it is also present during her meeting and kissing the young newspaper man.

Therefore, the blue piano thus stands for depression, loneliness and her longing for love, which the adjective blue already suggests. This quality is not identical with the colour symbolism of blue. It describes Blanche’s emotions and represents her need for companionship and love, but also her hope, as the scene with the paper-boy shows. Mitch tells her in scene nine that he will not marry her due to her promiscuous past, “the distant piano is slow and blue". Later, in scene ten, it grows louder when she is on the phone trying to get in touch with Shep Huntleigh. In this situation, her hopes are rising, and so does the piano. In the last scene, Blanche is being taken away to a mental institution, and Stanley and his friends play poker again: “The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet” (Scene 11). Here, the blue piano, accompanying the card game, symbolises Stanley’s victory over Blanche.
The blue piano is first mentioned in the introductory stage directions of the first scene: “This ‘blue piano’ expresses the spirit of the life which goes on there” (Scene 1). Throughout the play, the blue piano always appears when Blanche is talking about the loss of her family and Belle Reve, but it is also present during her meeting and kissing the young newspaper man.

Therefore, the blue piano thus stands for depression, loneliness and her longing for love, which the adjective blue already suggests. This quality is not identical with the colour symbolism of blue. It describes Blanche’s emotions and represents her need for companionship and love, but also her hope, as the scene with the paper-boy shows. Mitch tells her in scene nine that he will not marry her due to her promiscuous past, “the distant piano is slow and blue". Later, in scene ten, it grows louder when she is on the phone trying to get in touch with Shep Huntleigh. In this situation, her hopes are rising, and so does the piano. In the last scene, Blanche is being taken away to a mental institution, and Stanley and his friends play poker again: “The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet” (Scene 11). Here, the blue piano, accompanying the card game, symbolises Stanley’s victory over Blanche.
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