It is perhaps debatable whether music written for (or inspired by) a city owes what endurance it receives from its compositional elements, or from the subject of its lyrics. “New York, New York” may extol the energy of the “Big Apple” in its libretto; but its crescendo-building melody line is also in consonance with a city whose musical time signature is definitely not “3/4”. “Chicago” has an unmistakable brashness befitting a city that calls its mayor: “Hizonner,” and its sports teams “Da Bears” and “Da Bulls”.
Like city-inspired poetry and humor, it’s a city’s “personality” and culture that often prompt the musical muse. The reciprocal association between forms of music, and even dominant instrumentation, and certain cities, frequently becomes unmistakable: Viennese waltzes, festive bossa novas in Rio, melancholy balalaika ballads in Moscow, romantic mandolin folksongs in Naples, “Dixie” in New Orleans. In other cases the association between a composition and a particular city may owe more to titular association than anything else; hence, songs such as “Charleston,” “Kansas City,” “Avalon,” and dozens of “blues” arrangements, such as “St. Louie Blues,” in which the urban modifier often seems gratuitous. On reflection it turns out that a lot of songs (not to mention symphonic music) are inspired by cities and have cities in their titles. Below are a score of opportunities to play “name (the city in) that tune.”
©2004, ©2015, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.1.2004)