Analysis- Stairway to Heaven – Assignment

Analysis- Stairway to Heaven – Assignment Words: 1339

Through ineffective manipulation of structure, timbre and melody, Victor Lopez’s short version of Stairway to Heaven fails to convey the same mood and effect on the listener as the original classic piece by Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page, lead guitarist of hard rock band Led Zeppelin, and composer of Stairway to Heaven, once said with reference to the album this piece was released on, “My vocation is more in composition really than anything else – building up harmonies using the guitar, orchestrating the guitar like an army, a guitar army”.

Victor Lopez’s variation of Stairway to Heaven unsuccessfully attempts to capture the same style and mood, given its complete change in genre and lack of sensitivity towards the original structure, timbre and melody. The structure of the original Stairway to Heaven plays a great role in determining the mood of this piece, the progressively revealed growth in all musical aspects surrounding the composition, helps to portray the gradual impressiveness of this imaginative piece.

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Stairway to Heaven develops depth and emotion throughout the entire song, starting very simply and gradually delivering more complexity and intensity from 2:14 onwards. There is a clear build up as the piece progresses with the addition of new instruments (2:14), an increase in tempo (6:44), and change in rhythm regularly from quavers in 4/4 time to semi-quavers (2:02). Although Led Zeppelin follow no particular genre of music, this spectacular piece begins as a significant contrast to their usual hard rock, blues rock, heavy metal style with an almost folk, acoustic introduction.

The introduction holds one main folk riff that forms the theme of many variations to underpin the musically ingenious contrast as the guitar solo begins at 5:55, bringing back Led Zeppelin’s usual heavy rock reputation. Within Victor Lopez’s variation of Stairway to Heaven, there is no evidence of development or emerging energy and emotion. The arrangement does however change tempo many times from = 120 to =72, yet the changes fail to match the original song in the slightest and appear stilted, almost disjointed, as they seem separated at times by a number of awkward pauses (eg 2:30).

Contrasting the entire structure of the original piece, this Lopez arrangement starts heavier, with every instrument playing, and continues on lightly only from 0:17. A more upbeat heavier variation is introduced again at 1:24 and then the arrangement ends the same as the beginning from 2:30. These changes differ only very slightly and are unsuccessful in involving as much variety in the different parts as the original as it engages in the overuse of repetition. Although this is understood to be an arrangement, it fails to allow the different sections of the original piece to be properly determined.

At one point it even includes a feature trumpet part at 1:33 (see Figure 1) that does not resemble any section of the original. Figure 1: Bars 33 – 36 of Stairway to Heaven arranged by Victor Lopez In the writing and arranging of this piece, Victor Lopez completely disregards the genre under which the original was written by turning this version into a big brass band song with no evidence of development or sensitivity to the original structure of Stairway to Heaven. Led Zeppelin’s original song is famous worldwide for its main introductory melody, or riff, on lead guitar.

This riff repeats for the first two minutes then continues at 2:16 into a variation, swapping between this and strummed chords (based around G/B, Am7 and D). The guitar solo at 5:55 begins with an A minor pentatonic scale then continues in A minor diatonic. The effect of having two melodies (Jimmy Page on guitar and Robert Plant with voice) creates a dynamic sound with some clashes adding to the unique style of the song. Within the re-creation however, Victor Lopez makes no attempt at replicating the classic opening guitar melody which is the main and most iconic part of the song.

This oversight alone, takes away from the original as this riff has become the trade mark and most well known part of the original Stairway to Heaven. The introduction starts with every instrument playing and an attempted take off of the chorus, contrasting the idea of one melody growing in Led Zeppelin’s version. The arranged variation begins in E flat major and modulates to D major. There is no clear melody evident at all throughout the piece, as the number of instruments playing at similar volumes, makes it hard to determine.

Ornamentation is also a key musical flourish in the original, that lacks in Victor Lopez’s version, as there is no guitar and therefore none of the brilliant guitar techniques mentioned above, to make the music come alive and become more than just notes on a page. The timbre or characteristic quality of sound displays a great difference when comparing the jazz arrangement of Stairway to Heaven to the original. Jimmy Page manipulates his guitar as the main sound source with such brilliance, using a variety of methods such as pull offs, vibrato, hammer-ons, bends and slides (see Figure 2).

The guitar is the central instrument and is held responsible for the individuality and vividness of the piece as it holds the majority of the melody, and in particular brings out the contrast during the bridge and solo (5:35). The entire piece depends on the guitar as it continues to play throughout the whole song and is accountable for the most complex part, portraying the creativity and ingeniousness of Stairway to Heaven. The use of the Mellotron (an electronic keyboard controlling pre-recorded musical sounds) to imitate the flute, creates the darker more eerie mood and adds timbrel contrast to the guitar melody.

Throughout the song, to assist the development, instruments are added to the guitar at each section change, such as the Mellotron flute (0:13), voice (0:53), bass guitar (2:14) and drums (4:18). These timbre changes during this piece, add to the musical complexity and impressiveness with the way it begins very lightly and gets gradually darker throughout, until it ends very lightly at 7:45. Figure 2: Example pull off, vibrato, bend, hammer on and slide- Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven

Victor Lopez’ arrangement includes too many instruments to portray the mood in which the original depicts. As it is written for darker sounding instruments such as tenor and alto saxophone, trumpet, trombone and bass, it takes away from the lighter sounding parts in the original, and so lacks contrast. This version hardly changes and remains of the same timbre for majority of the time except at 0:18 where the trumpets stop playing and the other instruments hold long notes as opposed to collectively playing the melody resulting in a lighter timbre.

This section is the closest Lopez comes to conveying to the listener, the original mood and contrasts of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. There is no modification of instrumental playing evident as the manipulation of this piece lacks variety in notes or rhythm which leaves no room for individual variations of the notes or instrument playing. The original was written mainly for guitar and voice, resulting in the option for light or dark timbre. This variation however consists of lower brass instruments inevitably leading to a consistent dark timbre, revealing this piece’s inability to live up to the original.

When comparing the original to the arrangement by Lopez, it is apparent that the manipulation of certain musical elements such as the structure, melody and timbre results in this piece being an entirely ineffective and unsuccessful adaptation. Robert Plant once said “It’s sort of a feeling of power onstage. It’s really the ability to make people smile, or just to turn them one way or another for that duration of time, and for it to have some effect later on. I don’t really think it’s power… t’s the goodness. ” REFERENCES “Planet Mellotron Album Reviews: Led Zeppelin. ” Planet Mellotron. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. http://www. planetmellotron. com/revledzep. htm “LED ZEPPELIN :: ACHILLES LAST STAND. ” Achilles Last Stand – The Led Zeppelin Website. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. http://led-zeppelin. org/reference/index. php? m=int23 “Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant “Does The Song Remain The Same? ” | Gen One Ventures. ” Gen One Ventures – Welcome. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. http://genoneventures. com/blog/? p=129

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