“What is This Thing called Love?” poets and songwriters ask. It’s a “Many-Splendored Thing,” according to the 1955 song hit and Academy Award winning movie. Other popular songs tell us that “Love is a Simple Thing,” “Love Makes the World Go Round,” and “All You Need is Love.” The list of song titles connected with love is virtually endless, almost limitless in its range of expression. And we haven’t even gotten to songs with “heart” or “kisses” in the title.
Did you know that one of the most beautiful songs about love in the American Songbook doesn’t even mention love in its title or anywhere in its lyrics? Yet, the poetry of the words chosen by Oscar Hammerstein II and the genius of the musical setting by Jerome Kern make “All the Things You Are” a true masterpiece of a love song.
In addition to being the favorite song of Kern and Hammerstein themselves, it is considered a “classic” by pop singers and jazz artists, admired for its expressive power and unique challenges. (Ironically, this gem is the only survivor from the Broadway show “Very Warm for May,” which was a flop in 1939.)
“All the Things You Are” has a complex musical soul. Watch below as crooner Tony Martin* sings it sometime in the 1950’s. What a supple, sensuous voice he has, perfect for the emotions being expressed. And what a beautiful arrangement.
To add to your listening pleasure, we’d like to point out a few things first about the music and lyrics.
Kern follows the standard musical chorus for a Broadway song of the time: an AABA phrase form consisting of 8+8+8+8 bars or measures for a total of 32, with a tag of four measures tacked on at the end. (Try counting them as you listen, to sharpen your ear.)
But, the song constantly modulates–that is, shifts pitch centers or keys. By doing this, Jerome Kern does something very striking with the familiar form. Instead of the usual simple repetition, he differentiates its two contrasting phrases–the “A’s” and “B’s”–by committing to two separate melodies whose repeating patterns cycle through a series of pitches that use all 12 notes of the scale (the group of 7 white, and 5 black keys on a piano). The result is that he is able to create a perfect musical metaphor for the ideal of constancy and total commitment to the beloved. This ideal is also reflected in Hammerstein’s haunting lyrics, with their nostalgic images of natural and spiritual beauty.
Perhaps the second time you listen, you will want to follow the lyrics below and listen for these melodic patterns. Josh has marked off the corresponding measures of music he describes above by |……..|:
A: |You| are the| promised kiss of |springtime That|makes the lonely|winter seem|long|… [“long ” sustained through two measures]
A: |You| are the|breathless hush of |evening That|trembles on the| brink of a lovely|song|…You are the |
B: |angel glow| that light a star| The dearest |things I know| are what you |are| …. | [“are” sustained through two measures]
A (plus tag) : |Some| day my| happy arms will| hold you, and |some| day I’ll| know that moment di-|vine, When| All the Things You |Are, are| mine| …|
The character strength of “Loving-ness”–the ability to love and be loved–is said to be one of the most valuable we can cultivate. As positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson says eloquently in her new book, Love 2.0: How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, “Love is our supreme emotion that makes us come most fully alive and feel most fully human. It is perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.” She emphasizes the resonance body as well as mind feels in the presence of loving connections with others. This resonance of body and mind is what we hope you feel as you listen to “All the Things You Are.” This is romantic love given soul by the joint genius of composer and lyricist.
Romance is not the only kind of love Fredrickson wants us to recognize as supreme, however. She paints on a much larger canvas. That’s why we make a slight swerve to end this post–Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way!–by bringing you The Beatles with their theme of universal love. Sitting down or standing up, let yourself dance!
*Tony Martin died in 2012 at 98. He was married for over 60 years to the beautiful dancer Cyd Charisse.