Singing Princess

Little curiosities in music are my jam, especially when it comes to film scores.

I’ve been listening back through Harry Gregson-Williams back catalogue while dog walking recently, with those soundtracks including The Chronicles of Narnia series, the live action Mulan remake, and alongside collaborator John Powell, Chicken Run and most notably for this blog post, the Shrek series of films.

The ‘Fairytale’ theme from the Shrek soundtrack is probably one of the most recognisable from film in the past few years, but if you’re still a little lost, this is the one I mean:

Beautiful, right?

What I’d like to focus on though is the chord sequence under the melody, particularly those opening few bars from 00:07 to 00:23 in the video above.

For those musically inclined, those chords are:

Cm -- Gm -- Cm -- Gm -- Fm7 -- Ab7 -- Eb -- Bb --

It’s a nice sequence, and continues practically unchanged whenever that theme crops up throughout the film. For example, later in the film, (even when the melody changes slightly), Shrek removes his helmet and the chords remain more or less unchanged for the most part (in the opening of the piece below):

All with me so far? Great.

Anyway, as I’ve been listening to this soundtrack, I noticed one part where it does deviate from that sequence, only ever so slightly, but I think it’s genius.

In the scene where Fiona makes Shrek and Donkey breakfast, she enters into a duet with a bird in order to get it to match her high note, explode, and then she can take the eggs to cook with. I know it sounds absurd, but this is my presuming that you’ve all seen the film..!

Anyway, Fiona sings the theme as a duet, but listen out for the change below and see if you can hear it from 00:40 to 00:54:

It’s very subtle, but essentially, Harry Gregson-Williams swaps out the Fm7 for the succeeding Ab7, and instead, goes for an Abm7 to plug the gap! So the sequence goes:

Cm -- Gm -- Cm -- Gm -- Ab7 -- Abm7 -- Eb -- Bb -- 

It’s such a subtle change, but I think it works brilliantly to make this a more cheeky, vocal, performance song, rather than just a rehash of the theme, and the melody is also swung slightly to add to that jazzy feel.

Just brilliant.

Anyway, that’s it. A whole blog post on the subtle divergence of a variation on a theme in a film soundtrack that’s over fifteen years old? Yep. This whole blog is a goldmine of pointless trivia.

Until next time!

— Thomas

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