James Bennett II is a staff writer for WQXR.
Here’s a ‘Happy Birthday’ Fit for Bach
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 12:00 AM
The tune for “Happy Birthday to You” is most often credited to school teacher Patty Hill and her sister, a musicologist named Mildred. Though a Gilded Age tune from 1893, the insanely popular song seems continuously caught in a surprising web of attribution, copyright law, and royalties. There’s a reason you rarely hear it sung in film and television works. It’s got a lot of complexities for such a simple (though deceptively hard-to-sing) tune.
Composer and arranger Giovanni Dettori reimagined the hit birthday song in a way that equals its complex existence. His treatment of the hit tune is a 91-bar fugue-fest that proves that no melody is too simple to become something much more complex. We’d like to bet that Bach, Captain Counterpoint himself, would be partial to this arrangement if he were around to get busy on his 332nd birthday.