For the musical, Les Misérables, what elements of the music, such as the tempo, influence the historical characteristics of the play?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though written and directed more than a decade later, the musical, Les Misérables, written and produced in 1985, is very reminiscent of the rock music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971. The composer for Les Misérables, Claude-Michel Schonberg, used similar chords, tempo, and electronic instrumentation that Andrew Lloyd Webber used to make Jesus Christ Superstar so famous.

Though the play is set during the July French Revolution of 1830 and the student-led uprising of 1832, the Webber-like rock music and tempo gives the play a modern flare that has made it one of the best loved musicals of today, as well as the third longest running Broadway production.

The tempo runs from slow and dark to moderate and dark and serves to emphasize the story line and the dark historical period. The prologue can be characterized as slow and dark, while songs like "At the End of the Day" can be characterized as moderate and dark.

Other elements in the music also serve to set the historical time period. For instance, in the beginning of the prologue, one can hear the chime of bells, reminiscent of historical church bells. The sounds of the orchestra, particularly the brass section, also lend a classic tone that shapes the allusion to the historical period. However, in the prologue, and in much of the music, you can also hear an electric keyboard that adds a modern flare and is reminiscent of the rock music Andrew Lloyd Webber used in Jesus Christ Superstar that made the play so famous.