The New Year’s resolution

Two days ago I posted a Mother Goose and Grimm strip on New Year’s resolution (#1 there, with the character Ralph confusing resolution and revolution). Now comes a Eugene Chan cartoon with a musical pun on resolution:


It resolves to a G minor triad.

From NOAD2 on some senses of resolution::

1 a firm decision to do or not to do something: she kept her resolution not to see Anne any more | a New Year’s resolution.

2 the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter: the peaceful resolution of all disputes | a successful resolution to the problem.

[2a] Music the passing of a discord into a concord during the course of changing harmony.

The sense in New Year’s resolution as ordinarily understood is 1. The sense in #1 is 2a.

When I first saw #1 on Facebook, I took it to be an musically clever xkcd cartoon, but then I saw the link, to Chan’s website don’t shoot the pianist: he is doing the best he can. The site’s name is a film allusion; from Wikipedia:

Shoot the Piano Player (French: Tirez sur le pianiste; UK title: Shoot the Pianist) is a 1960 French crime drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Charles Aznavour as the titular pianist. It is based on the novel Down There by David Goodis.


#1 also made my body ache sympathetically, since the pianist appeared to be performing in a sitting position but without a piano bench. Chan explained on Facebook that he has trouble drawing piano benches.

I don’t know much about Chan — his website is not at all informative — beyond the facts that in addition to being a stick-figure cartoonist, he has or has had some connection to Canada, given his website’s address; that he’s a serious pianist and enthusiast of pianos, piano music, and pianists; that he’s inclined to language play; and that he’s a great admirer of Randall Munroe (also a stick-figure cartoonist given to language play) and his xkcd cartoons. Chan’s website even has an archive arranged just like Munroe’s for xkcd.

Many intriguing things on the archive, including a maddening series of postings on “Pieces You Can Probably Identify: Given only the first note(s)”. You really need to know the piano literature upside and down to play that game.

From that archive, I checked out the intriguingly named “Chopin’s Bolero”, which culminates in a wonderful imperfect pun:


Two ingredients here: the bolero as a musical composition; and “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”.

The bolero and Ravel’s Boléro. From Wikipedia:

Bolero is a genre of slow-tempo Latin music and its associated dance. There are Spanish and Cuban forms which are both significant and which have separate origins.

The term is also used for some art music. In all its forms, the bolero has been popular for over a century.

The bolero is a 3/4 dance that originated in Spain in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana. Dancer Sebastiano Carezo is credited with inventing the dance in 1780. It is danced by either a soloist or a couple. It is in a moderately slow tempo and is performed to music which is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars with lyrics of five to seven syllables in each of four lines per verse. It is in triple time and usually has a triplet on the second beat of each bar.

(The Cuban bolero, which spread from its Cuban origin in the last quarter of the 19th century to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the rest of Latin America, is distinct, as a musical form and as a dance.)

Here’s the bolero rhythm:


You will recognize this as the underlying rhythm of a famous Ravel composition — about which, the beginning of the Wikipedia article:

Boléro is a one-movement orchestral piece by Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, the piece, which premiered in 1928, is Ravel’s most famous musical composition

In case you are not already afflicted by a Ravel earworm, you can listen to the whole thing here (it’s long, 17:22 in this performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel).

The piece builds slowly, getting faster and faster and louder and louder until it climaxes — musically, but mimicking sexual climax — in a wild, clashing finale.

Not expecting the Spanish Inquisition. Now the Spanish composition takes us into Monty Python territory. From Wikipedia:

“The Spanish Inquisition” is a series of sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2 Episode 2, first broadcast 22 September 1970, parodying the real-life Spanish Inquisition. This episode is itself entitled “The Spanish Inquisition”. The sketches are notable for their principal catchphrase, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”. The end of the sketch uses music from the composition Devil’s Galop by Charles Williams.

This is a recurring sketch always predicated on an unrelated sketch in which one character mentions that they “didn’t expect a Spanish Inquisition!”, often in irritation at being questioned by another. At this point, the Inquisition — consisting of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin) and his assistants Cardinal Biggles (Terry Jones) (who resembles his namesake wearing a leather aviator’s helmet and goggles) and Cardinal Fang (Terry Gilliam) — burst into the room to the sound of a jarring musical sting. Ximénez shouts, with a particular and high-pitched emphasis on the first syllable: “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

The Inquisitors are ridiculously incompetent on several fronts (listing their weapons and achieving torture, in particular).

You can watch the complete series of sketches here (the video is 8:41).

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” rapidly achieved pop-culture celebrity as a catchphrase.



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