The Little Mermaid
Seven tableaux for piano based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale
The composition opens with an Introduction, the presentation of ‘The Theme of the Little Mermaid’, which returns unchanged after Part IV and at the end of thge composition. In addition, the harmonic foundation of this theme with its succession of half-diminished seventh chords acts as a connecting element between the various parts. The first part, The Palace at the Bottom of the Sea, depicts the castle of the Sea King; the image is expressed by a stately melody in B-flat major. The second part, Waltz of the Mermaids, illustrates how the sisters of the little mermaid swing through the briny waters as in a ballet. The third part, The Shipwreck, presents the episode in which Andersen tells how the king’s yacht founders in a storm and the prince is thrown overboard. Ondine, watching the dramatic scene, rescues the king’s son and takes him to the shore, where she lays him down on the beach. In the ensuing weeks she is consumed by love for the handsome youth; in the central part of the cycle, Ondine’s love, her state of mind is portrayed with a melancholic melody, followed by the major variation of that theme and a distant reminiscence of the well-known love song My Funny Valentine. Hoping to win the prince over to her, the little mermaid decides to visit the Sea Witch. The witch is willing to split her tail and convert her into a human being with two legs. However, the price she has to pay for this is high: from then on every step will hurt her, and if the king’s son marries another, she will evaporate into foam on the wedding night. This sinister fifth movement, At the Sea Witch, shares the melodic material and the key of B-flat minor with Part III and could be regarded as a variation on this. Part VI, The Wedding Feast, bears characteristics of Part II: the same waltz theme returns, preceded by a robust polonaise and a graceful mazurka. This ballet-like part illustrates the wedding of the prince and the princess of a neighbouring kingdom on the royal yacht. At the end, however, the music takes a dramatic character: Ondine jumps overboard at the moment the happy couple retreat to the royal saloon. Then, in the final movement, The Ascension to Heaven, the theme of the first movement returns varied, now standing for the higher world into which the little mermaid is inducted. Her steadfast love has softened the hearts of the gods, and instead of turning into sea foam, she is allowed to ascend into the world of the zephyrs, the angels of the sky.
The composition is thus completely symmetrical in structure. The total playing time is approx. 30 minutes; with a few exceptions the parts merge into each other. The harmonic language is that of the 19th century, but a certain influence from older musicals and film scores from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s is demonstrable. The music is preceded by an illustrated preface in which the fairy tale is briefly retold in Dutch and English.