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Moon River


Song: Moon River

Songwriters: Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mancini (music)

Singers: Audrey Hepburn, Andy Williams

Wherever you're goin

You're goin' my way

Although Andy Williams made Moon River his theme song, I always found Audrey Hepburn's original version in the film of Truman Capote's novella Breakfast At Tiffany's. Moon River is a quintessentially bohemian song, much better suited to Hepburn's character, Holiday Golightly, strumming her guitar, gypsy-like, on the balcony, already halfway over the threshold. Andy Williams, in his homely sweaters, never really looked like he had any intention of going anywhere in a hurry.

Moon River another great river song, one I always think of as a sister song to Ol' Man River. I'm sure lyricist Johnny Mercer was aware of the connection, and would even hazard a guess that he modelled his song on Ol' Man River. If pressed, I would propose as supporting evidence Mercer's use of the word “huckleberry” near the end of the song. This one word is a touch of real genius, conjuring up Mark Twain's great American novel, Huckleberry Finn, the mighty Mississippi River at the heart of Twain's story (and which is also the river of Ol' Man River), all the symbolism of the river as an eternal spiritual journey, and and all the dreams, travels and misadventures of the vagabond Huckleberry Finn. That's a lot of baggage for one little word to carry.

Musically, Moon River, has the feel of a very slow waltz. The rhythm and shape of the opening “Moon River” figure, with it's rising fifth, recurs throughout the song. Another repeated figure is the repeated figure descending from leading note which first appears on the line

Wider than a mile

The ending of the song becomes more expansive, like a river reaching the sea. My favourite part of the melody is on the final “Moon River and me”, where the word “moon” runs across the bar-line, and feels almost like a change of time signature. In fact, there is an elasticity to the legato phrasing throughout Moon River that is part of the song's secret. It's often not clear where one phrase ends and the next begins, rather like waves on the great river itself.


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