Stardust (1995)

Created for
Richard Alston Dance Company
Hoagy Carmichael
Stardust (1927)/ Lyrics by Mitchell Parish (1929)
Several different recordings from many different years were used
Peter Mumford
Belinda Ackermann
The classic song Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish, which in multiple versions provides the kaleidoscopic musical element of Richard Alston’s Stardust (1995, originally called Sometimes I Wonder), is one of popular music’s real enigmas. Although far and away the most recorded song of all time with over 1300 different versions and the namesake of dozens of cafés, night clubs, books and films, most people might actually be hard pushed to sing it all the way through.
Originally written and recorded in 1927 as a fast, instrumental dance number, the music of Stardust owes much to the improvisational style of the ‘hot’ jazz bands in vogue at the time as can be heard in Artie Shaw’s later recording.  It was a full two years later, at the publisher’s behest, that Mitchell Parish added his lyrics, which are a contrastingly ‘cool’ and introspective meditation on love, loss and loneliness.
Very soon after this addition the song was reinvented by bandleaders who started to play it as a slow, dreamy evergreen and it was in this guise, perhaps more than any other, that it became most widely known, not least in the form of Carmichael’s own initial vocal recording, made in 1942 and heard at the end of the piece.
For a song often cited as archetypal it is surprisingly unconventional in terms of its musical nuts and bolts. The melody, for example, although always lyrical, has a tough sinuous quality as if part of one of trumpeter Bix Beiderbeck’s most sparkling improvisations on the cornet had somehow been frozen onto paper.
At first sight it seems rather impenetrable, like several songs compressed into one, but the result is that an interpreter/improviser can take or discard as much as he or she needs to express themselves and be confident in the knowledge that the song will hold together.  For a demonstration of this one need only listen to the different readings that underpin the piece as chorus only, verse only, both parts or in some cases seemingly neither are used by the various artists as they explore and give form to their feelings about the song and the situation it portrays.
Alston later used this song, as well as several other written by Hoagy Carmichael in Shuffle It Right (2008).

Media & Resources


Stardust Resource Sheet Resource Sheet (PDF 103Kb)