In west side story, one key musical number in which the composer has achieved a certain mood is the prologue. At the very start of the play we see a scene that introduces both the jets and the sharks and the composer would have wanted to achieve a great sense of conflict and tension to convey to the listener the gang culture that was rife in 1950’s New York.
This tension and conflict is demonstrated in a number of ways in the prologue. The musical style is very broken and disjointed due to its unusual time signature which represents the gap between the gangs and between the New York and Puerto Rican cultures. This has the effect of letting the audience see how much of a difficult relationship there is and sets a context for the rest of the story. This mood is also achieved through the use of tri-tones, which due their inability to make imperfect cadences means they never seem finished which is slightly uncomfortable to listen to for an audience and demonstrates that the way in which the groups being introduced is extremely difficult. This unresolved musical phrasing could reflect the idea that the two gangs fail to come to any resolution in their arguments. The composer also achieves the sense of gang culture and conflict through his orchestration and performance directions. By using a lot of low pitched instruments that are cut through by the tri-tone melody played at a higher register give the feeling of suspense and unease which is occasionally broken by flashes of violence. This aggressive atmosphere is also emphasised by the use of finger clicking and whistles, which represent the masculine display of the gangs, giving an almost primal aspect of people fighting over territory. The crescendos add to the feel of aggression building up but having followed by sudden quiet represents that while things keep threatening to turn violent, it never quite fully bubbles over, something that is consistent throughout the musical.
The fact that there is no singing in the prologue is in itself something that had never been seen before in Broadway musicals. It did originally have lyrics to go with the music however it was decided by Leonard