I’d like to introduce the term “Schwartz Modulation” to the Musical Theater community.

I want to start by saying that I have the utmost respect for Mr. Schwartz, as I believe he is a fantastic and prolific composer. Indeed, I would not have noticed this pattern had I not repeatedly listened to many of his works. Composers all have their own unique cadences and progressions that they like to use, and one that is particularly favored by Mr. Schwartz is what I now call the Schwartz Modulation (SM).

While it is present in most of his work, the most prevalent recent examples can be heard in the score to Wicked. The Schwartz Modulation is not unlike a deceptive cadence, in that the ear of the listener is tricked into believing the phrase will resolve to the tonic, but instead Mr. Schwartz pivots around the melody into a new key, frequently incorporating the 3rd of the anticipated tonic chord to take us to a new chord.

The SM always occurs at the end of a phrase, but not at the end of a song, as the SM serves to suspend resolution of the phrase. Usually its purpose is to take us to a bridge section of the number, and this bridge is typically past the halfway point of the song. The SM is used most often by major characters in solo numbers or sections, as group number modulations tend to happen before or between phrases. The character must be singing during the SM, otherwise it is only a “half-Schwartz Modulation,” and not a true SM. SMs are more common and effective in slower songs or power ballads, as they serve a greater emotional intent than would be effective in lighter uptempo numbers.

If you have the score to Wicked, listen to the following points in the album to hear the Schwartz Modulation in action:

  • Track 3, “The Wizard and I,” 02:45

  • Track 4, “What Is This Feeling,” 01:56

  • Track 6, “Dancing Through Life,” 02:56

  • Track 9, “One Short Day”, 01:33

  • Track 11, “Defying Gravity,” 02:49, 05:29 (this a regular deceptive cadence, but serves a similar emotional intent)

  • Track 16, “No Good Deed,” 01:43

  • Track 18, “For Good,” 03:29

Once your ear has become familiar with the SM, you will be able to pick it out in his other works.