"Memory" is the most well-known song from the musical Cats. It is a showstopping ballad that is primarily performed by Grizabella. The lyrics of the song were written by Cats director Trevor Nunn, based on the T S Eliot poems "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" and "Preludes".
This song is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous compositions and a runaway hit with a life far beyond the musical. For more details of recordings see Wikipedia. The song is often mistakenly referred to in popular culture as "Memories".
The song "Memory" is first heard in a short version at the end of Act 1. The audience has already been introduced to Grizabella by Bombalurina and Demeter in "Grizabella: The Glamour Cat", and during "The Jellicle Ball", Grizabella is seen watching the Cats. After they finish, she approaches and tries to join them, but is rejected. Once the other Cats leave the stage, Grizabella begins to copy their dance moves, but alone and frail, she cannot capture the magic of the Ball. She is left alone to contemplate her memories of the time when she was a part of the Jellicle tribe. She sings a single verse of "Memory", and reaches out for anyone to touch her. She desperately wants to be accepted. Although Old Deuteronomy has been watching, he is too far away to reach out to her, and she leaves with what little pride she has remaining.
As the night is drawing to a close, again Jemima/Sillabub sings:
Finally, Old Deuteronomy comes to choose the cat to be taken to the Heaviside Layer. Suddenly, Grizabella appears on stage once more. This is Grizabella's last chance to be accepted, and although again met with hostility from the tribe, she sings again, the full version of "Memory". Again Jemima/Sillabub sings with her, the first of the Cats to understand her. By the end of the song, everyone understands her plight, and she is finally accepted by everyone, and escorted by Old Deuteronomy "Up, Up, Up to the Heaviside Layer".
"Memory" was written rather late in the development of the show, with the final version only completed during previews for the original London production. It was hearing the melody of the song that persuaded Elaine Paige to accept the role of Grizabella. Tim Rice was initially brought in to provide the lyrics but his version was considered too dark, so instead Trevor Nunn wrote his own lyrics that draw on imagery and text from T S Eliot's poems "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" and "Preludes", both from Prufrock and Other Observations (1917).
|"Rhapsody on a Windy Night"||"Preludes"||"Memory"|
|The moon has lost her memory||Has the moon lost her memory|
|She is alone||She is smiling alone|
And now a gusty shower wraps
In the lamplight the withered leaves collect at my feet
Every street lamp that I pass
Every street lamp seems to beat
The street lamp sputtered
Someone mutters and
|The burnt-out ends of smoky days||Burnt out ends of smoky days|
The morning comes to consciousness
|The stale cold smell of morning|
With the other masquerades
|Memory!||All alone with the memory|
|Sleep, prepare for life||Look, a new day has begun|
The version of the song popularised by hundreds of recording artists uses lyrics from both Act 1 "Memory" and this longer number. This "Single Version" is not actually performed in the musical itself, although it is sometimes used in lieu of the stage version in cast recordings because it is more "radio-friendly".
As Grizabella enters, her familiar ground bass motif strikes up in Bb minor, setting the dark and gloomy mood. Her ground bass line is played twice, before the Bb major arpeggios that open "Memory" begin.
"Memory" is a sentimental ballad intentionally written in the style of Puccini. The song is primarily set in the 12/8 time signature, shifting meters to 10/8 and 6/8 throughout its duration. It has a loose tempo ("freely") of around 50 beats per minute. Each verse begins with a chord progression of Bb-Gm-Eb-Dm.
The song is primarily composed in the key of Bb major, but when Grizabella collapses mid-way, the orchestra begins playing half a verse in Gb major before Jemima/Sillabub begins her bridge and Grizabella joins in, one octave apart. As the bridge comes to an end, the orchestra shifts to the Db major key as Grizabella belts the climax of the song ("Touch me!"). Grizabella's vocals span from G3 to Eb5 and her part is meant to be sung with the chest voice. Jemima/Sillabub's part ranges from Eb4 to F5, and is sung with the head voice.
Grizabella is usually played by mezzo/contralto performers, though sopranos are sometimes cast in the role. In such cases, the licensed score allows for Grizabella's ending note (Db4) to alternatively be sung an octave higher to accommodate the soprano range.
As Grizabella sings her last note and reaches out her hand hoping to be touched, she is accompanied by the recurring Jellicle theme. The theme is played here in its two-phrase form and intoned on synthesizer bells (labelled on the score as "Jellicle Bells"), thus bookending the same music that was played in the preceding "Daylight".
Act 1 Prelude
Act 2 Reprise
Tim Rice Lyrics
- "Daylight" and "Memory" from the 1981 London cast recording
- "Daylight" and "Memory" from the 1983 Broadway cast recording
- "Memory" from the 2019 movie soundtrack
Alternate ending note
- "Memory" snippet from the 1986 Australian cast recording
- "The Story of Musicals", Episode 2, BBC Four (10 January 2012).
- Unmasked: A Memoir, Andrew Lloyd Webber (2018). Page 346. ISBN 978-0062424204.
- Unmasked: A Memoir, Andrew Lloyd Webber (2018). Page 348. ISBN 978-0062424204.
- "A Note on the Text", Playbill from Cats at the Winter Garden Theatre (Oct 1982). Page 4.
- The Megamusical, Indiana University Press (2006). Pages 160-161. ISBN 978-0-253-34793-0.
- Cats: Songs from the Musical, Hal Leonard (May 1, 1982). Page 100. ISBN 978-0881882001.
- The Megamusical, Indiana University Press (2006). Page 141. ISBN 978-0-253-34793-0.