This week’s formal installment of my Rush Reboot is another instrumental piece. This one is probably the most difficult to play live, which is why I am including it as the video instead of a studio recording.
La Villa Strangiato was released on the 1978 album Hemispheres, and is subtitled “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence”. The 9:37 song, the fourth and final track of the album, was Rush’s first entirely instrumental piece. The multi-part piece was inspired by a dream guitarist Alex Lifeson had, and the music in these sections correspond to the occurrences in his dream. The opening segment was played on a nylon-string classical guitar. The next segment introduces the main theme of La Villa, the Strangiato theme. The song progresses to include an increasingly complex guitar solo backed by string synthesizer, followed closely by bass and drum fills. The Strangiato theme is then revisited before the song ends abruptly with phased bass and drums.
Live versions of “La Villa Strangiato” have often featured altered sections. For instance, on Exit…Stage Left, Lee sings part of a nursery rhyme over “Danforth and Pape” (the liner notes include a translation of his words) and adds a short bass solo during “Monsters! (Reprise).” During later tours, as documented on Rush in Rio, a drum/bass vamp was inserted before “Strangiato Theme (Reprise),” over which Lifeson made a stream of consciousness rant. The classical guitar introduction was either played on electric guitar or, more commonly, cut out altogether. During the 2010-2011 Time Machine Tour, the piece began with a polka rendition of “To sleep, perchance to dream,” then transitioned into the original arrangement.
The band set out to record the song in one take, however it ultimately required three separate takes. According to Lee, “We spent more time recording ‘Strangiato’ than the entire Fly By Night album. It was our first piece without any vocals at all. So each section had to stand up with a theme and musical structure of its own.”The segments titled “Monsters!” and “Monsters! (Reprise)” are an adaptation of Raymond Scott’s popular composition “Powerhouse”. Though Scott’s publishers did not attempt to take legal action until the statute of limitations had run out, Rush’s management, feeling it was the right thing to do, gave some monetary compensation to Mr. and Mrs. Scott.“La Villa Strangiato” translates roughly to “The Strange Village” or “Weird City”.
The song is actually divided into 12 different segments:
“La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)”
I. “Buenos Noches, Mein Froinds!”
II. “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…”
III. “Strangiato Theme”
IV. “A Lerxst in Wonderland”
VI. “The Ghost of the Aragon”
VII. “Danforth and Pape”
VIII. “The Waltz of the Shreves”
IX. “Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!”
X. “Monsters! (Reprise)”
XI. “Strangiato Theme (Reprise)”
XII. “A Farewell to Things”