Okay time for another Burr-and-Hamilton’s-tragic-friendship meta analysis because apparently I cannot stop seeing these things.
Someone pointed out in a post a little while ago (that unfortunately I can’t find, or else I would link to it) the genius of the musical themes of Hamilton, and specifically how it applied to Alexander and Eliza’s relationship. It focused on how Alexander was never quite singing the same tune or matching Eliza’s style until “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Another meta-post along the same vein mentioned how Angelica was instantly on Hamilton’s level in the underlying musical sense when they first met: you see it in Satisfied, when he says “Alexander Hamilton,” she replies in the exact same tune, “Where’s your family from?” and then he shoots back also in the same tune, “Unimportant, there’s a million things I haven’t done.” They’re matching each other musically for the entire conversation, just as Angelica describes, even though throughout the show they both have their own distinct styles and themes.
The one other person who has a very different singing style than Hamilton, but specifically matches Hamilton when he wants to, and the only other person that Hamilton as well makes a specific effort to match in various songs, is Burr. The first one that I noticed was one of my favorite exchanges in the whole show, the Levi Weeks case in Non-Stop:
Gentlemen of the jury, I’m curious, bear with me.
Are you aware that we’re making history?
This is the first murder trial of our brand new nation,
The liberty behind deliberation!
I intend to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt with my assistant counsel—
Co counsel! Hamilton, sit down!
Our client Levi Weeks is innocent, call your first witness.
That’s all you had to say!
Hamilton is shooting off at the mouth, and Burr matches him word for word, the same speed, the same style, which absolutely no one else is able to do, at least not when Hamilton is on a long angry rant. This moment highlights the underlying fact that Burr isn’t just some jealous villain, he’s a true foil to Hamilton. He was a genius, he applied to Princeton at eleven, applied again and got in when he was thirteen. That “graduated in two”? Yeah. That happened when he was thirteen to sixteen, let that sink in.
Burr can match Hamilton completely when he chooses to, he just rarely chooses to. In fact, the irony of the exchange in Non-Stop is that Burr gets frustrated enough with Hamilton and Hamilton’s inability to shut up inadvertently insulting him (assistant counsel? assistant? seriously Hamilton?) that he is pushed to act more like Hamilton, and in acting more like Hamilton, succeeds in shutting Hamilton up. Which is pretty much exactly how and why the duel happens.
But no, in my opinion, the more tragic are the times when Hamilton matches Burr. Allow me to direct you to “Story of Tonight (Reprise)”:
Congrats again, Alexander.
I’ll see you on the other side of the war.
I will never understand you.
Hamilton emulates Burr’s tone and tune exactly to tell him, “I will never understand you.” Because that’s Hamilton trying to understand Burr, that’s Hamilton on the underlying musical level making the effort to sing as Burr sings, to speak as Burr speaks, he’s asking Burr to let him in. *Let me* understand you. Burr being Burr keeps his cards close to his chest, and walks away. The effort was there, the invitation was there, that is the first time in the show, arguably, that Hamilton actively changes his style to match someone else’s. And Burr walks away, because Burr is terrified about people caring about him. In “Wait For It,” he’s perfectly fine admitting that he has feelings about Theodosia, but he devotes an entire verse to “what in the world is the reason that I am at her side and that she cares about me when there are a whole bunch of other people who have tried too.” Burr isn’t scared about loving people, he’s scared of them loving him, he doesn’t understand why or how it happens. The line isn’t “everyone I love has died”, it’s “everyone who loves me has died.”
Burr walks away because the possibility of Hamilton caring about him is more than he wants to deal with. Goodbye I have disintegrated into a puddle of tears.
But no, that’s not even the worst part! The worst part is how Hamilton argues with people. The precedent is set in “Farmer Refuted.” Hamilton takes a very specific tone and rhythm as a counterpoint to someone singing.
Allow me to direct you to “Your Obedient Servant.” Burr begins the song by singing his letters, and Hamilton practically speaks his letters back. He takes a different tone, he employs a different rhythm, because that’s how he confronts people. He only matches Burr back when it’s utterly dripping in sarcasm: I have the honor to be your obedient servant, A. Ham. Burr keeps singing back (“Careful how you proceed, good man—“) as he keeps just trying to ask for an apology, and Hamilton keeps his own infuriated style at least musically in replying (“Burr, your grievance is legitimate, I stand by what I said, every bit of it”) and it’s Burr that has to match Hamilton—when Burr finally challenges Hamilton to the duel, Burr is speaking, not singing:
Then stand, Alexander,
(Although even then, it’s not ~perfectly~ matching Hamilton: the words are slow, they all have weight, they’re carefully pronounced, they’re well thought-out and well chosen. Succinct, persuasive indeed. But Burr is speaking, he’s not singing anymore, he’s taking this down to Hamilton’s level, which is the “fight me” level.)
And then, one last time, Alexander matches Burr perfectly: