Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indeed ...

... Stephen Sondheim is wrong about Noël Coward.

I also think he's wrong about Hart, Hammerstein, and Berlin, to say nothing of G&S.


  1. How many songs were written half a century ago about prejudice? I think "South Pacific" deserves some credit for doing it, even if the lyrics are a bit awkward.

    Oftentimes, a thing must first be done awkwardly before it can be done well.

  2. I quire agree, Shelley.

  3. There has never been a more perfect marriage of lyric and melody than in Rogers and Hammerstein. Sondheim tends to look at lyrics as poetry, I think. He's great, but he's never had the melodic sense that Hammerstein had. Sometimes, the ky needs to be a "bright canary yellow" because the melody needs it to be and then, it trascends the possible -- the way only music can.

  4. It's also a generational thing, as to what different eras defined as poetry, as well as lyrics. Sondheim was, for example, of the generation post-Eliot that was willing to write free verse as lyrics for music—i.e. it didn't all need to be rhymed and metrical. I think in some cases that led to some of Sondheim's lyrics at least as good, in context, as anyone else could do.

    The collaborations between Comden & Green and Bernstein also made for great songs. "Some Other Time" is a classic, for example.

    At the same time I agree that "South Pacific" deserves a lot of credit for tackling issues of prejudice and race—and it was controversial at the time of its premiere for doing just that.

    My point is that even musical theatre evolves, artistically. It's not a static artform, although a lot of people seem to treat it that way. I think all of the above writers have merit, in their own way.