Stephen Sondheim

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stephen Sondheim, whose career has spanned more than half a century, discusses his process of writing lyrics, his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, Harold Prince and others. Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, includes an collection of some of Sondheim’s unpublished lyrics, giving readers a rare personal look into his life and his remarkable productions.


Stephen Sondheim

Comments [8]

Gilbert Freeman from New York City

I am horrified at what Steve has allowed with his incredible musicals, and assume Harold Prince and Jonathan Tunick are as well. Those two guys were maybe not equal but were indeed super important partners in making Sondheim shows the art forms they CAN be, and now the shows are reduced to tin-can orchestrations and bag-of-tricks direction. I guess it's the curse of having seen the originals at least 3 times. I shall have to live with the memories of how wonderful they were and enjoy the original cast albums.

Oct. 29 2010 03:58 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake hiawatha, NJ from

Stephen Foster, one of our own great composers of Civil War days and Richard Wagner, both wrote the words, librettos in the case of Wagner, for their music. I, myself, am a composer, of opera, but I fashion my operas, so far "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare," both single protagonist operas, Shakespeare commenting on 23 male protagonists from his plays and their respective monologues set to aria format. Shakespeare is my "lyricist" with whom I never argue the case.
Maestro Lehman Engel whom I knew from my early days in Gilbert & Sullivan performances, and later in his classes on its performing techniques, wrote the book "Words with Music" on creating the Broadway musical libretto. In the book Oscar Hammerstein II is quoted as writing "The job of the poet is to find the right word in the right place, the word with the exact meaning and the highest quality of beauty or power. The LYRIC writer must find this word too, but it must also be a word that is clear when sung and not too difficult for the singer to sing on that note which he hits when he sings it."

I was the first male singer to do the complete Wesendonck Lieder in a major concert venue.
I sang the complete Wesendonck Lieder as part of my two, 3rd and 4th main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, solo concerts, Sunday, Father's Day June 18th, 1995 @ 2 PM, with my piano accompanist Jan Jozef Wnek and May 28th, 1998, with my piano accompanist David Brandon. Six of Wagner's songs composed between 1838 and 1840, I sang in their premiere performances at my Thursday, May 28, 1998 at 8 PM, second solo ALL-WAGNER concert, entitlled "WAGNER-- -The Epic & The Lyric" at the Isaac Stern Auditorium .

Oct. 27 2010 07:44 PM

my dad just discovered Sondheim - the year 2010.

Oct. 27 2010 06:35 PM

I wish Sondheim did more of this sort of thing. It's always a delight to hear him and I really appreciate his range of knowledge and candor. What a perfect guest he'd have made for one of Dick Cavett's extended interviews. (Not that Leonard didn't do well.) Or imagine him hosting a radio show as Bob Dylan has! I look forward to reading his book.

Oct. 27 2010 06:21 PM
Giuliano Chicco from Princeton, NJ

In defense of Richard Rodgers, I have an early copy of the South Pacific musical score, and the first line of Cockeyed-Optimist reads "When the sun is a bright canary yellow..."
I'm not sure why Mary Martin substituted sky, perhaps the vowel sound is easier to sing than the consonant in sun.

Oct. 27 2010 01:52 PM
Sheldan Collins from Weehawken, NJ

Mr. Sondheim might be interested to know of William Bolcom's setting of poems for mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle. Her interpretations of seven poems, performed last week with St Luke's Chamber Ensemble at the Morgan Library, were riveting, humorous, passionate, and appropriate. I'm not so sure about the music, which would require multiple hearings for me to fully appreciate.


Oct. 27 2010 01:27 PM
Paul from Ridgewood, NJ

Poems set to music don't improve them?

I think a few songwriters would take some offense at that: the are indeed poets; some of them certainly write the words first, and the music follows.

But yes, I know what Mr. Sondheim means - he is talking about "classic" spoken poetry. I'm still not sure I agree.


Oct. 27 2010 01:25 PM
Kenneth Bennett lane, Lake hiawatha, NJ from

STEPHEN SONDHEIM is America's leading living musicals' composers and one of our best lyricists. His mentor Oscar Hammertstein II certainly set him on the right course. His work with Leonard Bernstein in his lyricist capacity on West Side Story was an early prediction of his fantastic composer-lyricist talent comparable to Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser, who both wrote the words and music for their musicals. Kudos to Sondheim !
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor Website:

Oct. 27 2010 09:15 AM

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