Lyrics and Lyricists
Disc 1 (ca. 70 min.) Recorded on May 2, 1971. This program was part of a lecture series, Lyrics and lyricists, produced by and presented at the 92nd Street Y. Host Lehman Engel introduces Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim delivers a lecture on theatrical lyrics and lyric-writing, during which he sings a number… More »
Disc 1 (ca. 70 min.) Recorded on May 2, 1971. This program was part of a lecture series, Lyrics and lyricists, produced by and presented at the 92nd Street Y. Host Lehman Engel introduces Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim delivers a lecture on theatrical lyrics and lyric-writing, during which he sings a number of his own songs, accompanying himself on piano. He begins by describing how he began writing lyrics through the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein, and discusses the first show he wrote while a student at the George School, reading an excerpt from the lyrics of his first song. He speaks about other shows he wrote as a student, his first professional work on the unproduced show Saturday night by Julius Epstein, and how this led to his work on West side story. Sondheim discusses how lyrics differ from poetry, and how the way lyrics are heard affects the way they must be written. He speaks about DuBose Heyward's lyrics for Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; about the importance of individual words; and about the rigidity of the lyric form and its role in creating character. He lists his influences, stating what he learned from Oscar Hammerstein, Burt Shevelove, and Arthur Laurents. Discussing the importance of the opening song in a musical theater production, he tells the story of how the opening of A funny thing happened on the way to the forum was changed. Sondheim sings the original opening song, Love is in the air, and an alternate opening, Invocation (both were replaced by Comedy tonight.) He reads a lyric by Shevelove, I'm in Trouble, from A month of Sundays. He speaks about the playwriting principles he learned from Laurents and the importance of subtext in lyrics. Next, Sondheim discusses his working process; the importance of considering the staging of songs, and how content dictates form. He describes how he wrote the song Company, from the show Company. He sings So many people, from Saturday night, and alternate versions of Getting married today, from Company. He speaks about the need to consider the mechanics of singing in lyric-writing.
Disc 2 (ca. 71 min.) Continued from disc 1. Sondheim speaks about the necessity of writing lyrics that will be intelligible to audiences, and gives examples of mis-heard lyrics. He lists his favorite lyricists and what he likes about them: Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Sheldon Harnick, and DuBose Heyward. He discusses the importance of last lines in songs. Sondheim sings the Echo song (a song cut from A funny thing happened on the way to the forum) and A parade in town (from Anyone can whistle.) He speaks about the function of rhyme, various types of rhymes, and alliteration; he comments on why he does not admire the lyrics of Lorenz Hart. He discusses the difference between cleverness and humor, and sings Can that boy foxtrot (a song cut from Follies.) He speaks about his writing habits; discusses the television drama Evening primrose, and sings I remember, from that show. He discusses the importance of the book in a musical comedy, and the importance of collaborators. Sondheim concludes the lecture by performing three alternate versions of the last song from Company: Marry me a little, I'm ready, and Happily ever after.
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