Blog December 2nd Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sonheim

My old friend Martin Connor who lectures at the prestigious “Guildhall School of Music and Drama”” invited me to see his students perform the musical “A Little Light Music.” I did not know the show and remember not being particularly impressed until about half way through the second act when I heard the instrumental intro and then the words “Isn’t it rich- are we a pair” and from then on, I was captivated and “Send in the Clouds” became one of my favourite songs.
And as I am sure you are aware the composer was Stephen Sondheim who died this week aged 91. Here are some extracts from his obituary in The Guardian.
Sondheim was a leading light of musical theatre over the course of more than six decades, from the moment in 1957 when he achieved renown as Leonard Bernstein’s lyricist for West Side Story he went on to establish a place for himself with intelligent, unconventional works such as Company (1970), Sweeney Todd (1979)
“Send in the Clowns” was his most famous, song, recorded more than 500 times – notably by Frank Sinatra in 1973 – and then in 1975 and 77 by Judy Collins. (Today’s featured song is sung live by Judy while she was in her eighties!)
Born in New York, Stephen was the only child of a comfortably middle-class family. His mother, Janet (nee Fox, and known as Foxy), a dress designer, and father, Herbert, a clothing manufacturer, were partners in a New York fashion business. They divorced when Stephen was 10, and he ended up disliking his mother so much that in 1992 he did not go to her funeral.
Foxy was friends with the wife of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (of “Rogers and Hammerstein, South Pacific” fame.) After her divorce Foxy and Stephen moved to live near the Hammerstein’s, on a farm in Pennsylvania. During his adolescence, Sondheim would look to Hammerstein as a substitute father.
Sondheim had started playing the piano by ear from the age of four, before studying the piano and organ sporadically at school. Ravel was one of his early musical discoveries, which he eagerly shared with Hammerstein.
He wrote a musical called “By George,” and showed it to Hammerstein, who said it was terrible but talented, and showed him where he had gone wrong. This process turned into an unofficial yet fundamental course on which Sondheim learned to write musicals, adapting various plays, working on non-dramatic narrative and creating an original story. While many musical-theatre creators specialise as either a composer or lyricist, Sondheim excelled at both.
The Queens Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue was renamed in 2020 by Cameron Mackintosh as the Sondheim Theatre and Macintosh said on hearing of Sondheim’s death “The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers.” Andrew Lloyd Webber called him “The musical theatre giant of our times, an inspiration not just to two but to three generations [whose] contribution to theatre will never be equalled”.

Quote of the week