Author Topic: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)  (Read 6473 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Ken B

  • Guest
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #20 on: May 20, 2015, 02:52:24 PM »
Yeah, you probably are.   ;)

I knew it! All you La Mer fans are deaf!
 >:D :laugh:

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #21 on: May 20, 2015, 02:53:47 PM »
I knew it! All you La Mer fans are deaf!
 >:D :laugh:

As Karl might say, chortle ...

Offline mc ukrneal

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 9138
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2015, 03:50:11 PM »
Yes, there is certainly a difference between the two halves, and the second half is definitely looser, thematically (though not much - new themes are suddenly introduced, and old ones drop out to some extent). But I think this is part of the genius of this particular show - a musical reflection of the idea that [first half] everything works out neatly and for the best in a pretty miraculous way but... [second half] actually real life is more complicated than that, and new, unexpected elements can intrude on those neat conclusions, and anyway, weren't all the wishes and assumptions we made a little foolish anyway....? So to me that second act is the perfect and necessary complement of the first, and its 'faults' are, in this sense at least, also its strengths. That's how I read it, anyway.

At any rate, songs like that tremendous Act II double-header Your Fault/Last Midnight are absolutely astonishing, I think. So different, those two songs, and yet so mysteriously complementary. Certainly they are by far the most powerful things I have ever worked with kids on.
I don;t disagree. I think for me the second half action is not as interesting as the first, though the songs and words are as clever as ever. Last midnight is one of my favorites too, where the witch sings, "You're so nice. You're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice. I'm not good, I'mnot nice, I'm just right. I'm the witch. You're the world. Etc." That whole section is just so good. I also like the second Prince's song, which copies in all ways the first, except the mood and words are completely different.

It's all knit-picking really, since I love this musical (among others). I find that it's emotional center is one that should last a long time for future audiences.
While I don't see as big a drop-off between the two acts as you seem to imply, I think you make a valid point. 

At a certain point, and fairly early on, possibly as early as Company, Sondheim will write a "sunny" first act and a much darker second act.  In fact, he's joked about it in interviews. 

Into the Woods also exemplifies how Sondheim titles will often enclose a pun on the deeper meaning of the show, in this case, the "woods" represent the subconscious fears we all have.  Confronting this part of ourselves is scary, and the second act should be darker.
Song-wise, I don't think there is any dropoff.

The woods are many things, including the great unknown. The sets and different ways the woods are represented on stage are often quite interesting too. The staging can be quite simple and yet tremendously effective.
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Brewski

  • Global Moderator
  • *
  • Posts: 13219
  • "Man With No Shadow" by Makoto Tojiki (2009)
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #23 on: May 21, 2015, 11:10:27 AM »
Just found this thread. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, the mods don't see everything posted on the board.  8))

I'm an enormous admirer of Sondheim's work. Like others here, my favorite might be Sweeney Todd, but A Little Night Music, Passion and Follies are not far behind. Seeing two recent productions of Merrily We Roll Along - one in New York's Encores! series, and the 2012 London version - convinced me that it is also one of his best, though it is very difficult to direct so that the reverse storytelling is clear. (The original Broadway production, directed by the usually great Harold Prince, was a mess.)

I do like Company, especially the songs, but that show is also difficult to bring off. Seeing the "miniature" version on Broadway a few years ago (with the actors playing instruments), I had forgotten how much spoken dialogue there is - seems like about half the show - and you really need excellent actors, in addition to people who sing well.

Passion is such an oddity (mostly for the strange story), but musically, I love its "through-composed" nature - it seems almost like a tone poem, and a gorgeous one, at that. Of all of Sondheim's scores, I have returned to that one most often in the last few years.

--Bruce
“I set down a beautiful chord on paper—and suddenly it rusts.”

- Alfred Schnittke

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #24 on: May 21, 2015, 11:14:40 AM »
Just found this thread. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, the mods don't see everything posted on the board.  8))

I'm an enormous admirer of Sondheim's work. Like others here, my favorite might be Sweeney Todd, but A Little Night Music, Passion and Follies are not far behind. Seeing two recent productions of Merrily We Roll Along - one in New York's Encores! series, and the 2012 London version - convinced me that it is also one of his best, though it is very difficult to direct so that the reverse storytelling is clear. (The original Broadway production, directed by the usually great Harold Prince, was a mess.)

I do like Company, especially the songs, but that show is also difficult to bring off. Seeing the "miniature" version on Broadway a few years ago (with the actors playing instruments), I had forgotten how much spoken dialogue there is - seems like about half the show - and you really need excellent actors, in addition to people who sing well.

Passion is such an oddity (mostly for the strange story), but musically, I love its "through-composed" nature - it seems almost like a tone poem, and a gorgeous one, at that. Of all of Sondheim's scores, I have returned to that one most often in the last few years.

--Bruce

Nice.

I happen to be listening to Passion as I type this.   :)   

I'm not sure what rekindled my interest in Sondheim recently, but there was a time when I was deeply engaged with his musicals.  I am now reading a fantastic book:


Offline Brewski

  • Global Moderator
  • *
  • Posts: 13219
  • "Man With No Shadow" by Makoto Tojiki (2009)
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #25 on: May 21, 2015, 11:30:53 AM »
That book looks great - hadn't been aware of it. Somewhere I have an old copy of Craig Zadan's Sondheim & Co. - the only book on him I've read so far.

Forgot to comment on Pacific Overtures (saw a video of the original Broadway production, and a more recent one here about ten years ago) and it also has quite an exhilarating score. Wish the second production had used more musicians; it followed the recent trend of using just a handful, rather than a full orchestra, and especially in the bigger numbers, the extra weight seems more successful.

Also, the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged Sweeney Todd from last year (available on DVD, I think) was excellent, with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson. Terfel sounded terrific - a more quietly menacing Todd than some - and Thompson was utterly hilarious, and added unexpected pathos, too. The orchestra and chorus weren't quite as large as the Philharmonic's concert version from a decade or so ago (it seemed), but the whole was still mightily effective.

--Bruce
“I set down a beautiful chord on paper—and suddenly it rusts.”

- Alfred Schnittke

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #26 on: May 21, 2015, 11:44:23 AM »
That book looks great - hadn't been aware of it. Somewhere I have an old copy of Craig Zadan's Sondheim & Co. - the only book on him I've read so far.

That Zadan book is one I wish to get; it has been said to be the best book on Sondheim.

Quote
Forgot to comment on Pacific Overtures (saw a video of the original Broadway production, and a more recent one here about ten years ago) and it also has quite an exhilarating score. Wish the second production had used more musicians; it followed the recent trend of using just a handful, rather than a full orchestra, and especially in the bigger numbers, the extra weight seems more successful.

Pacific Overtures is a favorite of mine.  I was able to see an Off-Broadway production in the mid-'80s.

Quote
Also, the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged Sweeney Todd from last year (available on DVD, I think) was excellent, with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson. Terfel sounded terrific - a more quietly menacing Todd than some - and Thompson was utterly hilarious, and added unexpected pathos, too. The orchestra and chorus weren't quite as large as the Philharmonic's concert version from a decade or so ago (it seemed), but the whole was still mightily effective.

I will look for that DVD.  I've been thinking of buying some of the shows on DVD, they can be had very cheaply in most cases, from Amazon third-party sellers.

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #27 on: May 28, 2015, 02:35:49 AM »
I found these two as very good used books for one-third the cost, and even at full price they would be great books for anyone interested in 1) Stephen Sondheim; 2) the craft of songwriting, specifically constructing and setting lyrics; 3) what makes for good musical theater and how it is different from opera.



Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #28 on: June 01, 2015, 11:44:05 AM »
For years the standard criticism of Stephen Sondheim went something like this: “Brilliant lyricist, music tends to sound similar.  Sondheim is a cerebral composer whose work rarely causes an emotional response from the audience.”  While I readily agree that he is a brilliant lyricist, arguably the best to have worked in Musical Theater, I would never agree that his music is cerebral at the expense of evoking an emotional response.

How could a song like “Anyone Can Whistle” not be heard as plaintive? Lines such as the following strike me as very moving:

What's hard is simple.

What's natural comes hard.

Maybe you could show me

How to let go,

Lower my guard,

Learn to be free.

Maybe if you whistle,

Whistle for me.


In this last verse of the song, Sondheim cleverly alludes to the very criticism I’ve cited, but instead of a cold analysis what emerges is a heartfelt recognition of an inability to let go.  A perfect example of just how moving this song can be was on display at the end of Sondheim: A Musical Tribute.  Near the end, he was called to the stage and sat at the piano and sang the last verse of this song; when he got to the lines Lower my guard / Learn to be … he paused before the word free. Arthur Laurents said, “I always thought that song would be Steve’s epitaph.”

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/ncyo8EUUCVE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/ncyo8EUUCVE</a>

However, the rest of the article is about Passion - one of his somewhat lesser known shows but one I consider him at the top of his game.

Ken B

  • Guest
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #29 on: June 01, 2015, 01:31:59 PM »
On youtube you can find Sondheim rehearsing students in numbers from Sweeney or Night music. Recommended!

That cover you just posted has Lee Remick's name on it. She's on my short short list. The greatest waste in history might be to have Lee Remick in love with you, and be gay ...

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #30 on: June 01, 2015, 02:25:52 PM »
On youtube you can find Sondheim rehearsing students in numbers from Sweeney or Night music. Recommended!

That cover you just posted has Lee Remick's name on it. She's on my short short list. The greatest waste in history might be to have Lee Remick in love with you, and be gay ...

I know, but they really did care for each other; he was devastated when she died.  She was in the original cast, and it was her singing ACW on the original cast recording, unless YouTube did a switcheroo.  I'll check it.

thanks for reading

Ken B

  • Guest
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #31 on: June 01, 2015, 03:30:27 PM »
I guess I should give Passion another listen. I tried it once, and didn't listen to the whole thing. There's a performance at Stratford this year, just one, not staged, but my gf hated hated it.
The one I regret missing is Night Music in Niagara on the Lake at the Shaw festival a few years ago. Just couldn't get to it, so I have still never seen it live. (Saw the movie ...)

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #32 on: June 01, 2015, 04:00:13 PM »
I guess I should give Passion another listen. I tried it once, and didn't listen to the whole thing. There's a performance at Stratford this year, just one, not staged, but my gf hated hated it.
The one I regret missing is Night Music in Niagara on the Lake at the Shaw festival a few years ago. Just couldn't get to it, so I have still never seen it live. (Saw the movie ...)

I had never seen Passion until I watched the filmed Broadway show (the complete film is on YouTube).  I thought it was exceptional; much better than I was expecting.  I wish I could see a live production.  Assassins, too.

Ken B

  • Guest
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #33 on: June 01, 2015, 04:05:47 PM »
I had never seen Passion until I watched the filmed Broadway show (the complete film is on YouTube).  I thought it was exceptional; much better than I was expecting.  I wish I could see a live production.  Assassins, too.
Assassins shouldn't be too hard. It is put on by university drama departments a lot. I think SS waives royalties on it for schools.
The ones I have seen live are Todd, sevearl times in several ways, Company, and Forum. Plus a concert Follies.

Passion https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/forum/2015/showcase.aspx?id=29799
« Last Edit: June 01, 2015, 04:08:45 PM by Ken B »

Online (poco) Sforzando

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 5725
  • Location: Long Island, NY
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #34 on: June 04, 2015, 10:24:45 AM »
I like Sondheim very much too, at least the ones I know. I know at least Forum (was musical director for a college production around 1970), Company (seen on Broadway), Night Music, Sweeney Todd (seen at several good local productions, and on film), George (seen on Broadway), and Woods (the recent film of which was surprisingly good). I don't know Passion, Pacific, Merrily, Assassins, or Follies, though I can pull several of these off YouTube.

Can't add much new to the many good comments, other than a small personal anecdote. When I was about 15 (c. 1964) and still under the delusion that I would become a great composer, I went through a spell of writing a musical comedy and contacted by letter about a dozen well-known Broadway composers asking for help. Of the few that replied, most were unwilling to assist me, but Sondheim wrote back and said words to the effect that he would meet with me, but that I must expect very severe criticism. Well, since I didn't think the stuff I had written was very good to start with, that was enough to scare me off completely and I never followed up. (Somehow I doubt it mattered to him one way or the other.) But who knows, perhaps if I had accepted the offer my life might have taken a very different trajectory. At this point, however, it's a little late to schedule a meeting.

Anyhow, that is my little contribution to the Sondheim biography. I still have his typewritten, hand-signed letter.
"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #35 on: June 04, 2015, 10:35:43 AM »
I like Sondheim very much too, at least the ones I know. I know at least Forum (was musical director for a college production around 1970), Company (seen on Broadway), Night Music, Sweeney Todd (seen at several good local productions, and on film), George (seen on Broadway), and Woods (the recent film of which was surprisingly good). I don't know Passion, Pacific, Merrily, Assassins, or Follies, though I can pull several of these off YouTube.

Can't add much new to the many good comments, other than a small personal anecdote. When I was about 15 (c. 1964) and still under the delusion that I would become a great composer, I went through a spell of writing a musical comedy and contacted by letter about a dozen well-known Broadway composers asking for help. Of the few that replied, most were unwilling to assist me, but Sondheim wrote back and said words to the effect that he would meet with me, but that I must expect very severe criticism. Well, since I didn't think the stuff I had written was very good to start with, that was enough to scare me off completely and I never followed up. (Somehow I doubt it mattered to him one way or the other.) But who knows, perhaps if I had accepted the offer my life might have taken a very different trajectory. At this point, however, it's a little late to schedule a meeting.

Anyhow, that is my little contribution to the Sondheim biography. I still have his typewritten, hand-signed letter.

Quite interesting.  He is quoted as saying teaching a sacred profession, and would teach/coach students whenever he could (as has been pointed out here, there are some YouTube clips of this).  Also, since he had been mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II he wanted to pass along what he had to offer to young composers when approached.  The bit about "severe criticism" probably echoes his own experience with Hammerstein, who treated a teen-aged Sondheim to some harsh criticism but went on to tell him why - and Sondheim, not without some hyperbole, says he learned more in that one afternoon than most composers might in a lifetime.

 :)

Online (poco) Sforzando

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 5725
  • Location: Long Island, NY
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #36 on: June 04, 2015, 10:44:04 AM »
Quite interesting.  He is quoted as saying teaching a sacred profession, and would teach/coach students whenever he could (as has been pointed out here, there are some YouTube clips of this).  Also, since he had been mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II he wanted to pass along what he had to offer to young composers when approached.  The bit about "severe criticism" probably echoes his own experience with Hammerstein, who treated a teen-aged Sondheim to some harsh criticism but went on to tell him why - and Sondheim, not without some hyperbole, says he learned more in that one afternoon than most composers might in a lifetime.

 :)

Yes, I know the Hammerstein anecdote now, but I didn't then, and I was anticipating nothing other than an afternoon of utter humiliation.
"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Offline San Antone

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8071
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #37 on: November 17, 2015, 08:53:53 AM »

Offline VonStupp

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 898
    • Amazon Public Profile
  • Location: Breadbasket, USA
  • Currently Listening to:
    Backtracking through my catalog
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #38 on: November 27, 2021, 10:15:40 AM »
Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano


Listening to Sondheim, Sondheim, and more Sondheim, probably for awhile.

RIP.

--Bruce

I heard the news too a couple of hours ago.  What a talent!

PD

Bringing Anthony De Mare's Liasons Project out after so many years, per Bruce's and PD's post.

It is interesting to hear others' takes on Sondheim for piano; particularly, for me, W. Bolcolm and S. Reich.

Includes:
Andy Akiho- Into the Woods
Mason Bates-  Very Put Together (after Putting It Together)
Eve Beglarian- Perpetual Happiness (after Happiness)
Derek Bermel- Sorry-Grateful
Jherek Bischoff- Ballad of Guiteau
William Bolcom- A Little Night Fughetta (Send in the Clowns)
Jason Robert- Brown Birds of Victorian England (Green Finch and Linnet Bird)
Kenji Bunch- The Demon Barber (Ballad of Sweeney Todd)
Mary Ellen- Childs Now (Now/Later/Soon)
Michael Daugherty- Everybody’s Got the Right
Peter Golub- A Child of Children and Art
Ricky Ian Gordon- Every Day a Little Death
Annie Gosfield- A Bowler Hat
Jake Heggie- I’m Excited. No, You’re Not. (Weekend in the Country)
Fred Hersch- No One is Alone
Ethan Iverson- Send in the Clowns
Gabriel Kahane- Being Alive
Phil Kline- Paraphrase of Someone in a Tree
Tania Leon- going… gone (after Good Thing Going)
Ricardo Lorenz- The Worst [Empanadas] in London (The Worst Pies in London)
Wynton Marsalis- That Old Piano Roll
Paul Moravec- I Think About You (Losing My Mind)
Nico Muhly- Color and Light
John Musto- Epiphany
Thomas Newman- Not While I’m Around
David Rakowski- The Ladies Who Lunch
Steve Reich- Finishing the Hat – Two Pianos
Eric Rockwell- You Could Drive a Person Crazy
Daniel Bernard Roumain- Another Hundred People
Frederic Rzewski- I’m Still Here
Rodney Sharman- Notes on Beautiful (after Beautiful)
Duncan Sheik- Johanna… in Space
David Shire- Love is In the Air
Bernadette Speach- In and Out of Love (Liaisons/Send in the Clowns)
Mark-Anthony Turnage- Pretty Women
Nils Vigeland- Alma Mater/Merrily We Roll Along
« Last Edit: November 27, 2021, 10:32:07 AM by VonStupp »
“All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff.”

Offline Brewski

  • Global Moderator
  • *
  • Posts: 13219
  • "Man With No Shadow" by Makoto Tojiki (2009)
Re: Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)
« Reply #39 on: November 27, 2021, 10:30:53 AM »
Thanks for that nudge; I actually have not yet heard the De Mare album, and naturally it's getting a bit of air time since yesterday. That's quite an array of composers!

--Bruce
“I set down a beautiful chord on paper—and suddenly it rusts.”

- Alfred Schnittke

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY