Back when I was first learning about him, I was stunned to discover that the songs in some of his early shows like Company (1970) were originally viewed by some critics as ‘cold.’ To me his music seems the opposite of cold; his melodies have always seemed warm and inviting, while his harmonies have invariably stuck with me. I know nothing about music theory, but I do know that great composers use certain chords and rhythms and harmonies to evoke sadness or joy or melancholy. I suspect that if Mr. Sondheim were to write a book about his music, rather than his lyrics, he would explain just as clinically how he creates mood with harmony.
But reading Finishing the Hat made me realize that my assumption had been way too blithe; it was a way of letting myself off the hook. What I had long admired about Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics — what everyone admires, really — was their sheer gleaming intelligence. But what I had been missing — and what I could see, at last, on the page, as I listened to his songs — was their wealth of emotion, and how often they directly spoke to me.
Joe Nocera (on Sondheim)
This guy gets it.
“Do I Hear A Waltz?” — Elizabeth Allen — Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965)
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
“Leona has always believed that when she truly fell in love she would hear a waltz. Alternately enchanted by Di Rossi and mistrusting him, and thinking he has stood her up on a date, she sees him arriving at the pensione with the gift of a garnet necklace she has longed for.”
-Stephen Sondheim, Finishing The Hat
Does he worry that our willingness to inhabit new fictional worlds has been compromised by the technological mania of contemporary life? He nodded wearily and admitted that he doesn’t use an iPod for fear “of walking right into the path of a Fifth Avenue bus.” Nor does he allow himself to hang out in Internet chat rooms, understanding that someone of his “addictive nature” might end up there all the time. If this makes him sound like a throwback, so be it. “I’m a cliché,” this inveterate cliché-crusher said at one point. “I’m a person getting old.” Sitting on the couch, he gives the impression of a timeless monument — scruffy, relaxed and settled into his final shape.
Another beautiful new interview.