The joy of a first listen -- and comparing his gifts to Hart, Porter, Sondheim, Lerner...
Last Edit: GrumpyMorningBoy 01:24 pm EDT 04/17/24
Posted by: GrumpyMorningBoy 01:15 pm EDT 04/17/24
In reply to: re: What are Oscar Hammerstein II's best lyrics? (or... your personal favorites) - jeffef 10:55 am EDT 04/17/24

That's a brilliant lyric! I think what's also a challenge -- in terms of appreciating Hammerstein's genius -- is that so many of these songs were on repeat from my parents' vinyl collection. They're so darn familiar that they seem to have existed forever and always. It's hard to see them / hear them with fresh ears and notice just how inventive and clever they actually are!

But THAT, in my opinion, is something that Hammerstein does better than anyone else. Far more often than not, the lyrics are so breezy, effortless and well-paced that you can take in / appreciate their cleverness right there, in the theater, the very first time you hear them. Howard Ashman shared that particular gift -- they breathe.

But compare to Sondheim, who -- when he isn't being showy ("The Story of Lucy and Jessie"), often wrote so brilliantly that the average listener couldn't possibly pick up on all the wordsmithing that went in. In the 80's and 90's, critics complained about being lost; FORBIDDEN BROADWAY'S "Into the Words" even claimed that Sondheim's internal rhymes baffled Merman. (Well worth a laugh and a listen, linked below)

I could point to other impossibly clever lyricists like Rupert Holmes, whose brilliance often flies by you so quickly that you'd have to rewind and listen four times before you even know what they're actually saying. ("No Good Can Come From Bad," an extra guilty culprit). Lovely fun for a cast recording you'll repeat and grow to cherish, but less effective in the theatre.

Alongside Hammerstein II, I'd probably highlight Noel Coward and Irving Berlin in terms of their easy, effortless cleverness. Gosh, their songs (and jokes) go down easy.

But when it comes to also being a dramatist, and spinning these lyrics as a living, breathing character, goodness gracious he rose far above them (and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart), didn't he?

In my estimation, the only other Golden Age lyricist who approached his level of elegance, dramatic integrity and effortless style is Alan Jay Lerner. (Although I'll happily go to bat for Comden & Green, who may have been writing less ambitiously.)

Does anyone agree with that? And would you be comfortable saying that Hammerstein II was the best of his era?

- GMB
Link INTO THE WOODS parody from FORBIDDEN BROADWAY
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Next: re: The joy of a first listen -- and comparing his gifts to Hart, Porter, Sondheim, Lerner... - keikekaze 11:03 pm EDT 04/17/24
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