Friday, June 10, 2011


Having gotten all my music back, the next task is recreating playlists. First and foremost was the "Broadway" playlist. Followed by not one but three Sondheim lists: "Sondheim," and from that "Sondheim Favorites," and from that a "Sondheim CD."

The hardest part was choosing only enough that fit on a CD.

Yes, I know that they lose something by being removed from their context in the whole of the work – even if the only place I have heard that work is on soundtrack. Musicals, especially Sondheim's, have a musical and dramatic arc which can be heard even in the songs without staging. I know that in some sense I am doing violence to the depth of the music by taking it from its natural environment.

But I can't help it. I am not the ony one who has found his music interesting: according to Wikipedia, some 900 versions of “Send In The Clowns” have been recorded and it has become a "jazz standard." Add to that the versions of “Children Will Listen,” and “Move On,” and you have a clear love of his music. Although that is in some sense surprising, since as classic as his musicals are, all of them have been by conventional wisdom flops on Broadway.

Which means that people don't get his music taken as a whole. The fact of the matter is that with some exceptions, all of his songs are either so closely tied to the play in which they reside that they make little sense outside that context, or alternatively are simply impossible to sing. My all-time favorite Sondheim number, “The Advantages of Floating in the Sea,” from Pacific Overtures, is both of those. (I love it because it may be the best example of world-building with a song that I've heard, although the "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" comes close.)

I am sad that I have not had a chance to see his work live, merely through CDs and in some cases DVDs (Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods). (I understand that there is a DVD version of Passion, and I have yet to see the movie version of A Little Night Music.) I have seen a junior high school production of  Into the Woods, Jr. a version developed for children to perform, which drops the second act entirely. Which makes sense, since I don't think twelve-year-olds could pull off an act which deals with topics such as infidelity and death. A little dark, don't you think?

I am looking forward a couple of weeks to seeing the film of the performance of Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti Lupone and Stephen Colbert (?). It's only a film, but it will be a great fun. Well, not fun exactly: aside From a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, none of Sondheim's work can described as “fun.” Not that he does not occasionally have fun lyrics: “Gee Officer Krupke,” from West Side Story, and “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd. My very favorite pun of all times comes in “Agony (Reprise)” in the second act of Into the Woods: When the princes sing “As they sleep there for years/ and we cry on their biers.” Even Company contains wonderfully amusing but terribly cynical “The Little Things You Do Together.”

I wish I could tell Sondheim just how much his music and lyrics have enriched my life. I do not normally mourn the passing of public figures, but I will weep when he dies.

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