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Lecture 13

Lecture 13

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Department
Music
Course
Music 2701A/B
Professor
Prof
Semester
Winter

Description
Music Theatre 2701: Lecture 13: STEPHEN SONDHEIM (Sweeney Todd & Sunday in the Park With George) Stephen Sondheim:  American composer and lyricist for stage and film  Most known for stageworks  Known for innovation  Considered opposite of Lloyd Webber  Famous for trying something new with every show that he’s done o Interesting ways of innovating theatre  Described as “the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre.” o Big television specials of him (on his birthday)  Winner of an Academy Award, nine Tony Awards, including the Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (received 2008), multiple Grammys, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. o Just needs an Emmy and then he’ll be up there with Richard Rodgers As Composer/Lyricist: (Did everything except book writing)  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum o Biggest hit  Company  A Little Night Music  Into The Woods  Assassins As Lyricist only:  West Side Story  Gypsy o Very early in his career – a learning opportunity to work with bigger stars on Broadway Life:  Stephen Joshua Sondheim born 1930 in New York  Parents wealthy socialites with unhappy relationship, bitter divorce  Biographers have described childhood as isolated and emotionally neglected  Famously had a terrible relationship with his mother, but was not allowed to live with his father o Wanted to live with his father but his mother fought for him, his mother was a HUGE piece of work, everybody in the business knew this! o Mother was creepy – would go to movies and hold Sondheim’s hand!  Attended prep school in Pennsylvania after parents’ divorce; fortuitous friendship made there  Did not study at an Ivy League school, despite having the money and connections to do so  Graduated from Williams College in music, then went on to study composition with Milton Babbitt – famous American modern composer Career Development:  Friends with Jimmy Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II  Sondheim wrote a show for prep school, Hammerstein criticized it heavily but told him what was wrong and how to fix it  Sondheim said: “In that afternoon I learned more about songwriting and the musical theatre than most people learn in a lifetime.”  Hammerstein gave him tasks designed to teach him about the construction of musicals: o A musical based on a play he admired o A musical based on a play he thought was flawed o A musical based on an existing novel or short story not previously dramatized (which was Mary Poppins before Disney did it) o An original musical  None of these “assignments” ever produced professionally Constant Innovator:  Collaborated numerous times with director Harold Prince between 1970 and 1981  Company: a “concept musical” based on characters and themes, not straightforward plot  Follies: pastiche of song styles imitating past composers and vaudeville-style songs  A Little Night Music: Whole score is a waltz; in ¾ time or other triple meters  Pacific Overtures: score built on pentatonic scale, staged Kabuki style  Merrily We Roll Along: Written in backwards time – ½ of Last Five Years. You see a couple at the end of their relationship and we go backwards and see how they started Show #1: Sweeney Todd  Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics  Book by Hugh Wheeler  Orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick (long-time orchestrator) o Tunick won various Tony Awards for Orchestrations, working with Sondheim  Directed by Hal Prince  Opened 1979 (557 performance); major revivals in 1989 and 2005; also some notable London productions o Good, healthy run on Broadway o Original cast went on tour (Angela Lansbury was in show) o 2005 show had members on stage whole time – if they weren’t singing or acting, would go play an instrument Genre:  Musical or Opera? Sondheim calls it an operetta o People call it a black comedy  Considered Sondheim’s most operatic work: strength of voices, the lush, romantic score, needs a large powerful chorus and full orchestra  Often performed by opera companies o Need combination of legit and belty voices for this show  However, recent revival performed by small ensemble with actors playing instruments when not singing. Story:  Based on 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond o Bond’s play based on a character popular in Victorian melodramas and “penny dreadful” serials o First known theatrical version from 1842 VERSION OF THE STORY  A barber has been sent to Australia on false charges by a corrupt judge who lusts after the barber’s wife o Barber’s wife is beautiful  With a new name, Sweeney Todd returns to London after 15 years’ transportation  Learns that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge; vows revenge  Meets Mrs. Lovett – she remembers the whole story from way back and tells her that her wife has taken poison  He kills someone that recognizes him from the old days and doesn’t want to be recognized and wants to kill the Judge  Mrs. Lovett uses the person who Sweeney killed to make pies o Allegory for greed and corruption  Story is said to be about numerous things: lust, corruption, Mrs. Lovett’s greed (using people for pies), a comment on capitalism, an allegory on the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution  Sondheim felt it was about the all-consuming obsession of revenge Musical Inspirations:  Frequent use of counterpoint – Sondheim admired Bach  Coming at music from a classical and operetta aspect o A lot of classical influences  Compositional style compared to Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and horror film score composer Bernard Hermann  Sondheim uses a lot of counterpoint o They think he has a baroque style  Heavy reliance on leitmotif: over 20 distinct ones can be identified in the score  Seen as descending from operas such as Berg’s Wozzeck or Britten’s Peter Grimes  Perhaps inspired later “bloody”/horror musicals  Frequent motivic use of Dies irae melody o From thirteenth century: “Roman Catholic Requiem Mass” (Mass for the Dead” o First four notes of Dies Irae are used in the ballad of Sweeney Todd and come back throughout the show  Dies irae (Latin) translates as “Day of Wrath”  First four notes of “Swing your razor wide, Sweeney” SONG: PRELUDE/BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD  Sung by whole cast o Tell you to listen to the story of Sweeney Todd o Not playing characters, kind of like a “Greek Chorus”  First time we hear the ballad of Sweeney Todd  Use of Dies irae musical motive frequently throughout this  This ballad comes back in little snippets through the shoe o Usually when Sweeney kills someone or is about to kill someone  Organ start – both an ecclesiastical instrument and one played in horror films o Eerey sound to it – could be at a church o Kind of creepy like an organ in a horror movie  Loud whistle – reminiscent of prison and workhouse, pervasive sense of dehumanizing effect of Industrial Revolution o Sondheim used this whistle b/c it sounds like a factory or a prison or a workhouse – connotation with this song SONG: NO PLACE LIKE LONDON  Sung by Anthony and Sweeney  Music continuous under dialogue o Music is always there – dark and somber tone created by the organ and strings continuing throughout  Introduces basic character difference between innocent Anthony and cynical Sweeney o Sweeney is cynical and his view on London is different than Anthony. Anthony has been sailing but he still thinks London is home and beautiful o Anthony’s last name is hope – the name tends to describe the character somehow  Anthony’s name a tribute to Victorian stories where characters are given names that describe them. SONG: WORST PIES IN LONDON  Sung by Mrs. Lovett  Sweeney walks into Fleet Street and meets this crazy character named Mrs. Lovett  We see the worst pies in London and she tells us how bad her pies really are  Gives sense of Mrs.
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