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The Music of Rodgers & Hammerstein

The Music of Rodgers & Hammerstein

60.00

688 words
program notes by Chris Myers

A general overview of Rodgers & Hammerstein's career written for a concert featuring excerpts from many of their musicals, this note is suitable for any performance featuring their music.

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Copyright © 2015 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution or reproduction prohibited.

The Carousel Waltz
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)
2 flutes (doubling piccolo), oboe/English horn, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, percussion, strings

Composed 1945. First performance: March 22, 1945, New Haven, Connecticut.

A Rodgers & Hammerstein Sing-Along
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)
2 flutes, oboe/English horn, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, percussion, harp, strings

from South Pacific (1949):
South Pacific Overture
Some Enchanted Evening

from Oklahoma! (1943):
People Will Say We’re In Love

from The King & I (1951):
Getting To Know You
Shall We Dance?

from The Sound of Music (1959):
Do-Re-Mi
My Favorite Things
Edelweiss
Climb Ev’ry Mountain

Their songs and stories have become such an integral part of our culture that it is easy to forget how revolutionary the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were. From their first collaboration until Hammerstein’s death in 1960, there wasn’t a single significant innovation in Broadway musicals that didn’t involve one or the other of these artists.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were both well-known and successful Broadway songwriters before they began working together. Richard Rodgers wrote a series of hit shows with lyricist Lorenz Hart, including Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, and The Boys From Syracuse. Hammerstein, meanwhile, had great success with composer Jerome Kern on shows like Sweet Adeline and Show Boat. This last show was a watershed moment in theater history. It was the first significant musical with a serious plot, and it was the first successful show in which the songs were integral to the plot rather than diversions intended merely to entertain the audience.

Hammerstein found a willing partner in such innovation when he began work with Richard Rodgers on Oklahoma! This first collaboration produced another first in theater history: a story driven not only by acting and songs, but also by dance. Nothing in the show’s structure was diversionary; each moment was carefully crafted to develop plot and character. In Carousel, the team did away with the overture entirely and thrust the audience directly into the action. Instead of the traditional medley of themes from the show, the show opened with a pantomime scene accompanied by The Carousel Waltz.

The shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein were groundbreaking in more than storytelling technique. They also addressed an impressive number of taboo topics while still managing to remain commercially successful. Controversial subjects were familiar territory to Hammerstein—Show Boat was the first racially-integrated musical and the first to sympathetically portray an interracial marriage.

This willingness to confront audiences with social issues continued when Hammerstein joined Rodgers. Carousel was the tragic story of an antihero (unheard of on Broadway) and revolved around the horrors of domestic violence. South Pacific addressed racism head-on with songs such as “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. In Flower Drum Song, the duo wrote a show to a book by a Chinese author that not only featured a Chinese character in the lead role, but premiered with a largely Asian cast at the insistence of the songwriting team.

By the late 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein had transformed musical theater from lighthearted comic entertainment into a forum for telling serious stories and addressing current issues. The Sound of Music was their last and most popular collaboration. Although it went on to become the most financially successful Broadway film adaptation in history, Oscar Hammerstein didn’t live to enjoy the acclaim. He passed away nine months after the show opened on Broadway. “Edelweiss” was the last song the two men wrote together.

When Richard Rodgers was asked to compose additional songs for the film version of The Sound of Music, he chose to pen the lyrics himself rather than let another writer attempt to fill in for Hammerstein. Rodgers later collaborated with other lyricists, including Stephen Sondheim (Do I Hear a Waltz?), but he never again achieved the level of artistic brilliance and commercial success he had with Hammerstein. In sixteen short years, Rodgers and Hammerstein created a body of work which has become central to the fabric of American culture and, in the process, changed the face of theater forever.

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