Rodgers and Hammerstein
Where Music and Lyrics Meet
Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are known all over the world today. Some people are probably not even aware that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote some of their famous songs, but in the world of the American musical theater, the duo are considered to have had the ‘most consistently fruitful and successful partnership’ in musical theater history.
Rodgers and Hammerstein both had extensive careers in the theater, before writing the musical score for The Sound of Music. Rodgers, born June 28th 1902, was, at the age of sixteen, writing successful songs with Lorenz Hart. They worked together for over twenty years until Hart died in 1943, after which Rodgers then formed a partnership with Hammerstein (born July 12th 1895) – the start of one of the most brilliant song writing teams ever.
Rodgers had a background of ‘old style, fun musicals’ whilst Hammerstein came from an opera and operetta background. Their first project, writing the score for the musical ‘Oklahoma’ (1943) reflected this, and proved to be extremely popular.
Very soon, a formula became familiar, so familiar in fact, that it was named the Rodgers and Hammerstein formula.
“Rodgers and Hammerstein offered recognizable characters singing in stories, told with wit and genuine heart” - John Kenrick
The Sound of Music was originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1959 for the Broadway stage production. However, many of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s stage musicals were turned into successful films by Hollywood –
The Sound of Music being one of them. It has been said of the pair that they changed the destiny of American musical theater and that The Sound of Music ended up being the most financially successful film adaptation of a Broadway musical ever made.
One of the things people liked about the way they wrote their songs was that they didn’t just write songs for their popularity, but they wrote them to help move along the plot of the musical.
Dick and Oscar, as they were fondly called in the theater, were such a phenomenal team that their songs appeared to have come from one person, however Hammerstein would first write the lyrics and Rodgers would then fit the music to them.
During their career together, Rodgers and Hammerstein received many musical awards. These included:
34 Tony Awards
15 Academy Awards
2 Pulitzer Prizes
2 Grammy Awards
2 Emmy Awards
Unfortunately, The Sound of Music proved to be
the last time that the two would work together. During the writing of The Sound of Music, Oscar Hammerstein fell ill. He died on 23rd August 1960, nine months after the opening of 'The Sound of Music' on Broadway. Hammerstein never got to see the wonderful screen version. The beautiful ballad ‘Edelweiss’ was the last song he put words to. I find it incredibly moving that the last word Hammerstein ever wrote creatively, was the word ‘forever’. The whole theatrical world mourned the loss of this talented man.
Rodgers was asked to write two extra songs for The Sound of Music, which he did, writing both the music and the lyrics. He continued to write music but never found a partner to equal Hammerstein. Rodgers has been described as one of America’s greatest songwriters of all time, and over his six decade career he had written more that 900 published songs and forty Broadway musicals.
Rodgers died on 30th December 1979 at the age of seventy-seven. In 1990, the 46th Street Theatre in New York City was renamed as the
Richard Rodgers Theatre.
This is considered to be Broadway’s highest honor. In the theatre there is the Richard Rodgers Gallery, that contains memorabilia from his very successful career.
In 1999, the United States printed a postage stamp to commemorate the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership. People will remember these two men in so many different ways……..their popularity is still immense, and the sound of their music will continue not only on stage and in films, but on CDs, records and videos.
Today the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization (RHO) are continually creating new ways for future generations to enjoy Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work. For example Bert Fink, Senior Vice President at the RHO has adapted The Sound of Music story into a pop-up book for young children and fans of the movie. It brings all the scenes from the famous Broadway musical to a 3D format and even includes some of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics.
Bert Fink has also recently been involved in filming some more footage in Salzburg, visiting old movie locations and interviewing locals for more stories about The Sound of Music. All this has been put onto a blu-ray disc edition of The Sound of Music that was released on 2nd November 2010.
So, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, it looks as if our ‘hearts will be blessed by the Sound of Music’ for many years to come.
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