Music styles: The Spin Offs- Richard Rodgers (Chapter I)
In these series we have been talking about the card faces representing the Great American Songbook, well today chapter is dedicated, if instead of cards we were talking about “bees”, to the Queen Bee of the tunesmiths.
That is the reason why last but not least, I decided review Richard Rodgers at the end.
You will see that this producer is like a summary of the series dedicated to Great American Songbook tunesmiths, as most of the names reviewed will be mentioned here again as a consequence of collaborations either fix or eventual.
The critics consider Richard Rodgers as the most successful composer of theater music along the 20th century.
Just to have an idea about his huge production we must take into account that he wrote the score for 42 Broadway musicals, 11 movie musicals and 2 musicals specially created for television.
One of the highlighted characteristics of Richard Rodgers style that was present on all his compositions was the dramatic context environment that filled all the music he wrote.
As the rest of the tunesmiths we have reviewed Richard Rodgers besides composing also was a main contributor to the librettos for whose shows he was responsible for, and sometimes he played a role as producer.
Regarding awards the list is at about as long as the list of tracks composed, thus he won Pulitzer Prizes, Tony, Grammy and Academy Awards, as you can see all of them related with different Show Business artistic disciplines.
As the others we used to work with lyricist too, but he was focused mainly on Lorenz Hart and/or Oscar Hammerstein II (read their respective dedicated producers).
For instance with Lorenz Hart collaborated in 38 professional shows and films, most of them are remembered primarily for the individual tracks that came out of them.
"It's Easy to Remember,"
"There's a Small Hotel".
While with Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated in 9 stage musicals, 1 movie musical and 1 television musical.
In this case instead of the tracks were the shows themselves what hit the charts and remain in the collective memory.
Another remarked feature of Richard Rodgers was his capacity to adapt his writing style to each partner who he collaborated along his life.
Thus, in the case of Lorenz Hart, who
usually wrote the lyrics after our man
had composed the tune, Richard Rodgers wrote catchy songs that matched
his partner's irony and punning.
The outcome of this connection were compositions that attracted, as the sugar attracts flies, not only jazz singers but pop ones too.
Contrary to the Lorenz Hart case, with Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the lyrics first, Richard Rodgers created a sort of melodies with wide movements, some of them were recalled operettas.
After Oscar Hammerstein death Richard
Rodgers continued producing for a period of 19 years plus, until he passed away
too. Although he worked with new lyricists, very often he used to write both,
words and music. Not in vain some of the most successful works in his late
career were those he wrote by himself.
Richard Rodgers was a New York native, his parents used to attend Broadway musicals and buy the show score so that they would reproduce them at their home.
Richard Rodgers as well as other tunesmiths was a precocious artist, being able to pick out melodies on the piano, while being just a child.
At the early age of nine we was writing melodies by himself. The first complete song he composed was “Campfire days” a kind of homage to a summer camp he attended in 1916.
His older brother, Mortimer, was nearby to Columbia University and introduced him to Oscar Hammerstein who was studying law at Columbia University.
Hammerstein was the responsible of the book for “Home James”, a show performed at the Columbia Varsity Show, (The Varsity Show, founded in 1894, is one of the oldest traditions at Columbia University, and certainly its oldest performing arts tradition). Richard Rodgers was only 14 old.
In spite Lorenz Hart was also studying at Columbia and also was a participant in the show, they did not met on this occasion.
Richard Rodgers’ brother, Mortimer, gave
him the opportunity to write music for the first show he created, a musical
show whose main goal was to collect money to buy cigarettes for the American
troops participant in World War I.
Mortimer was part of the athletic organization Akron Club, but none of its members had musical skills, so that he decided ordered to his own brother to write the tunes for that show.
The name of the show was “One Minute Please”, its first gig was held at the Plaza Hotel on December 29 1917.
By working on a new benefit show, “Up Stage & Down” , performed at another mythic hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria, on March 8 1919, Richard Rodgers was finally introduced to Lorenz Hart, creating the legend of the magic duo, Rodgers & Hart.
The first hit they got as one of the most successful composer duos ever, arrived when they persuaded to a very well-known comic, Lew Fields to interpolate one of their compositions, "Any Old Place With You," into his own show “A Lonely Romeo”, that was in the late summer of 1919, only a few months later since they joined.
That is considered as the first Richard Rodgers composition included in a Broadway show, please take into account that our man was only 17 years old.
Those tracks he wrote for the show, Fly With Me convinced Lew Fields to decided that the magic duo should be the responsible ones to write the songs for his next Broadway musical, Poor Little Rich Girl.
But later on, Lew Fields decided to introduce some songs from other lyricists.
By that time Richard Rodgers was only 18 old, but his career was on the launching ramp.
Once more he wrote the Columbia Varsity Show, “You'll Never Know”, directed by Oscar Hammerstein., after that he left Columbia University and joined the Institute of Musical Art, just to be concentrated on music.
As usual he continued writing songs with Lorenz Hart for amateur shows, but they have some professional productions too, for instance from that period highlights “The Melody Man”, were the son of Lew Fields was involved too.
At the age of 23, he finished with his education and seriously considered giving up music as a career, lucky for us music lovers, he made the right decision, and do not.
He was offered a job as a salesman and was about to accept it when the Theatre Guild asked him and Lorenz Hart to write the songs for another benefit show, a musical revue called The Garrick Gaieties.
Their score produced two song hits, as well. "Manhattan" was given popular instrumental recordings by The Knickerbockers and Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.
The Knickerbockers also recorded "Sentimental Me," although these versions contributed to popularize his productions, and of course the songs, Richard Rodgers much preferred to have his songs performed exactly as they had been written for the stage, not as they were rearranged by dance bands or reinterpreted by pop singers on records, just as well as his colleagues Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.
The success they got from The Garrick Gaieties launched the magic duo and over the next six years, they mounted a remarkable 16 additional shows in New York and London.