Music moves and excites people, in great numbers. Music defines culture, sensibility and the innate nature. It is directly expressive of our personalities and emotions. This was true of the great music legends and their works. Whether Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim, music flowed in rhythm through their unique sensitivities upholding every virtue of human consciousness. Modern western listeners have had the unique experience of hearing music refracted through the prism of a hundred different cultures as a brood of musical changelings, for example, in the form of African or Asian cross-cultural pop. And of course listeners in contemporary America or Europe have had the opportunity to hear live performances and recordings by some of the greatest singers in the classical, folk and popular styles of the world. (Potter, 2000) But the legacy left behind by the Lloyd Weber and Sondheim was unparalleled. The performance practice of the twentieth century’s singing entertainers is a vital component of the mass culture of its period, and it could be understood that Sondheim had its influences. Very much inventive and new, Stephen Sondheim remains one of the most captivating of Broadway composers. His solo Broadway work is by misfortune not aware to the common people who enjoy music just like his early associations like the ‘West Side Story’. The very first reason could be the demise of the movie musical, which helped the public to acknowledge and appreciate the musicals and cultivate a familiarity with them. And if we enquire further, it could be seen that the greater sophistication of his songs, have added to the reason behind the unfamiliarity. Of course, Sondheim does not write like Andrew Lloyd Webber in the highly refined grand style of classic musical stage. Instead Sondheim looks for strange and unusual topics, just like the cannibalistic killer of Sweeney Todd, for his plays, and succeeds in writing the most loved tender of lengthy songs, like ‘Nothing’s Going to Harm You’. But the basic Sondheim, lies somewhere else say for example ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Little Night Music; that brings the real lyricist with his innate passions.
The Making of Sondheim
Sondheim’s experiences in life was varied, perhaps one which was very much essential to make a lyricist. His association with Jimmy Hammerstein, son of the well-known lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II, when he was still very young; gave him the great opportunity to shape his future life. Hammerstein had a great influence on the young writer, particularly in creating in his youthful mind a passion for the musical theatre, which also gave him another opportunity to meet Harold Prince, who later shaped his career in many ways, such as directing many of Sondheim’s most famous shows. While at school he wrote a comic musical based on the events at school, which became popular among his mates but Hammerstein, showed him a good gesture to correct it, which taught the young Sondheim more about song writing and the musical theatre. Hammerstein even made a special curriculum for Sondheim to train him in writing songs. After his graduation, Sondheim went to study composition with Milton Babbitt, which moulded the young Sondheim particularly in developing his exquisite style, which is highly chromatic and ingenuously tonal (Joanne Gordon, 1997).
Sondheim’s shift to Broadway to work as lyricist, has changed his entire perceptions; it could better to point out that his struggle with life writing for television series and a peep into the cinema, was in fact moulding a great artist. He even confessed that the films of the forties and fifties were his textbooks, in engaging with the movie musicals. It cannot be ruled out that his favourite movies like the Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, and Stairway to Heaven influenced him much. Even though Sondheim’s music and lyrics for the Saturday Night, was never produced on Broadway the big break came with the lyrics he wrote for West Side Story, accompanying Leonard Bernstein’s music. His 1957 show, directed by Jerome Robbins, made 732 performances, even though Sondheim personally had a discontent with his own lyrics. Sondheim’s musical rallies were splendid successes after that and in 1959, his Gypsy became a super hit, with his own lyrics. His association with Arthur Laurents, created another spectacle of musical power, running 702 performances. In 1962, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, ran for 964 performances in which Sondheim wrote music and the lyrics. The Sondheim mania became wide spread with more strength, for he secured a three more hits. The seventies saw Sondheim as a mature composer and lyricist, even associating himself with a string of strange and adventurous musicals.
Sondheim associated with Harold Prince on six various types of musicals between 1970 and 1981. Even though the Company (1970) was a concept musical, changing the very perception of the musical shows, it created a new beginning in the musical stage with performances attributing to special themes and specific set of characters. Follies (1971), and A Little Night Music (1973), shared a similar outlook, but the later turned out to be a greatest success. Merrily We Roll Along (1981), is regarded as one of Sondheim’s typical traditional composition. His association with James Lapine produced Sunday in the Park with George (1984) an avant-garde piece but Sondheim was able to prove his great craftsmanship and talent.
Andrew Lloyd Webber as artist
‘Unlike Sondheim, Lloyd Webber knew what he wanted to make his life’s work. He also knew he was so ungifted with words that no amount of reading or study would ever make him capable of writing lyrics to his own songs. Thus he was convinced that his career could not take off unless he could work with an imaginative, hopefully poetic lyricist.’ (Stephen Citron, 2001) Thus Andrew Lloyd Webber’s initiation into the music scenario was with lyricist Tim Rice through The Likes of Us, which reflects the characteristics of the Broadway musical of the forties and fifties. It is also suggestive of Lloyd Webber’s early influences; musical reviewers say that Richard Rodgers, Frederick Loewe, and Lionel Bart were the people who influenced him most in the early period. An in depth analysis of Webber’s works will show light how his later works deferred for their resemblance to opera apart from the Broadway musical. Even though Lloyd Webber and Rice began their collaborations quite early with individual pop songs, the association never produced a remarkable work. In the song they wrote for the Colet Court they humorously imitated various musical styles like the Calypso and country music as well. The musical had a great deviation as it touched a soft, light-hearted, mocking tone of The Likes of Us but very much in vogue, with respect to style. It had great resemblance to the contemporary pop music when compared to that of the music of their peers, fusing a variety of musical styles. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s admiration for Elvis Presley, inspired his splendid imagination to create It’s Easy for You, one of Lloyd Webber’s finest compositions which was followed by their third musical, Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), which became a great success. Jesus Christ Superstar, was conceived as an experimental stuff, based on the final days of Jesus Christ. The music in Jesus Christ Superstar was particularly stirring that we see a shift in the composition of Lloyd Webber. The music was penetrating, and most often dark and disturbing, especially in the scenes that depict the final hours – the crucifixion. This was again heightened with controlled passion and spontaneous music in the scenes that show the disagreement between Jesus and Judas. A distingue aspect related to this album is that the rock idiom was used as a thematic device, to heighten the musical sensation. Music like the kindred arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, appeals to the spirit of man through significant images and makes no essential difference that in this album, the mental image is musical and not verbal. The essential power of the music is to make us see and hear, not to make us think or feel; thought and feeling must arise out of the sight or be included in it, but spiritual uplifting is the primary consequence and the power of music. Lloyd Webber had that magical power, and it is much evident in Jesus Christ Superstar. He continued with his experiments that made no great impacts, but in the mid seventies, again associated with Rice write Evita, a musical based on the life of Eva Peron. The song in the album ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ was able to rouse audience across nations. The music of Evita was also very much distinct, particularly of its classical resemblance. Evita was a indeed a greatly acclaimed show and was also a highly successful one which was performed for ten years; and it also marked the end of a great partnership, between Rice and Lloyd Webber. But the artist did not stop experimenting. Lloyd Webber’s single project, the Variations soon became a great hit in England, the album was co-produced by his brother Julian Lloyd (Kate Walsh, 1989).
The music of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s passion for new type of music and compositions took him to the great modern poets like T.S. Eliot. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was the main inspiration and text for Lloyd Webber, which was characterised by its unique composition. The musical proved out to be unique in many respects, particularly its construction. Lloyd Webber walked away from the traditional patterns and included spoken verse; there was also a tremendous change to the set, which portrayed a junk yard. Lloyd Webber had great reasons for selecting Eliot. There is plenty of poetry signed by poets of reputation but Eliot’s poetry, because of its principle of expression has got far enough away from the principle of prose expression. It should be noted that if the aim of the lyrics is to define and fix an object, fact, feeling thought before the appreciating intelligence, with whatever clearness, power, richness or other beauty of presentation; the aim of the music is to make the thing presented live to the imaginative vision, the responsive inner emotion, the spiritual sense, the soul-feeling and soul-sight. Lloyd Webber’s music very well fuses with Eliot’s poetry and transcends the listeners to a new experience. His eclecticism is also very much present in the album; musical genres also vary to a great extent from classical to pop, music hall, jazz and electro acoustic music. It was no surprise that turned out to be the longest performed musical in London, for about twenty one years, just to get replaced only by another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The modern distinction is that music appeals to the imagination and not to the intellect. But there are many kinds of imagination; the objective imagination which strongly visualises the outward aspects of life and things; the subjective imagination which visualises strongly mental and emotional impressions, which have the power to start in the mind. The imagination which deals with the play of mental fictions and to which we give the name of musical fantasy, the aesthetic imagination which delights in the beauty of words and images for their own sake and sees no farther. Lloyd Webber’s Requiem Mass (1985) was a typical example of this objective imagination, which was inspired by an article about the sad situation of the orphans in the war-torn Cambodia. Lloyd Webber also got a Grammy Award for the album in the category of best classical composition, and it was also placed high UK pop charts. Lloyd Webber’s in his other great musical, The Phantom of the Opera, intelligently fuses various styles from the grand operas of Meyerbeer to Mozart. Again Webber goes for experimentation but with a renewed urge for self expression. The musical fragments from the grand operas were presented with interruptions by dialogue or action sequences, to construct a show within a show format. Lloyd Webber’s works include Whistle Down the Wind, Song and Dance, The Woman in White and The Beautiful Game.
Sondheim’s work stands out for his use of complex polyphony in the vocal parts. This is well illustrated in the chorus of A Little Night Music produced in 1973. He also has a passion for angular harmonies which he displayed well along with notes of intricate melodies, which gets mot of the listeners to the compositions of Bach. Sondheim’s great fans and enthusiasts consider that his musical sophistication is superior to any of his contemporaries by its attractiveness and originality of craft. In the same way, most of his aficionados appreciate and love his lyrics for their ambiguity, wit, and urbanity. The lyricists of the period have never philosophised, moralised or criticised life in energetic, telling, beautiful, attractive and cultured verse, but Sondheim interpreted life with a refined poetic power or inspired insight and was stirred and uplifted deeply by great vision of truth. Sondheim showed us the real nature of the lyrics. Rhythm is the premier necessity of poetical expression because it is the sound movement, which carries on its wave the thought movement in the word. It is the musical sound image which most helps to fill in, to subtilise and deepen the thought impression or emotional or vital impression to carry the sense beyond to an expression of the intellectually inexpressible. This is often precipitated as the peculiar power of music. Sondheim’s lyrics and music always depicted this great association, and that’s why it is more divine that the music of his peers.