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Stephen Sondheim, as Nice a Composer as He Was a Lyricist

Within the early ’90s, at a number of memorial companies for associates who had died of AIDS, I performed “Good Factor Going,” a wistful track about recalling imperfect however cherished relationships. “Marry Me a Little,” lower from the unique manufacturing of “Firm” however beloved in later revivals because the protagonist’s assertion of dedication and despair, was one other piece I relished performing; I nonetheless use the demanding perpetual-motion piano half as an train to maintain my finger approach limber.

In 2010, I made an eightieth birthday tribute video to him for the Occasions web site, by which, amongst different excerpts, I performed and analyzed the wondrous chords initially of “Sunday within the Park with George.” Right here, the hero, Georges Seurat, talking to the viewers, explains the weather of portray, how the artist should carry “order to the entire” by design, composition, stability, gentle — and, lastly, concord. Every phrase is accompanied, virtually musically illustrated, by a variant of a five-note arpeggio determine that uncannily embodies every idea. The chord for gentle is so piercing and vibrant you virtually need to squint.

In 2016, I posed to Sondheim the query of why such a grasp composer so seldom wrote a purely instrumental work. Sure, he was one of many biggest lyricists within the historical past of musical theater. However wasn’t he tempted to place phrases apart every now and then, and simply compose, say, a piano sonata?

He answered that it wasn’t actually the phrases that generated his musical concepts. “I categorical the character,” he stated. “Let’s see what occurs to him. I categorical it musically.” He was endlessly fascinated by the “puzzle of music,” he added. However when he will get solely into music, the “puzzle takes over.”

I’ve been pondering since his dying a couple of journey to the Bronx Zoo my husband and I took within the spring of 2019 with Sondheim and his husband, Jeff Romley. They have been passionate animal lovers, and my cousin Kathleen LaMattina works there together with her husband, Jim Breheny, the zoo’s director. In a particular room, these honored visitors may pet sloths and penguins, and even get near a cheetah, below a workers member’s calm management. I’ve photos of Sondheim feeding leafy tree branches to a giraffe.

I’m wanting as I write this on the piano-vocal rating to “Sweeney Todd” Sondheim signed for me the primary time he got here to dinner, in 1997.

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