Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I spent time watching Stephen Sondheim interviews. I must admit that I was not overly familiar with his work. I am more so now, and I’m seriously impressed. His interview with James Lipton of the Actors Studio is particularly good. Liz Callaway’s rendition of Barcelona is stunning, the song, itself, brilliant, clever, and enchanting with a musical score that demonstrates to the listener how and why musical theater can be something more than simply theater.
On songwriting, Sondheim said in an interview with Adam Guettel:
“I have a mantra that consists of three principles which is: content dictates form and style, less is more, and God is in the details, and I think that If you pay attention to those three, you can’t write bad. So simple. I’ve often said you can teach lyric writing in five minutes… Just stick to those principles. They’re just hard to stick to… and economy … above all, clarity is what it’s all about. It’s clarity of diction … The words have got to sit on the music in such a way… and clarity of thought. Make it very clear to the audience. You can add mystery to it but make very clear to the audience what you mean and make sure that the performer, when straitjacketed by music, can get the words out so that you only need one listening to get exactly who they are and what they mean. It’s very hard to do, but if you do it, you can’t write bad.”
Not write bad? Not write bad, indeed.
His was truly a great gift.
One last point, his interviews are in a class by themselves. You can’t help but like and admire this man.
As a bonus watch his 90th Birthday Celebration.