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Rodgers & Hart: Urban Wit and Musical Sophistication

Rodgers and Hart: Urbane Wit and Musical Sophistication

The seventeen-year-old Richard Rodgers met the older Lorenz Hart (by seven years) in March, 1919. Rodgers was about to enroll in Columbia University; Hart had already graduated from Columbia and was earning a living translating theatre scripts. Both had had previous experience writing music and lyrics for musicals, but their meeting and resulting collaborations were to bring about some of the finest musical theatre seen in the world.

In an article in the magazine Theatre Arts Monthly, Richard Rodgers described his first impressions of the 24-year-old Hart:

“He was violent on the subject of rhyming in songs, feeling that the public was capable of understanding better things than the current mono-syllabic juxtaposition of ‘slush’ and ‘mush.’ It made great good sense, and I was enchanted by this little man and his ideas. Neither of us mentioned it, but we evidently knew we’d work together, and I left Hart’s house having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend and a source of permanent irritation.”

Richard Rodgers (l) and Lawrence Hart (r), 1935

Within weeks of their meeting, the collaboration between composer and lyricist began and within months their songs were being heard by one of the premiere musical comedy producers of the day: Lew Fields. On August 26, 1919, at a matinee of a Lew Fields musical comedy, the first Rodgers and Hart song premièred to the public.

In the song, titled “Any Old Place With You” Hart showed the wit that would be characteristic of his work to follow. One line from the song, which was filled with the names of geographical places, showed his early penchant for internal rhymes: “I’d go to hell for ya – or Phila-del-phi-a!”

Hart’s ability to craft witty lyrics, together with Rodgers’ fresh melodic ideas and musical sophistication gathered from years of composition and afternoons attending Kern matinees, captured the characteristics of youth, vigor, energy and irreverence that would permeate America’s Roaring Twenties.

Rodgers spent only two years at Columbia University, transferring to New York’s Institute of Musical Arts (later renamed Julliard School of Music) for his final two years. During his years at Columbia and later at the Institute, Rodgers continued to write with Hart – creating songs for college variety shows and local performing groups. While a member of one of the performing ensembles at Columbia, Richard met another young student-writer interested in musical theatre: Oscar Hammerstein. Twenty years later, Hammerstein would be the second ‘middle’ in Rodgers long career in musical theatre.

The first complete Rodgers and Hart musical show was a musical revue called The Garrick Gaieties in 1925. When tickets for the two performances of the show, a fund-raiser for a local theatre guild, sold out quickly, another four performances were added. When the demand for Gaieties tickets continued, shows were added again, with the result being a six-month run for a show that was originally to open at a matinee and close at the evening performance. The show contains several Rodgers and Hart classics that are still performed today including “Manhattan” and “Mountain Greenery.”

Within three years, Rodgers and Hart had three different musical comedies on Broadway – the beginning of a prolific and dynamic output. In the eighteen years from The Garrick Gaieties in 1925 until the end of their partnership in 1943, twenty-five Rodgers and Hart musicals appeared on Broadway. During that time the team worked with almost every significant producer, performer, choreographer and director of the day. In the 1930s the team went to Hollywood and helped produce eight movie musicals, successfully bringing their talents to all of America.

While a few of the Rodgers and Hart shows have enjoyed revivals, most notably Pal Joey, it is the genius of the show’s songs that survive. Hart’s remarkable talent in creating succinct word-pictures and internal rhymes, combined with the balanced exuberance and elegant of Rodger’s music gave America songs that transcend any era. Pop singers from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall and Michael Buble have built their careers around songs by Kern, the Gershwins, … and Rodgers and Hart.

 

Lorenz Hart struggled with alcoholism and depression all of his adult life. During the opening-night performance of their last collaboration, the 1943 revival of their A Connecticut Yankee, Hart spent most of the show pacing at the back of the theatre, disappearing before the final curtain. He was found two days later, unconscious, in his hotel room. Though he was rushed to a hospital, diagnosed with pneumonia, Hart never regained consciousness. He died three days later at the age of 48.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

Study Units also have “Playdecks”which contain hundreds of chronologically organized audio examples of music in the study units, and “Study Q??s” for unit chapters.