There are many well-known lyricists and composers, but only a few leave such amark as Rodgers and Hammerstein.
This duo produced nine musical plays duringtheir partnership and caused a profound change in musical comedy. They set thestandards that are followed to this day in musical history. They created themodern musical that we all know and love. Before they became Rodgers andHammerstein, they were simply Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, both ofNew York City. Hammerstein, born in 1895, was brought up in a theatrical family. His father was an “operatic impresario”, otherwise known as an operadirector or manager.
He built the Harlem Opera House(1888) and the ManhattanOpera House(1906) and also introduced many new singers to the US. From a veryyoung age Hammerstein II committed to the theater even though his familydiscouraged him. As soon as he was old enough to have a job in his father’stheatrical business, he devoted himself to his duties and learned as much as hecould about play production and the labors of the theater artist. Oscareventually teamed up with author Otto Harbach and composer Vincent Youmans toproduce Wildflower. With help from Harbach, Hammerstein began to createprofessional material for Broadway. Through Otto Harbach, Hammerstein was ledinto collaboration with Jerome Kern for Sunday.
He also worked with HerbertStothart and George Gershwin on Song of the Flame, a very unsuccessful show. Butdespite the shows failure, it did lead Hammerstein to concentrate on creatingoperetta in order to integrate musical comedy with opera. With this in mind, hewas able to achieve new standards for success in his career with his lyrics forThe Wild Rose and The Desert Song. By 1927, after a few more productions,Hammerstein had achieved the technical skill that allowed him to provide acomposer with a functional book and lyrics.
This was best shown in Showboat, thefirst modern American musical. Showboat was the first show that indicatedHammerstein’s great talent. Hammerstein was able to create a believable plot,situation,and characterization. At the forefront of this show wasHammerstein’s concern for the southern blacks. This show contributedcommentary on racial prejudice which Hammerstein would continually do.
This wasa big step for the 1920s and a huge victory when the show was so widelyappreciated. Despite the promise indicated by Showboat, Hammerstein did notproduce works of comparable success between 1928 and 1940. Some of his forgottenshows from that time are Free for All, Three Sisters, May Wine and severalothers. By 1941 it was apparent that except for Showboat, Hammerstein had notsucceeded in creating a celebrated body of work outside the operetta form. Richard Rodgers , born in 1902, unlike Hammerstein, was not born into thetheater, but his parents made sure he was cultured in the world of musicaltheater at a very early age.
One of his earliest childhood memories was of hisparents singing the full vocal scores from the latest musicals1. By age six,Rodgers had taught himself to play piano and was then given piano lessons by hisproud parents. They also encouraged him to make a career in music. LikeHammerstein, Rodgers’ devotion to the theater began early on in his life. Rodgers was especially influenced by Jerome Kern’s shows and considered him ahero.
When Rodgers was nine, he began to compose melodies of his own andeventually learned how to write them too. At fourteen he produced his first twocomplete songs, “Campfire Days” and “The Auto Show Girl”. While still inhigh school, he wrote scores for two amateur shows, One Minute Please and UpState and Down, after which he was encouraged to find a lyricist and begin aprofessional song-producing arrangement. Rodgers found Lorenz Hart. They met in1918 and immediately hit it off.
Both were very pleased with each othersabilities and a creative union was made, as well as a close friendship. Theirfirst show together was Fly with Me, which was performed for ColumbiaUniversity. Broadway man Lew Fields saw the show and informed the duo that heintended to use some of their songs in his next Broadway musical, Poor LittleRitz Girl2 . Although only seven of the numbers were used, it brought Rodgersinto the world of Broadway musicals. Rodgers and Hart collaborated from 1918 to1943 and produced twenty-seven stage musicals and eight motion picture scores.
Almost all their work was successful and their chemistry as a creative team waspaying off. In the late 1930s though, Hart and Rodgers grew apart because ofemotional problems Hart was having. Eventually Hart walked out on Rodgers anddied in 1943. Rodgers and Hammerstein finally met in the early 1940s.
Theirfirst show was Oklahoma! which debut a success and began the series of smashhits for Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their other shows were Carousel (1945),Allegro (1947), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet(1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958), and The Sound of Music(1959). They also did the film, State Fair (1945), and the television musical,Cinderella (1957). The main reason Rodgers and Hammerstein were so successfuland made such an impact on musical theater was that “.
. . they formulated anddemonstrated principles about their craft that elevated the popular musicalstage from entertainment to art. . .
“3 . In other words, they raised thestandards and expectations of the musical to more than just entertainment forthe audience to enjoy, and made being a musical theater actor a skill and anart. The principles they created were as follows. First, they both agreed thatthe song served the play rather than vice-versa. This concept is what helps makea musical more believable.
Second, Rodgers and Hammerstein shows were verysincere and honest. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein were romantics and saw nothingwrong with sweetness and simplicity. Joseph Fields, a collaborator on FlowerDrum Song, said that “Oscar really believed that love conquers all, thatvirtue triumphs, that dreams come true. “4 . Rodgers felt similarly.
“Whatswrong with sweetness and light? Its been around for quite awhile. Even a clicheyou know has a right to be true”5 This concept keeps people going back to seemusicals, because no matter how tragic things are you can always find a ray ofhope in a musical. For example, in The Sound of Music, the country is about toenter war, people are being arrested and there is tragedy everywhere, but theVanTrappes escape, which occurs to show that there is hope. Finally, Rodgers andHammerstein were sure to maintain a professional union between all members of aproduction team: producer, writer, composer, director, choreographer, actor,scenery etc. They proved that a takes team work to produce a show and that meanscollaboration from all sides at all times of a production. Hammerstein andRodgers set the mold for the “sensitive relationship” between any group ofcollaborators through the way they worked together.
Rodgers and Hammersteinrevolutionized musical theater. They forged new levels of performance and alsoof production, that are now the standards for musicals in America. Their successis rooted in their devotion to the theater, their ability to draw audiences into their shows by making their shows believable yet sentimental and theirability to collaborate so well together. This is why their shows are still beingperformed in theaters all over the world. They are true fore fathers in Americanmusical theater.
Bibliography1) The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, third ed. New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1994. 2) Fordin, Hugh. Getting to know him: A Biography of OscarHammerstein II. New York: Ungar Pub. Co.
, 1977. 3) Green, Stanley. Rodgers andHammerstein Fact Book: a record of their works together and with othercollaborators. New York: Lynn Farnol Group, 1980 4) Hyland, William. RichardRodgers.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998 5) Kislan, Richard. The Musical. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc. , 1980. 6) Nolan, Frederick N.
The Sound of theirMusic: the story of Rodgers and Hammerstein. New York: Walker, 1978