Stephen Sondheim, a famous composer, and lyricist on several iconic Broadway shows and an Oscar-winning songwriter, has died at the age of 91. Sondheim was considered one of the greatest composers and lyricists of the 20th century and got incredible dimensions. Lifetime Achievement Awards include 9 Tony Awards, 8 Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, Kennedy Center Honor, Pulitzer Prize, and Presidential Medal of Freedom 2015.
As a child, Sondheim became friends with James Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II, considered one of the greatest lyric poets in musical theater history, and mainly worked with the composer Richard Rodgers. When Sondheim was 15, he wrote his first music, By George, based on the private Quaker elementary school.
He asked Hammerstein to rate it as if he did not know who wrote it. Hammerstein agreed, telling Sondheim that it was the scariest work he had ever heard, but also that the famous lyricist would teach him why it was awful if he wanted to. The teenager Sondheim agreed, and Hammerstein began teaching him musical theater, including “ordering” four pieces to watch Sondheim write.
Sondheim completed his fourth of these operas at the age of 22. Although none of them have ever been performed, his career as a composer meant that in 1953 he was hired by theater producer Lemuel Ayers to write three pieces for the upcoming Broadway Night Saturday’s opera; unfortunately, Ayers died, and the show did not open until after its Broadway release nearly 50 years later.
Still, it caused a significant crash in Sondheim when writer Arthur Laurents saw several auditions for the show. Sondheim’s lyrics became so popular that he secured the young man an experiment to write the songs for the new modern musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with the composer Leonard Bernstein. Sondheim got the job, and in 1957 he opened West Side Story, which became an actual stumbling block, and Sondheim became a successful lyricist on Broadway.
Laurent and West Side Story director Jerome Robbins then hired Sondheim for a musical adaptation of Gypsy Rose Lee’s memories with Sondheim as a lyricist and Jule Styne as music. The resulting show, Gypsy, was a huge success when it opened in 1959.
In 1962, Sondheim released the first music with music and lyrics. Still, although the show, a farce from Roman times called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, won the Tony Award for Best Music, Sondheim was not nominated. Nor for his music and lyrics.
He then went through a drought with his 1964 music “Anyone Can Whistle,” and so did Do I Hear a Waltz? since 1964, Sondheim has written only the words. He had worked with Richard Rodgers since Hammerstein’s death in 1960, and Rodgers’ daughter Mary (with whom Sondheim was a close friend) asked Sondheim to replace his mentor in the series. After this project, Sondheim never promised to work with music again without giving him music and lyrics.
Sondheim began working with producer and director Hal Prince in 1970, first from Forums in 1962. Sondheim was associated with Prince and was establishing himself as a Broadway legend.
Based on a series of short comedies about actor George Furth’s modern romance, the acclaimed music company was released in 1970. With music and lyrics by Sondheim and directed by Prince, Company was a sensation. Media and Sondheim won their first two Tony Awards for best music and best lyrics, two categories compiled after the season of these awards, and his first Grammy Award for album casting.
Follies was released in 1971 and were another critical success, with Sondheim winning the award for best music and lyrics. In 1973, A Little Night Music was released, with Sondheim’s most famous song, “Send in the Clowns,” which became a pop surprise for Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra. Sondheim once again won the Tony Award for best music and best lyrics.