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Richard Rodgers (seated
and Lorenz Hart, 1936
Born: Lorenz Milton Hart, May 2, 1895, New York City
Died: November 22, 1943 (age 48), New York City
Primary songwriting role: lyricist; also a translator from the German
Co-writers: almost exclusively Richard Rodgers; See also a database of 5 Hart co-writers.
"Given that Larry Hart had to be practically locked up in a room to write a lyric, it's astounding that he and Rodgers wrote any shows at all. As it was they produced nearly thirty shows and some eight hundred songs in the twenty-five years (with additional "lost" lyrics still turning up now and then). At least fifty of those songs are among the finest American songs ever written" (Marmorstein, Hart, p. 7).
Lorenz Hart would come to be a songwriting peer of Irving Berlin from the mid-twenties through his premature death at the age of forty-eight in 1943; but before Berlin had ever heard of his younger colleague, Hart, as budding lyricist, was paying tribute to the older songwriter.
On the occasion of his parents' silver wedding anniversary, November 6, 1911 (the year "Alexander" was published), sixteen year old Larry Hart helped his father and mother celebrate by composing and performing his own words to Berlin's already enormously popular song "Alexander's Ragtime Band." According to Hart biographer Gary Marmorstein, Hart's "version probably qualifies as his earliest surviving lyric."
So clink your glass,
Each Lad and Lass,
For Max and Frieda's wedding day.
Put on a Smile,
Make life worthwhile--
Let each wrinkle shout hooray!
Marmorstein also notes that "in this anniversary song, Larry is already employing the tools he would use for the next thirty years: warmth . . . ; gallantry . . . ; repetition when it's called for; a reference or two to booze; [and] colloquial English and German that landed easily on the ear." (Marmorstein, p. 31).
In his review of Gary Marmorstein's biography of Lorenz Hart, Brad Leithauser captures Hart as the essence of paradox:
He was a fast-talking, cigar-chomping, easylaughing, profanityspilling bon vivant who was fascinated with crime and the underworld. . . . He was also childlike and gentle. He was a concentrate of contradictions: an indefatigable workhorse who had to be yanked from bed in the mornings, a man-about-town who lived with his mother, an expensively tailored dandy forever in need of a shave, a soul-baring lyricist (“Why is my heart so frail, / Like a ship without a sail?”) who concealed his profoundest emotions even from intimate friends. . . . [a] celebrity who regularly shuttled in feted splendor from Hollywood to Broadway to London [but complained] of going unappreciated and unrecognized.
Stephen Sondheim, though he admires Hart in some ways is a harsh critic, especially of Hart's lack of care when he writes; that is, making errors in various elements of lyric writing such as producing "mis-stressed syllables," "convoluted syntax," and "sacrifice of meaning for rhyme." Sondheim knows that criticizing Hart in this way may offend many, especially those who feel it is "heresy to criticize Hart for anything at all, but the fact is that Porter and Harburg and Fields and Loesser rarely indulge in these kinds of sloppiness, and the lyricists of my generation -- Sheldon Harnick, Fred Ebb, Lee Adams, Jerry Herman et. al -- almost never do. We take meticulousness for granted, a legacy from Porter and Harburg and Fields and Loesser, not to mention Hammerstein."
When Sondheim gets around to bestowing some praise on Hart, it includes the theme of his contradictory nature emphasized by Brad Leithauser. (See above). Sondheim writes:
Hart reveals himself more openly than any other lyricist except Hammerstein: in his case, jaunty but melancholy, forceful but vulnerable. There is a pervasive sweetness about him that comes through in even his most self-conscious work. He was verbally nimble, full of humor, and a lazy craftsman.
"Hart was the most confessional of theater lyricists--the most willing and able to put his own thoughts, feelings, pains, sorrows, fears, joys, misery into words for songs of specific characters in musical plays. What he could never say aloud, even to his closest friends in private, he let characters sing in public. He was a gay bachelor who wrote the best love lyrics for women and the most joyous lyrics about falling in love and the most melancholy lyrics about falling out of love" (Mast, p. 166).
"Though [Rodgers] wrote great songs with Oscar Hammerstein II, it is my belief that his greatest melodic invention and pellucid freshness occurred during his years of collaboration with Lorenz Hart . . . . I have always felt that there was an almost feverish demand in Hart's writing which reflected itself in Rodgers's melodies as opposed to the almost too comfortable armchair philosophy in Hammerstein's lyrics" (Wilder, p. 164).
Richard Lingeman, "With An Ache in His Heart." New York Times. Dec. 29, 1976. (Review of Thou Swell Thou Witty The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart--PDF file requires Adobe Reader--and Marx and Clayton Rodgers and Hart Bewithched, Bothered and Bedeviled)
Stephen Holden. "Sunny Approach to Mordant Lyricist." New York Times. Nov. 18, 2010 (Review of Stephanie Powers cabaret show devoted to songs with lyrics by Lorenz Hart).
Ben Brantley, "Music, Memories and Regret," August 16, 2011, The New York Times(Review of Ten Cents a Dance -- "Ten Cents a Dance [is] John Doyle's beautiful, brooding collage of the songs of Rodgers and Hart . . . at the Williamstown Theater Festival," Williamstown MA.)
Brad Leithauser, American Songsmith, The New York Times Book Review, Dec. 2, 2012, (review of A Ship without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart)
NPR Music (archive of relevant programs often including audio segments)
ThePeaches.com (Lorenz Hart lyrics transcriptions) (These transcriptions of Hart lyrics are mostly as sung by Ella Fitzgerald on her Rodgers and Hart Songbook album.)
David Ewen. American Songwriters, An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1987 (includes 146 bios of composers and lyricists), (entry pp. 313-329, for Rodgers and Hart)-- a wide selection of used copies is available at abebooks.com.
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