Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stephen!

This is a very special day for me, because it is Stephen's birthday. Every one of us has his or her heroes, people we admire, try to emulate and learn from. Most of my heroes have been out of reach for me - either because they have passed away long ago or because they are not accessible for a struggling writer from Germany. In some cases that may be a good thing. Heroes tend to lose their luster when seen up-close. I had the good luck to meet Stephen more than once, and my admiration for his work was enhanced by enchantment. He is a kind, helpful, very open person, never condescending though always demanding. The advice he gave made me a better dramatist, and I am a better colleague for the example he set. All of his musicals are masterworks, and his "A Little Night Music" is a gem. Musical theater is a highly collaborative art. Still, if you had to single out the one person who has been its dominant innovator during the past 50 years, it would surely be composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. May he live happily for as long as he enjoys living and never lose his characteristic smile. Does this sound like a declaration of love? Well, it is one.


  1. It is ashaming that in Europe, especially in Italy, his work is so little-known. In Florence the owner of the best CD shop had never heard the name Stephen Sondheim before I asked him whether he had a DVD of "A Little Night Music". And I myself - even though I always have been interested in any kind of music since late childhood - didn't know Sondheim before you mentioned him in a post.

    One mustn't forget, that in Italy for a very long time the Communist Party had 20% (after Berlinguer's death during the European Parliament's election even around 35%) of the votes, and that you couldn't get anywhere in the music busyness if you hadn't the membership of the Communist Party or close relationships with members or at least the membership of the "unpolitical" card of the cultural organization ARCI; at least if you were trying to sell a stuff which didn't allow to bypass this obstacle, like discomusic.

    For the same reason Claude Chabrol's films didn't get distributed before 1997. In the 20 years before this happened I saw again and again that in the Cinema D'Essay they were showing the whole production of Truffaut or Pasolini in a series lasting several weeks. But if you asked them when they would show Chabrol, they looked at you with suspect since your interest for this director might have the meaning of a secret fascist attitude.

    What we use to call "market" is full of invisible fences.

    My best wishes to Stephen Sondheim. May he enjoy life everyday, and may Italy go through a "cultural revolution" which rediscovers him (and Germany as well, where the ideological fences are more elusive and invisible and might be smaller but more tenacious).

    There is more interest for musicals in the meantime, and the chance that someone will bring "A Little Night Music" to a theater are much better than 15 years ago, I argue.

  2. You can count the performances of Sondheim musicals in Germany by the fingers of one hand, and never they have been played at the big theatres, as far as I know. Again this supports the contradictory mindset of German Feuilleton, in this Blog often outlined. Sondheim actually is what the Feuilleton is asking for when again they put down a Musical: Sondheim is no mainstream, no Disney, but sophisticated musical theatre.

  3. @cs

    European arrogance!

    Europeans despise America, like fathers despise sons, and they despise Jews like sons despise fathers.

    The german musicological culture needs a psychiatrist skilled in Charles Sander Pierce's semiologic teachings. And the german music needs an exorcist.

    The german entertaining music needs the ambition to transform the river between us into a rich stream of sophisticated music for easy discovering, and should promote Sondheim's and Gershwin's work as an example and remember Johann Strauss in order to remember that combining quality with popularity once was normal in the german speaking world either.

    The german contemporary classic music should not live under an oxygen tent of subsidies but remember Strawinsky's and Charles Ives's example, because otherwise the Musikbeamtentum will remain and more and more become a tribe living in a reserve which unavoidably will perfectionate its sectarian features.

  4. Compare these two photos above. How similar!

  5. It is amazing how similar they are! Thank you for showing us, I hadn't realized this. It must be satisfaction and happyness which makes them be so similar.