Listening Week 4: My Favorite Things – A Richard Rodgers Celebration
Pops at home: Listening Week 4: My Favorite Things – A Richard Rodgers Celebration
Great Performances from The Boston Pops, selected by Director of Artistic Planning, Dennis Alves.
Over the next eight weeks, we’ll share some favorite Boston Pops Orchestra recordings, conducted by the orchestra’s three most recent (and most famous) conductors: Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and Keith Lockhart. We’re grateful to have the opportunity bring you joy with weekly musical treats during these unprecedented times.
My Favorite Things – A Richard Rodgers Celebration
The Boston Pops sincerely thanks Richard and Nancy Heath, Sidney and Deanna Wolk, and an anonymous donor whose gifts supported the Boston Pops’ Student Conductor Program. Support of emerging artists is foundational to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and we look forward to a time when we are able to once again make music with the students of Boston Arts Academy, BYSO’s Intensive Community Program, and Muniz Academy.
New arrangements and works for the Boston Pops are generously supported by the Cecile Higginson Murphy Pops Programming Fund.
-edited from liner notes by Theodore S. Chapin
“In Manilla recently, in a very large arena, I played the medley from The Sound of Music for an audience of some 9,000 people. As each selection was recognized, the audience burst into applause. It happens all the time.” That was Arthur Fiedler, writing in 1967. It shows that the relationship between the Boston Pops and Richard Rodgers goes back a long time. In 2002, we celebrated the centennial of Rodgers' birth with an album of newly-recorded performances of some of the best of his music by the Boston Pops under the baton of Keith Lockhart.
Richard Rodgers was born in New York, into a family that enjoyed music. The family profession was medicine; the avocation was theater. At a very young age, Rodgers climbed up on the piano stool in the parlor and played popular songs of the day. When he was first taken to the musical theater, he was hooked. Whatever was happening up on the stage, he knew he wanted to be a part of it, and he pursued any avenue he could to achieve that goal. His older brother attended Columbia University, which produced an original Varsity Show every year. Although he was only 16, he had his brother introduce him to anyone with a use for a neophyte composer. Among the first who paid attention was, interestingly, Oscar Hammerstein II, who allowed young Rodgers to write music to a couple of forgettable lyrics. Then it was Lorenz Hart, another graduate, who teamed up with Rodgers for more Varsity Shows. That partnership outgrew the campus at Morningside Heights and moved downtown. Until Hart lost the passion for writing in the early 1940s, Rodgers and Hart were a monogamous team for 17 years.
Then came the collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, unparalleled to this day in its worldwide success: nine scores for Broadway (averaging one every other year), one film (State Fair), and one live television spectacular (Cinderella)-eight of these projects are represented on My Favorite Things: A Richard Rodgers Celebration.
This collection presents the best of one of the great theatrical composers, a man whose main focus in life was writing dramatic music for the theater. Richard Rodgers was an instinctive composer-he didn't set out to write "clip-clop" music to accompany Hammerstein's words for "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," for example, but when he saw the lyrics, he just went to the piano and found that amazing melody that wanders down the country road, complete with a couple of bumps along the way. He said he had to find the music, but that it was always there for him to find. And we're glad it was.
Main Title from Oklahoma (lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II / arr. & orch. Adolph Deutsch, Robert Russell Bennett)
(1955)-This arrangement, for the main title sequence of the movie version, is a good example of a Rodgers' overture expanded to fill a bigger canvas. In the theater, an overture is used to focus the audience's attention on what is soon to happen on the stage, and most often it is played while the house curtain is still down! In a movie, however, the audience pays more attention; there is information to be delivered and there are visuals to be seen. So Robert Russell Bennett took the outlines of his original overture, and with Adolph Deutsch increased the size of the orchestra, altered the arrangements, and added a hint of Aaron Copland to the landscape.
Carousel Waltz, from Carousel (orch. Don Walker)
(1945)-Ever innovators in the musical theater, Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to begin their second musical with a pantomime set to music. "The Carousel Waltz" is an amalgam of waltz themes intended to support a silent depiction of the world of carousel barker Billy Bigelow. Interestingly, several of its themes may well have been originally intended for a Rodgers and Hart movie entitled Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, but they were introduced to the world in Carousel, and continue to live on as some of the best waltz melodies ever assembled.
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, from On Your Toes (arr. & orch. Hans Spialek, Original Paul Whiteman Version)
(1936)-Here is another Rodgers innovation, and another recording first. On Your Toes was built around one of those silly 1930's plots: a young hoofer becomes a music teacher, and in encouraging the work of one of his students, he gets caught up in a touring Russian ballet troupe, becoming the object of affection of the company's rich patroness. He is thrust into dancing with the company, and during the big ballet (the one composed by his student, you see) a hit man, hired by the company's impresario (who is secretly in love with the patroness), tries to kill him. The dance takes place in a sleazy dive somewhere on Manhattan's West Side-hence the slaughter, hence the Tenth Avenue. Of course, the killing fails and all ends happily. For this moment, Rodgers wrote a jazz ballet, choreographed by a young emigre named George Balanchine. It was-a first for any Broadway musical-a bona fide ballet. In fact, years after Balanchine established the New York City Ballet, he placed "Slaughter" in the company's permanent repertoire. Paul Whiteman loved the work, and commissioned a custom arrangement for his orchestra from Hans Spialek, one of Rodgers' chief orchestrators. This recording is perhaps the first time the music has been heard in this wonderful version since the late 1930s.
Surrey With the Fringe On Top, from Oklahoma (lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II / arr. John Williams / arch. Sammy Nestico)
(1943)-This is a perfect example of how Rodgers wrote with Hammerstein. They discussed at length how to make a musical out of their chosen material (in this case, Lynn Riggs' folk play Green Grow The Lilacs), then Hammerstein would disappear into his study in New York or Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and create lyrics, which he would then send to Rodgers. Rodgers would sit at the piano and write the music that went with those words. Both men joked throughout their collaboration that it took Hammerstein far longer to fit the words together than it would ever take Rodgers to set them. "Just give Dick a lyric and stand back" is the way Hammerstein once described Rodgers' speed. Because they were both such good and instinctive dramatists, the music that Rodgers created would fit perfectly, as in "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top." After an opening verse of expansive cheer, the melody settles into a musical depiction of exactly what the singer is describing. John Williams created this arrangement years ago for his big band; Sammy Nestico orchestrated it for the Pops, especially for this album.
I Have Dreamed, from The King and I (lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II / arr. Don Sebesky) JASON DANIELEY, vocalist
(1951)-This is a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song, in which the composer found a soaring melody not only to match the words chosen by the lyricist, but to underscore the subtext as well. Hammerstein was the king of the "what if" lyric. His characters say things like: "In these dreams I've loved you so, that by now I think I know ... etc." rather than: "I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you." We know what they really feel, but the way Rodgers and Hammerstein say it is simply more dramatic and interesting.
Shall We Dance, from The King and I (lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II / arr. Alexander Courage)
(1951)-Classic. That is a good word to describe this song, here given a playful and grand treatment in which you can feel the swirling going right through every section of the orchestra. And, true to his nature, of all musical forms Rodgers could have chosen for a seduction scene between the King of Siam and an English schoolteacher, he chose a polka. A cultural hodge-podge? Perhaps, but it provides a moment in the play when two people, who we know are attracted to each other but really cannot even touch, find a way to touch emotionally. The answer to the question posed by the title ... yes!
Archival images courtesy BSO Archives