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Burt Bacharach and Stephen Sondheim
May 15, 2003 12:04 PM   Subscribe

There's Always Something There To Remind You of a Burt Bacharach or a Stephen Sondheim song. [Do check out this MeFi thread where our own MarkB mentions his work on the Sondheim website.] Burt turned 74 this month, Steve was 73 in March. Must we wait until they die before celebrating the genius of American popular music's two greatest living composers? [ And isn't it appropriate that Elvis Costello is the most recent composer to receive the ASCAP Founders' Award which previously honoured Bacharach and Sondheim?]
posted by MiguelCardoso (12 comments total)

 
<trainspotting>
And - Elvis Costello did a beautiful live rendition of "I just don't know what to do with myself" (Burt Bacharach/Hal David), on the Live Stiffs album from way back when I think. Timeless song. Period Rolling Stone review here.
</trainspotting>
posted by carter at 12:51 PM on May 15, 2003


MRS. HENDY: Oh. Does that mean Salena Jones is a philosopher?
MR. HENDY: Yeah! Right! She could be! She sings about the meaning of life.
MRS. HENDY: Yeah. That's right, but I don't think she writes her own material.
MR. HENDY: No. Oh, maybe Schopenhauer writes her material.
MRS. HENDY: No. Burt Bacharach writes it.
MR. HENDY: But there's no 's' in 'Burt Bacharach'.
MRS. HENDY: Or in 'Hal David'.
MR. HENDY: Who's Hal David?
MRS. HENDY: He writes the lyrics. Burt just writes the tunes, only now, he's married to Carole Bayer Sager.
MR. HENDY: Oh, waiter. This conversation isn't very good.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:39 PM on May 15, 2003


Must we wait until they die before celebrating the genius of American popular music's two greatest living composers?

shall i point out the obvious?
posted by triv at 2:20 PM on May 15, 2003


I'm not sure I agree that Stephen Sondheim is one of American popular music's greatest living composers since his music is decidedly unpopular. As one of your own links contends, most people find his melodies too cold, complicated and forbidding: "Send in the Clowns" is one of his only recognized standards.

Rest assured, however, that Sondheim does indeed get a lot of recognition. Just last summer, the Kennedy Center in DC did a whole summer season dedicated to his work. I was lucky enough to see the fabulous productions of "Company" and "Sweeney Todd" and they were great reminders of what a genius Sondheim is.

Sondheim's legacy is pretty much assured. His place in the firmament of musical theater rivals (if not surpasses) that of his mentor Oscar Hammerstein, as well as Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin.

His new musical, formerly titled "Gold!", will be opening on Broadway this upcoming season. A new production of "Assassins" may follow (though "Assassins" does sort-of carry a curse which, most recently, coincided with the events of September 11th, cancelling its then-planned run on Broadway).

Bacharach, on the other hand, is absolutely a master of American popular music. Flip on the TV and hear his songs in "My Best Friends Wedding" or "Austin Powers." Turn on any light FM station, or walk into any elevator, and there's Burt Bacharach.

His status as a serious composer, however, worthy of acknowledgement is definitely in question. His own recent Broadway production (I forget the name) closed after bad reviews. While Sondheim's reputation is daunting, Bacharach's is quirky: we picture him with his silver hair and gleaming white teeth, leaning forward behind a piano and looking eager to please.

Both Sondheim and Bacharach are classically trained and both are buttressed by loyal and devoted followers who champion their work. However, it seems to me that only Sondheim will endure: his work is endlessly challenging and endlessly diverse. His reach is far and varied: from lyric writing ("Gypsy," "West Side Story") to film composing ("Dick Tracy") Sondheim's touch is distinguished, accomplished, and almost always brilliant. Bacharach, on the other hand, wrote "That's What Friends Are For."
posted by adrober at 2:43 PM on May 15, 2003


im sorry , but elvis costello is an overated , whining twat.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2003


I attended some of the Sondheim fest at the Kennedy, too, specifically "Sweeney Todd" and "Passion." The Sweeney production was really fantastic (Christine Baranski as Mrs. Lovett was particularly fine), and I love the darkness and depth of Sondheim's work. "The history of the world, my sweet, is who get's eaten and who gets to eat." The Kennedy is going to be producing a version of "Bounce" in the Fall, which should be quite popular.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:28 PM on May 15, 2003


NPR's "Fresh Air" just reran a lovely interview with Burt 'n' Elvis the other day.
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:20 PM on May 15, 2003


As far as "great living composers" is concerned, both pop and jazz owe a huge debt to Quincy Jones, love him or hate him.
posted by ashbury at 7:27 PM on May 15, 2003


His new musical, formerly titled "Gold!", will be opening on Broadway this upcoming season.

Retitled Bounce, it'll first open at Chicago's Goodman Theatre this summer. Previews begin June 20.

His reach is far and varied: from lyric writing ("Gypsy," "West Side Story") to film composing ("Dick Tracy") Sondheim's touch is distinguished, accomplished, and almost always brilliant.

Sondheim also co-wrote, with Tony Perkins, one of the finest movie mysteries of the 1970s. Directed by Herbert Ross and starring Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Richard Benjamin and others, The Last of Sheila is a must-see.
posted by bradlands at 7:53 PM on May 15, 2003


Adrober, good to see someone else thinks Sondheim's a genius.
posted by flowerdale at 8:05 PM on May 15, 2003


Anyone who's a Sondheim fan in the UK might be interested to know that Sweeney Todd is coming to the Royal Opera House in December.
posted by Summer at 2:39 AM on May 16, 2003


I'm sorry, but Elvis Costello rules.

just had to post the other side
posted by britain at 5:30 AM on May 20, 2003


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