You never need an excuse to celebrate the genius of Stephen Sondheim, but here goes:
– We’re still celebrating his 80th birthday (which actually occurred last March).
– He has a new book out, Finishing the Hat, Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (445 pages, Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95).
– A new DVD, Sondheim: The Birthday Concert, is out on Nov. 6.
– And tonight in San Francisco is the opening of West Side Story, Sondheim’s Broadway debut as a lyricist.
LOPATE: “What makes a lyric good, is it being clever, having good rhymes?”
SONDHEIM: “That makes for a clever rhyme, but a good lyric… what makes a good sentence? What makes a good paragraph? You’re telling a story. And the lyric is serving the story, and it’s consistent with the character and has its own delights, meaning surprises: verbal surprises or thought surprises. It has a continuity, it has something to say… everything that a short story should have, a novel should have.”
LOPATE: “[In your book,] you write that songwriters are halfway between a creator and interpreter. Is that because they have to keep the connection to the book and to the plot?”
SONDHEIM: “No, it’s just that the only begetter is the book writer. That’s the person that makes it up out of nothing. There’s two kinds of art, obviously. There’s creative art and interpretive art, when you deal with things like the theatre or symphony or symphonies and things like that. You have the person who writes it and the person who performs it. The songwriter does both. The songwriter does not make it up out of nothing; the songwriter makes it up out of the characters and situations the book writer has made. But he’s partly creative in that he is also making a song where there wasn’t a song before. But he is interpreting at the same time.”
Listen to the entire interview here.