Posts Tagged 'theatre'

Music Monday: June roundup

1. The Birthday Massacre (152)
2. Lin-Manuel Miranda (138)
3. Patti Smith (121)

Music Monday: Hamilton

Great Masters of the Musical – Part Two

Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin certainly knew how to write tunes. But as Jonathan Webster discovers in the second part of his survey of the century’s greatest musicals, these popular composers are at last gaining respect as writers of ‘serious’ music.

Gershwin, Porter and Berlin are excellent songwriters. But think – where did you first hear their songs? Chances are it was in the jazz club arena rather than in the Broadway theatre or Hollywood cinema. Many of the greatest showstoppers have been taken up by pop and jazz singers and arguably have received their greatest interpretations from a Fitzgerald, Holiday or Sinatra. But what has happened to the shows they were designed for? Here we look at these great songs in the original context of their largely forgotten shows.

The word musical is an all-embracing term which has come to mean many things to different music-lovers. For some it’s a frothy operetta-style entertainment, as epitomised by the works of composers such as Franz Lehár and Sigmund Romberg; for others it signifies the era of the film musical – a form which dawned in spectacular fashion with the 1930’s celluloid showcases for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In our last issue we covered the post-war Broadway musical; now we wind back the clock to the musical comedy between 1900 and 1950.

Continue reading ‘Great Masters of the Musical – Part Two’

Great Masters of the Musical – Part One

The Broadway musical is at an all time high – opera singers can’t stop recording them. What exactly is the fascination and which shows stand up to the best operas? In the first of a two-part special, Jonathan Webster looks at music since 1945.

The Broadway and Hollywood musical holds a huge attraction for both pop and opera singers. In the 1960s opera diva Joan Sutherland stunned music critics at the height of her career by making one of the first crossover discs, a collection of Noel Coward songs. Since then, and often to huge controversy, Kiri Te Kanawa, the Three Tenors, Dawn Upshaw and now Bryn Terfel have followed in the footsteps of Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra and Howard Keel. But it is not just about thumping good tunes. Music theatre acts as a superb mirror of popular culture. From the Shavian wit of Coward and Porter lyrics to the streetwise rawness and orchestral sophistication of West Side Story this is a genre which cannot be overlooked by anyone who appreciates good music, be it pop or classical. We start our two-part history of the musical at the end of the Second World War.

America’s post-war feel-good factor
By 1945 America and its allies had as good as won the war. Militarily and economically, the United States was now undisputably the most powerful nation on earth; and in a neat bit of synchronicity, Broadway, the hub of New York’s theatre district, became the heart and soul of the post-war musical – a position it was to retain right up until the early 1970s. Amid the worldwide rejoicing that victory brought, one musical seemed to sum up this new-found optimism better than any other: Oklahoma.

Continue reading ‘Great Masters of the Musical – Part One’

Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

Since medieval times music for dancing has attracted the talents of many of the greatest composers. Simon Trezise charts dance music’s development to the present.

When Wagner so astutely defined Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as ‘the apotheosis of the dance’, he was doing more than simply recognising the unique quality of movement in one work; he was drawing attention to the vital contribution dance has made to Western art music from the earliest days. From ancient antiquity Europe has periodically engaged in bouts of dance mania, even to the extent of upsetting civil authorities (who have to be in control!); in between these outbursts, dance has been used in social functions, entertainments, and theatres (or their early forebears) to amuse and edify the populace. The love affair with dance has left an indelible imprint on art music.

In medieval times, choreographed entertainments were regularly toured around the castles of Europe, often depicting some chivalric or other epic tale. The language of these dances was complex and the music composed or improvised for them well developed. The variety and sophistication of the dances and the way several of them could be strung together developed rapidly in the Renaissance; by the end of the sixteenth century we are fortunate enough to have many surviving specimens of Italian intermedio, French ballet de cour and the English masque. These were often lavish spectacles designed, as in the Florentine intermedio of 1589, for a prestigious event (e.g. a royal marriage). Many of their themes derive from classical antiquity – so we find goddesses dancing with gods, shepherds with shepherdesses, and so on.

Continue reading ‘Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be’


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