Rodgers, Hart & Hammerstein|
Many of the songs of the prolific Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership of the 1940's and 50's, while often charming and uplifting, are essentially lightweight and, I have to say it, sometimes rather corny. Rodgers' earlier songwriting partnership, with a homosexual, alcoholic near-dwarf called Lorenz Hart, produced, in my opinion at least, music of far greater emotional depth. Although many of their songs are light and witty, others speak of love and doubt, and the pain of love unrequited, a pain which Hart was to suffer throughout his life.
Both lyricists were of course masters of their craft, but the striking difference of complexion in the songs produced by the two partnerships raises questions in my mind as to how much the personality of the lyricist and the mood of his input has an influence on the actual notes the composer puts down on the score. Despite the fact that with Hart it was usually the music which came first, while with Hammerstein it was normally the lyrics, Rodgers admits that his anticipation of Hart's sophisticated, sometimes cynical lyrical style did affect his writing, as clearly must the actuality of Hammerstein's sentimental and optimistic lines.
Other factors must also have played a part, however. For example, Rodgers & Hart wrote during the "Jazz Age" and the depression years for musical comedies in which the songs were more important than the plot, whereas with Hammerstein it was World War II and the 1950's, when musical tastes were perhaps more stodgy, and the songs were largely plot-driven.
Whatever the differences and the reasons for them, one factor remains constant - Richard Rodgers. This versatile genius had the ability to create melodies which could touch the soul, lift the spirit, stir the passions of a crowd, and practically everything in between. Combined with the lyrical mastery of his partners it is small wonder that the songs these three men created are amongst the most enduring of 20th century.