David Scott Marley (nightdog) Wed 22 Feb 06 11:16
> Berlin suggested to producer Richard Rodgers that > the secondary romance of the show, the dull stuff, > be dropped. He felt that it was necessary in the > forties, but now it was superfluous. Lehman Engel used to point to this as a change worth studying if we wanted to understand how musical books are constructed and how the style had changed over the decades. The main couple's story is mostly driven by the situation and characters and the secondary couple's is driven more by finding ways to work in their songs.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Wed 22 Feb 06 11:28
> Unlike many of the songwriters of his generation, > he owned the copyrights to his work, and as the > years went on, he guarded them closely, and > sometimes bitterly. I discovered Alec Wilder's book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG something like 25 years ago. It's an excellent book and really changed how I think about songs and how they're constructed. Wilder often went into technical details of melody and harmony and construction. So the book benefits from having a lot of musical excerpts to illustrate his points. A notable omission, though, is the chapter on Berlin, which has no excerpts because Berlin declined to give permission. Wilder gave Berlin extraordinarily high praise anyway.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Thu 23 Feb 06 04:18
Art, I agree with you, "What'll I Do" is brilliantly constructed. On Tuesday, Barbara Cook did a Master Class of Irving Berlin songs as part of the programming for the exhibition in NY. she thinks Berlin songs are ideal to work with singers because they don't allow you to hide, you have to really sing them. She always cites "What'll I Do" as one of her favorites for this reason. The Class was simulcast onthe Web and they hope to archive on the nypl.org website soon. David, Engel was one of the greats, and for good reason. He knew what he was talking about. I had not known he used this case as an illustration of the changes inthe musical, but I mention in the book, for just that reason. also to show that Berlin understood the changing requirements, especially when it would have been very easy just to leave it alone. I have never sat down and read the Wilder book but your post makes me realize that I have missed something. It is not surprisingly that Berlin did not give permission. It was in the darkest period of his life and he was suspicious of everything that he could not control. In his correspondience with Harry Ruby and Irving Hoffman, he alludes to the book and wondered why Wilder wanted to write aobut music that no one cared about any more. And for anyone who cares I am including the URL for a review of the Broadway exhibition at the NYPL which describes more of what is included in the show http://www.talkinbroadway.com/rialto/past/2006/02_21_06.html
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Wed 1 Mar 06 15:25
Yes, Lehman Engel was one of the greats, all right. Easily the greatest writing teacher I ever had, which is pretty amazing to me when I consider that he was primarily a musician and not a writer, and he didn't understand how dramatic writing is constructed on anything like as deep a level as he understood how dramatic music is constructed. In spite of that, he was far and away the most inspiring and the most practical writing teacher I've ever had.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Wed 1 Mar 06 15:49
Oh, you HAVE to read the Wilder book! I think you'd love it. I hit it in my 20s so I was at an impressionable age for new ideas, but I've reread chapters of it recently and it still holds up for me. It opened my eyes and ears in a lot of ways, and I started listening to songs and thinking about their melodies and harmonies with a lot more understanding and appreciation for the details of craftsmanship. Wilder's book particularly changed how I thought about Berlin. In my 20s I was very much under the spell of Sondheim, and Berlin's music sounded too simple for my taste. Wilder's book showed me how, even though Berlin wasn't a technically sophisticated composer, his music was much more inventive and ingeniously crafted than I'd given him credit for. I'd never really listened carefully enough before; from Wilder I learned all sorts of new things to be listening for. Even Wilder can't get me to like "All Alone" or "The Ocarina", but I became a Berlin fan all the same.
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