American Masters: Season 16, Episode 3

Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds (21 Oct. 2001)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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Reliable biography of a major Broadway composer
13 September 2006 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

Yes, Richard Rodgers was one of the most ubiquitous composers in the popular music field who has always been played a great deal. His work spanned 5 decades, more or less and the quality of much of it it is very high. He and his collaborators have often been highly innovative and, by collaborators, I mean mostly Lorenz (Larry) Hart and Oscar Hammerstein both of whom he worked with early on. But the main collaboration with Hammerstein started with "Oklahoma" in 1943 when Hart refused to work any longer with the exception of some new songs for a revival of "A Connecticut Yankee". (Curiously, the songs, at least as played here, were not in the old style that he previously used with Hart, but in the much lusher and more expansive style of the Hammerstein collaborations.)

But the music historian Jonathan Schwartz, especially, makes some rather outrageous claims as, for example, that Rodgers is the most played composer in any field (I'd have thought Mozart or possibly even Irving Berlin, for example, was more often played but what do I know?). Or that Rodgers wrote the greatest waltzes ever, greater than Strauss which I also find questionable. Consider also the contributions of Schubert and Brahms both of which I find greater.

I also find many of Hammerstein's lyrics rather cringe-worthy especially those in "The Sound of Music" ("like a lark who is learning to pray" for example.), I must admit that I've never been able to get through the film of this show.

Rodgers' later bouts of alcoholism and his fight with cancer are given their due and this is a very satisfying and generally otherwise honest account of his life, but it does no one any favors to hype any artist to this extent.

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