The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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Richard Rodgers and the Waltz

At the beginning of the summer, we explored ten enduring songs that Richard Rodgers wrote with the lyricist Lorenz Hart. Today, I want to return to the effortless and seemingly inevitable melodies of Rodgers, this time with a focus on the waltz. Countless waltzes can be found among Richard Rodgers’ 900-plus songs, written for some 43 Broadway musicals. Many contain a trace of the Viennese operetta music Rodgers heard as a child, which included …

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Rodgers and Hart: Ten Enduring Songs

Last week, we celebrated the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers with one of the composer’s piano roll recordings. We discussed the simple, effortless perfection of Rodgers’ melodies and the way his style changed from his work with lyricist Lorenz Hart in the 1920s and 30s to his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II in the 1940s and 50s. The latter collaboration transformed the Broadway musical from a loose collection of catchy …

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Richard Rodgers on Piano Roll

Today marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979). In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, the composer and commentator Alec Wilder wrote, Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication … After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished. Melodies seem …

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Remembering Nancy Wilson

The legendary American jazz singer Nancy Wilson passed away earlier this month on December 13. She was 81. The three-time Grammy-winning artist, who described herself as a “song stylist,” is remembered for ballads like “Guess Who I Saw Today” (1960) and “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” (1964). Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, she accepted occasional acting roles and frequently crossed over into the R&B and pop categories. Years ago, I had the …

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The Art of the List Song

Here at The Listeners’ Club, lyrics normally take a backseat to music. But today, let’s bring some of the Broadway musical theater’s most exhilarating lyrics into focus with a brief survey of the list song. List songs are built around extensive inventories of people, places, and things. They open the door to lyric writing filled with sparkling virtuosity and unexpected rhyme. Surprise is a key element of humor, and in this respect the …

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Kurt Weill’s “September Song” and the Power of Harmony

Even in the case of a popular song, harmony can be as important as melody. For example, listen to the harmonic surprise at the beginning of Richard Rodgers’ If I Loved You from Act 1 of the groundbreaking 1945 musical, Carousel. On the word, “loved,” a sudden, poignant diminished seventh chord takes us to a completely different world. This one melancholy chord tells us everything we need to know about what might lie ahead in the …

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