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Thursday, 22 December 2016

WORDS FOR THE MUSIC #8: Lorenz Hart




LORENZ HART, c. 1937





I Wish I Were I Love Again
Written by RICHARD RODGERS & LORENZ HART
Performed by FRANK SINATRA
from the 1956 Capitol LP A Swingin' Affair






I WISH I WERE IN LOVE AGAIN


The sleepless nights, the daily fights
The quick toboggan when you reach the heights
I miss the kisses and I miss the bites
I wish I were in love again

The broken dates, the endless waits
The lovely loving and the hateful hates
The conversation with the flying plates
I wish I were in love again

No more pain, no more strain
Now I'm sane but
I would rather be punch-drunk

The pulled out fur of cat and cur
The fine mis-mating of a him and her
I've learned my lesson but
I wish I were in love again

The furtive sigh, the blackened eye
The words 'I love you till the day I die'
The self-deception that believes the lie
I wish I were in love again

When love congeals it soon reveals
The faint aroma of performing seals
The double-crossing of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again

No, no more care, no, no despair
Now I'm all there now but
I'd rather be punch-drunk

Believe me sir, I much prefer
The classic battle of a him and her
I don't like quiet and
I wish I were in love again
In love again
In love again 





Lyrics by LORENZ HART
Music by RICHARD RODGERS

© 1937 Chappell & Co Music/Williamson Music ASCAP
from the musical Babes In Arms






The Lyricist:  The following biographical material is taken from the website of The Songwriters Hall of Fame.  [It is re-posted here for recommendation purposes only and, like the material displayed above, remains its author's exclusive copyright-protected intellectual property.]

Lorenz 'Larry' Hart was born in New York City on May 2, 1895, the oldest of two sons of Frieda and Max Hart.  Hart graduated from Columbia Grammar School, and attended the Columbia School of Journalism.  In the late teens a mutual friend introduced Hart to composer Richard Rodgers, seven years his junior and the two began their career writing the scores for amateur musicals presented as charity benefits and Columbia Varsity Shows (one of their early efforts, Fly With Me in 1920, featured a score by Rodgers, Hart and Hart's classmate Oscar Hammerstein II).  Hart, who spoke fluent German and was a descendant of the tragic poet Heinrich Heine, also supported himself by translating operettas and plays for the Shuberts.

Rodgers & Hart made their professional debut with the song Any Old Place With You, featured in the 1919 Broadway musical comedy A Lonely Romeo. Their breakthrough came with the score for a 1925 charity show, The Garrick Gaieties, which introduced the classic valentine to their hometown, Manhattan. From 1920 to 1930 Rodgers & Hart wrote an astonishing array of musical comedies for Broadway and London's West End. At their pinnacle the team was writing an average of four new shows a year, and among these were: Dearest Enemy, Betsy, Peggy-Ann, The Girl Friend, Chee-Chee and A Connecticut Yankee.

In 1930 the team relocated to Hollywood, where they contributed songs and wrote the scores for several movie musicals, including the landmark Love Me Tonight starring Maurice Chevalier; The Phantom President starring George M. Cohan; Hallelujah, I'm A Bum starring Al Jolson; and Mississippi starring Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields.  Hart also provided the translation for a 1934 MGM version of Lehar's The Merry Widow, and in the same year, wrote with Rodgers their only 'pop song' Blue Moon.

Rodgers & Hart were lured back to New York by legendary Broadway producer Billy Rose in 1935 to write the songs for his circus musical spectacular, Jumbo. Their score featured The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Romance and Little Girl Blue. From 1936 to 1943 Rodgers & Hart wrote a series of Broadway musical comedies, each of which seemed to top the one before in terms of innovation and box office success.  On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, I'd Rather Be Right, I Married An Angel, The Boys From Syracuse, Too Many Girls, Higher and Higher, Pal Joey and By Jupiter dazzled Broadway in spectacular succession, and collectively offered such classic songs as There's a Small Hotel, I Wish I Were In Love Again, My Funny Valentine, Where Or When, The Lady is a Tramp, Spring Is Here, Falling In Love With Love, Sing For Your Supper, This Can't Be Love, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, It Never Entered My Mind, Bewitched, I Could Write a Book, Nobody's Heart and Wait Till You See Her.

The Rodgers & Hart partnership disbanded temporarily early in 1943 when Rodgers collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein II on Oklahoma! and Hart started work on a musical, never finished, entitled Miss Underground with music by Emmerich Kalman and a book by Paul Gallico. The partnership resumed in the autumn of 1943 with a revision of A Connecticut Yankee, featuring six new songs including Hart's final lyric, To Keep My Love AliveA Connecticut Yankee opened on Broadway November 17, 1943.

Already ill at the time, Hart developed pneumonia soon thereafter, and died on November 22, 1943. His songs, however, have lived on. In 1995 Hart's centennial was celebrated from coast to coast, with special events in his hometown of Manhattan, and in 1999 Hart was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.

What is a lyrical genius?  Is it someone who dazzles us with their extensive vocabulary or someone who uses that vocabulary to astonish, amuse and genuinely move us by combining unexpected words and phrases to create something that resists cliché and categorization even as, in another sense, it might appear to embrace if not define them?  

A song like I Wish I Were In Love Again proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Lorenz Hart was the latter type of artist –– a sensitive, educated, highly articulate individual who possessed a faultless understanding of modern American vernacular and used this knowledge to create instantly memorable works of art which, in his time, were often dismissed as popular entertainment that, of course, would never last. 

How many lyricists, then or now, are able to combine words like 'toboggan,' 'mis-mating,' 'self-deception,' 'furtive' and, my favorite, 'congeals' in such a seamless way while simultaneously managing to be riotously funny even as they suggest a sophisticated but world-weary form of loneliness?  If Hart had never written anything besides the lines 'When love congeals/it soon reveals/The faint aroma of performing seals/The double-crossing of a pair of heels' he'd still be the greatest lyricist to emerge from the Broadway/Tin Pan Alley tradition despite having some very formidable competition in the likes of Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter and many others whose names aren't as well known as they should be despite the fact their songs continue to serve as the soundtracks to our lives.  

There's a reason people keep performing Rodgers and Hart material year after year and decade after decade.  It's the same reason directors keep staging productions of Shakespeare and actors keep lining up to perform in them –– to live with and inside that glorious language for a while and be reminded that true wit, like true talent, is as fine as gossamer and just as difficult to find.   


Click HERE to read an article about the highly successful but often tempestuous partnership of RICHARD RODGERS and LORENZ HART written by US journalist ROBERT GOTTLIEB and published in the online edition of The Atlantic in April 2013.

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WORDS FOR THE MUSIC #5: Dave Frishberg
JAZZ ICONS #12: Helen Merrill 
JAZZ ICONS #5: Sarah Vaughan 

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