Stephen Sondheim dies aged 91

NEW YORK – Stephen Sondheim, the musician who reshaped the American musical scene in the second half of the 20th century with clever lyrics, complex rhymes, evocative use of melody, and a willingness to tackle unusual subjects, passed away. He was 91 years old.

Sondheim’s death was announced by Texas-based attorney Rick Pappas, who told The New York Times that the composer died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. Pappas did not return calls and texts to the Associated Press.

Sondheim has influenced generations of stage musicians, especially with such landmark musicals as “Company”, “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd”, which are considered among the finest works of grandfather. His most famous ballad, “Send in the Clown,” has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.

The artist refuses to repeat himself, finding inspiration for his performances in themes as diverse as a film by Ingmar Bergman (“A Little Night Music”), the opening of Japan to the West (“Pacific Overtures”), French painter Georges Seurat (“Sunday in the Park With George”), Grimm’s fairy tales (“Into the Woods”) and even the killers of American presidents (“Assassins”), among others.

“The theater has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers. Sadly, now there is a giant in the sky. But the Stephen Sondheim’s brilliance will remain here as his legendary songs and the shows will be performed forever,” producer Cameron Mackintosh wrote in his tribute.

Sondheim’s six musicals have won him the Tony Award for Best Score, and he also received the Pulitzer Prize (“Sunday in the Park”) and an Academy Award (for the song “Sooner or Later” from the movie “Dick”). Tracy”), five Olivier Awards and Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Sondheim’s music and lyrics give his plays a dark, dramatic edge, whereas before him the musical’s dominant tone was foam and comic. He was sometimes criticized as a composer of inaudible songs, a badge that didn’t bother Sondheim. Frank Sinatra, who hit Sondheim’s “Send in the Clown,” once complained, “He could make me so much happier if he wrote more songs for saloon singers like me. “

For theater fans, Sondheim’s flair and brilliance have made him an icon. A Broadway theater is named after him. A magazine cover in New York asks the question “Is it Lord Sondheim?” The Guardian once asked this question: “Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theater?”

A transcendent typist – and an avid pun – Sondheim’s linguistic joy shines through. “The opposite is right / The opposite of right is wrong / So who is wrong and who is wrong, right?” he wrote in “Anyone can whistle.” In “Company,” he writes: “Good things get better / Bad things get worse / Wait – I think I mean the opposite.”

He lays out three essential principles for a musician in his first collected set of lyrics – Content Dictates Form, Less Is More, and God Is in the Details. All of this, he writes, is “in the service of Clarity, without question.” Together they lead to beautiful lines like: “It’s a very short path from the clamp and the fist to the stapler and the bag and the allowance.”

Taught by a genius no less than Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim propelled the musical into a darker, richer and more intellectual place. “If you think of the lyrics as a short story, as I do, every line has the weight of a paragraph,” he wrote in his 2010 book, “Finishing the Hat,” the first volume in Its lyrics collection and commentary.


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