NOEL AND COLE by Stephen Citron


The Sophisticates
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 Witty, urbane, and enormously gifted, Noel Coward and Cole Porter were both born in small towns and encouraged by strong mothers. Both were gay, died in their 73rd year, and, in a field dominated by collaborators (Rogers and Hart, etc.), wrote the music as well as the lyrics to their own songs. Here, Citron (The Musical from the Inside Out, 1992, etc.--not reviewed), himself a professional songwriter, anchors the pair in a tradition that reflects their restless times and analyzes the qualities that made each man an original. In alternating chapters that cover the composers in turn, Citron--who offers incisive analyses of their hit songs-- successfully traces the trajectories of the two musical stars. Born in 1891 to a wealthy but uncultured Indiana family, Porter was sent east for schooling. At Yale, he wrote undergraduate reviews, made important lifelong connections, and acquired his lavish way of life. Never dependent on songwriting for a livelihood (in addition to his own fortune, he married a wealthy divorcÇe), he was late in finding the limelight. By contrast, Coward, born in 1899 to an impecunious middle-class English family, bypassed a formal education and was on the stage by age 14. The more versatile of the two, he wrote fiction, plays, songs, operettas, and musical reviews, and acted and starred in many of his own productions-- while Porter wrote only complex harmonies, lilting melodies, and inimitable lyrics, many of them risquÇ. Porter emerges here as the colder personality, always a bit remote and, in his final, pain- ridden years (a leg, injured in a horse-racing accident 21 years earlier, had to be amputated), a semi-recluse. The two musical lions admired each other, Citron says, and they shared many friends and theatrical associates. A thorough introduction--featuring much original song interpretation--that's a valuable addition to existing memoirs and biographies (e.g., Coward's own Future Indefinite, 1986, and Charles Schwartz's Cole Porter, 1977). (Thirty halftones)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-508385-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993