RICHARD RODGERS by William G. Hyland


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Hyland, former editor of Foreign Affairs, continues his exploration of the giants of American popular song, begun in The Song Is Ended (1995), with a biography of the man who may have been the greatest of them all. Richard Rodgers was in many ways unique among the great composers of American theater music. He enjoyed lengthy partnerships with two very different lyricists of the first caliber, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein. He established himself not only as a great songwriter but as a highly regarded composer of soundtrack music, winning awards for his scores for Victory at Sea and The Valiant Years. His career—after some inconclusive noodling around after college—consisted of an ever-upward trajectory with few bumps along the way until he was well into his 50s. And unlike the other great Jewish tunesmiths who dominated the Broadway stage in the golden era of musical theater, he was the product of a well-to-do family, never experiencing poverty, never struggling for his next dollar. The last two facts may go some way in explaining why Hyland’s new biography of Rodgers is such a dull read: There just isn’t much drama in this life. On the other hand, Hyland doesn’t help himself with his approach, an awkward veering between biographical detail and musical analysis that is too perfunctory with both. As a result, one never has much sense of Rodgers as a personality, despite lengthy descriptions of his behavior and attitude toward colleagues and friends, nor much understanding of what made him such a fine composer. Nor does Hyland really give much context for the innovations of Rodgers’s work with each of his great partners. The book is constructed entirely out of library research, with no interviewing, and it has the musty air of the library throughout. Intelligent, but utterly lifeless. (17 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07115-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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