Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein - Creativity and
Richard Rodgers (1902-79) and Oscar Hammerstein
American composers of musicals.
Rodgers is pictured right with Hammerstein below.
Their famous musicals are...
The Sound of Music
The King and I
Carousel (with the big hit, You'll Never Walk Alone)
Hammerstein also wrote Show Boat with Jerome Kern (pictured right).
Why were they such great songwriters?
1. Emotional simplicity
Rodgers’ superb tunes and Hammerstein’s lyrics were:
- simple enough for people to easily remember.
- emotionally stirring (like You’ll Never Walk Alone in Carousel).
- pertinent (portraying the problems of life and power of love - see point
They wanted to give their audience not just songs but a story that informed as well as
entertained, using love as a central theme.
They dealt with:
- racial issues in South Pacific.
- the problems of poor new immigrants in Oklahoma.
- the evil of Nazism in The Sound of Music (the film poster is pictured right).
The first song and an exciting climax were vitally important to
Hammerstein’s most important rule was that
“The first act had to be twice as long as the second, and the second had to have twice as much in it”.
They were always prepared to try something new (like ballet in
Rodgers was determined to write great songs, the first of which appeared on Broadway when he was only 16.
Hammerstein had to endure a string of flops, until his partnership with Rodgers and their first huge hit
Oklahoma! in 1943 (pictured right is a poster for the 1955 film).
But they didn’t get it right all the time and had three flop musicals.
They also had to suffer the shock of bad reviews for the first night of The Sound of Music.
Each partner’s brilliance inspired the other with Hammerstein writing the words first.
After Hammerstein died of cancer, Rodgers never had a hit with anyone else, even Alan Jay
Lerner (pictured right), the lyricist of My Fair Lady.
They excited and energized each other, both impressed by the other’s
talent and professionalism.
Rodgers’ instinctive brilliance (he wrote music very quickly) was counteracted by
- creation of totally believable characters.
- had the same clear idea of the show they wanted.
- worked together to achieve it.
5. Love of music
- loved making great songs.
- lived for music, continually thinking about it.
Rodgers said in 1970 that to quit the theatre “would be a kind of not living”.
Rodgers worked on instinct.
“When a show is in good shape, you don’t have to wait for the newspapers to tell you; you can feel it in the
air”, he said.
Hammerstein was more methodical
In the final rehearsals of a show, Hammerstein stood in the theatre to assess how much the
audience would like it.
They (pictured right together) were continually trying to improve and
learn from their mistakes.
Once they hired an actress without an audition and vowed never to do it again after her disastrous
Key quotes on creativity and
I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it (Hammerstein).
It took about as long to compose it as to play it (Rodgers talking about Oh! What a
Beautiful Morning from the musical Oklahoma!)