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From every “beautiful mornin’” to “some enchanted evening,” the songs of Oscar Hammerstein II are part of our daily lives, his words part of our national fabric.
Born into a theatrical dynasty headed by his grandfather and namesake, Oscar Hammerstein II breathed new life into the moribund art form of operetta by writing lyrics and libretti for such classics as Rose-Marie (music by Rudolf Friml), The Desert Song (Sigmund Romberg), The New Moon (Romberg) and Song of the Flame (George Gershwin). Hammerstein and Jerome Kern wrote eight musicals together, including Sweet Adeline, Music in the Air, and their masterpiece, Show Boat. The vibrant Carmen Jones was Hammerstein’s all-black adaptation of the tragic opera by Georges Bizet.
In 1943, Hammerstein, pioneer in the field of operetta, joined forces with Richard Rodgers, who had for the previous twenty-five years taken great strides in the field of musical comedy with his longtime writing partner, Lorenz Hart. The first Rodgers and Hammerstein work, Oklahoma!, merged the two styles into a completely new genre—the musical play—and simultaneously launched the most successful partnership in American musical theater. Over the next seventeen years, Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote eight more Broadway musicals: Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music. They also wrote a movie musical (State Fair) and one for television (Cinderella). Collectively their works have earned dozens of awards, including Pulitzers, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys.
Throughout his career, Hammerstein created works of lyrical beauty and universal feeling, and he continually strove—sometimes against fashion—to seek out the good and beautiful in the world. “I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices,” he once said. “But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly . . . I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”
All of his lyrics are here—850, more than a quarter published for the first time—in this sixth book in the indispensable Complete Lyrics series that has also brought us the lyrics of Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Frank Loesser. From the young scribe’s earliest attempts to the old master’s final lyric—“Edelweiss”—we can see, read, and, yes, sing the words of a theatrical and lyrical genius.
“The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II is, like its subject—and unlike its hero—a musical in its own right.” —Daniel Elkind, The Jewish Forward
“Anyone with a glancing interest in theater will be familiar with a few immortal phrases from “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” or “Some Enchanted Evening.” But this hefty, handsome volume reveals anew the breadth, range and sheer fecundity of a central figure – maybe the central figure – in the evolution of the American musical theater. Hammerstein wrote revue songs, operettas, musical comedies and of course the musical plays, with Richard Rodgers, that changed the face of Broadway forever and are so crucial to the musical canon. The book contains 850 lyrics, a quarter previously unpublished, with deeply researched notes and commentary by Ms. Asch that add color and context, although the limpid poetry of Hammerstein’s best lyrics needs little of either to shine.” —Christopher Isherwood, The New York Times
“Hammerstein drew on patterns that had existed long before [his] birth: a sentimental love of the land; a passion for social justice, predicated on faith in the innate goodness of ordinary folk; a canny awareness of the comedy inherent in the basic human tropes of man and woman, parent and child, boss and underling; and an earnest reverence for the mysteries of life. Hammerstein combined these familiar elements into something new, producing works that swept the world, entered the vernacular, and lodged permanently in the public mind. . . . In The Complete Lyrics, edited with painstaking thoroughness by Amy Asch, Hammerstein found ideas that even people unimaginably remote from Broadway’s sensibility could share.” —Michael Feingold, The Village Voice
“Oscar Hammerstein flew on a bright cloud of music for his entire career . . . Everyone has a line of Hammerstein’s washing around in the back of his brain.... [Hammerstein] expanded the boundaries of the American theater song, past the narrow urban wit of the rhymesters. When he worked with Sigmund Romberg, the old goulash-peddler would run through the lyric and at the end say only: ‘It fits.’ Hammerstein came to see that that perfunctory acknowledgement was, in fact, high praise–that that was the most important thing about any lyric. It might also be poetry, but first it had to ‘fit.’ Hammerstein’s words always fit.” —Mark Steyn, The New Criterion
“Catnip for people who love musicals . . . I just love this book.” —Bill Goldstein (NYTimes.com)
“This one requires some heavy lifting. It's an oversize, 422-page beaut that would make a knockout gift for any lover of Broadway show tunes and classic American pop. The sheer number of songs he wrote is staggering. Lyrics divorced from the music can be a disservice, but Hammerstein was a poet, one of those rare ones with a sense of humor, so you don't even have to know the music to appreciate his clever writing. The familiar lyrics, from such classics as ‘South Pacific,’ ‘The King and I’ and ‘Show Boat’ will have you singing them as you read.” —The Seattle Times
“In some ways, The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II defeats the purpose of coffee-table books. It’s all about the word. Despite the historical images, one wants to linger over the obscure shows from the early 20th century, then luxuriate in the emotional potency of Hammerstein’s collaborations with Richard Rodgers, particularly ‘Oklahoma!’ ‘Carousel,’ ‘The King and I’ and the recently recovered ‘South Pacific.’ How his sensibility evolved from the Columbia University student show through ‘The Sound of Music’ is made much clearer through this volume.” —Michael Barnes, Austin-American Statesman
“The lavish format remains the same . . . In all, there are 850 sets of lyrics in this book that, like its series mates, belongs in every collected concerned with musical theater.” —Booklist
“The latest entry in Knopf’s superb ‘Complete Lyrics series’ supersedes any previous collection of Hammerstein’s lyrics . . . ” —Library Journal
“To list even a fraction of Hammerstein’s most popular songs is to recall some of the century’s most potent contributions to pop culture . . . Reading through the Hammerstein collection may compel you to rummage through your vintage recordings or perhaps start downloading its iTune counterparts. . . . Wandering through the 422 pages of The Complete Lyrics allows us the discovery of details that either remind of felicitous moments or offer fresh revelations. These fascinating, exhaustive books are filled with the kind of historical detail, photos, and trivia that make aficionados swoon.” —Michael Adams, Open Letters Monthly
“This book is something wonderful.” —Peter Filichia, TheaterMania
“A stunning catalog. Without question, The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II is the gift book of the season, whether for yourself or for a musical theatre friend.” —Max Preeo, editor of Show Music Magazine
“A stoutly elegant compilation.” —Bookpage
“If a faulty memory trips up your shower-stall crooning, you need a copy of The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II . . . Amy Asch spent seven years tracking down every song written by Hammerstein (1895-1960) and determining the definitive lyric. For musical theater lovers, it's a treasure chest of old favorites and unexpected gems.” –Tom Beer, Newsday