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Rodgers and Hammerstein

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Dominique Holloway

Music History Review/Paper III

December 11, 2015

Rodgers and Hammerstein

        

Musical Theater was a very important and influential part of American music history during the Twentieth century. Although musical theater was a musical tradition started in Europe, American musicians were constantly working to become independent of European musical theater traditions and make their own unique sound. American musicians sought to create music that was rooted solely in American music styles with story lines that dealt with issues America faced at the time. No one could transform lives and bring stories to the stage with as much class and pizazz as the famous musical theater duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein. This dynamic duo took a while to come together, but when they did they transformed American musical theater forever.  Both men have some similarities in their lives as well as some differences.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were raised up basically in the same place or lived in the same place when they were younger. They both lived near the park called Mount Morris Park in New York City. Both men were exposed to the theater at a very young age, Oscar was four years old and Richard was two years old (Green, 1963). Richard’s family was very musical and from the time Richard was a young boy, he heard his parents singing songs from musicals and operettas in the living room and eventually he found that he knew most or all of the songs to these famous shows, even at the tender age of two years old (Green, 1963). Although Oscar loved the theater, his family was not as encouraging as Richard’s when it came to being a part of the theater (making it a career), his parents wanted him to be a lawyer. Ironically enough, Oscar’s grandfather Oscar I, who he was named after was a theater impresario. Something that the boys did not have in common were their ages. Even though they were both young in 1910, Hammerstein was fifteen years old and his future partner Rodgers was nine years old. Also, Hammerstein lost his mother at the age of fifteen years old when they were young (Green, 1963). And eventually their love for the theater would cause them to meet, even though they would not become partners until much later. They both met when Oscar was in college at Columbia University at the age of seventeen:

Oscar’s first Variety show was called On Your Way. It was produces in 1915, and his part was that of a comic poet. The death of Hammerstein’s father earlier in the school year somehow had freed Oscar from his pledge not to go near the theater. Besides, this was only an amateur show. Mortimer Rodgers, Dick’s older brother, also went to Columbia at that time, and was a member of the same fraternity that Hammerstein belonged to. Well aware of his brother’s passion for the theatre, Mortimer took Dick to see a Saturday matinee performance of On Your Way. After the show, while the ballroom was being cleared for dancing, Richard Rodgers, aged twelve, met Oscar Hammerstein. The meeting under such circumstances was certainly not one between two equals. Rodgers was completely in awe of the worldly college junior who had had the leading comic role in the most important theatrical event of the school season. For his part, Hammerstein tried his best to impress the stage struck youth with his mature charm (Green, 1963).

Although Hammerstein was very good at theater he was busy trying to concentrate on studying law while his future partner Rodgers was being showered with encouragement. Oscar eventually gave in to what he really wanted to do and continued to write plays. Both men started professional careers in the theater and they eventually came together, as a duo, at a time when the Musical Theater Guild was going through a lot of shows that turned out to be failures, in 1942 and made their first success, Oklahoma (Green, 1963).

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