And Then There is Oscar
There has been only one man, out of all the great lyricists to write for the Broadway stage, who started in operetta and ended with the musical, The Sound of Music; and that man is Oscar Hammerstein II. It has been said that he brought out the best in the composers he worked with on a sustained basis. It is remarkable that for each of them (Sigmund Romberg, Rudolf Friml, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers), they wrote some of their finest music with Hammerstein.
Hammerstein has been unfairly criticized for writing simple lyrics and sentimental lyrics. He never wrote a lyric in the abstract; he wrote poetry that would be sung by a character in a play. His lyrics were always believable to the actor and the audience; everyone agrees that each character in his plays had the intellect and ability to express themselves using the words that he crafted.
Kern called Hammerstein the “ideal collaborator.” In his preface to Hammerstein’s book, Lyrics, Rodgers wrote: “Perhaps there exist finer specimens of light versification, but there is not to be found anywhere else such a perfect collection of examples of the lyric-writer’s art. It is to be hoped, then, that these words will be read for what they are: words for songs, and the best possible words.”
Hammerstein’s words rang true; were appropriate; told the story; came from the character, in words that the character would have used. At some point, we will have the time and space to answer the critics in full; for now we can say that the critics were wrong and that Rodgers was right–not one word should be changed because “the best possible words” were used.