Innovation and Integration
In various parts of this website, we have introduced you to a number of concepts. We have explored the forms of vocal music, the sources of that music, the cultures that produced that music and, finally, how vocal music on Broadway progressed from raw entertainment to a very special art form. This progression did not occur by chance but by design.
If we look back to our Section on How Opera Became Grand Opera, we see, from the very outset of opera, that composers, such as Christoph Gluck and Richard Wagner, were intentionally trying to integrate the music with the libretto. We then referred to the 1925 article by Oscar Hammerstein II in which he laid out his thesis of the need for a better integration of words and music.
If the Broadway progression is intentional and not random, then we need to understand that, in all facets of life, there are those who are content with the status quo and seek to keep polishing the wheel they know and love; and there are those who feel the need to innovate, improve, explore, expand.
In technological terms, we walked; we rode animals; we built and rode in carts that were pulled by animals; we developed engines to replace animals and rode in cars; we built engines that powered trains and rode in trains; we built engines and then turbines that powered planes and rode in planes. Transportation evolved and continues to evolve because some people believe that all things are possible.
The same thing is true for writers of words and music. The innovative author seeks new forms of expression; the innovative composer seeks new sounds. In order for a Broadway show to succeed, these two art forms must merge into one. Lyrics and melody must sound as though they were found, newborn, as one entity.
We have learned that the libretto has to be written by, perhaps, a third person and that it must measure up to the vocal music and support it.
We comprehend that the collaboration between orchestrators and music directors must advance the vocal music for singers and musicians; likewise, we see that directors must provide the actors and singers with a sense of the “living” nature of stage performance, the translation of words on a page into thoughts in a theatre.
Finally, we have come to understand that the producer must agree that what he or she sees on the stage will “work;” that it is a marketable product that an audience will like and pay to attend.
Many producers enjoy driving while looking in the rear view mirror. That is, they know what format has sold tickets in the past, and they want something that is just slightly different but still fits the familiar mold of past productions. This attitude permeates the motion picture industry as well; in that industry, we call the format a “franchise” and all subsequent movies, prequels or sequels.
But producers cannot dictate terms to creative teams; and sooner or later, venturesome authors and composers will move into new territory. We watched with keen interest (and sometimes amazement) as the creative teams moved from operetta to melodrama to comedy to musical theatre, the latter being the miracle of a soundly written libretto married to a beautifully written score. This was not an easy progression, and not everyone was able to make the leap across the mental barriers.
In the area of musical composition, we have chosen to concentrate on the work of ten composers. The ones we chose are really a mix of composers: some were able to write music that defined the best music of an era; some were able to cross over from one era to the next with groundbreaking scores. Some were able to do both. All ten composers have one characteristic in common: they pledged themselves (in the form of a sacramentum) to follow beauty and majesty wherever it might lead. We have chosen composers whose music filled listeners and peers with a sense of freshness and excitement. The public’s unstated expectation at the time was that, with each new composition, the listener would enjoy an experience that rose higher than the experiences that preceded it. That is to say, the experience of the audience would parallel the progression of the composer; however, this does not always occur.