The progression of Richard Rodgers’ compositional skills is equally remarkable. His first major hit, Dearest Enemy (1925.31), has been favorably compared to the work of Gilbert & Sullivan. It was neither typical Rodgers and Hart material, much less the type of music that Rodgers would write with Oscar Hammerstein II. Yet, in a matter of a little over one decade, Rodgers wrote the music for Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, a ballet that clearly transcends the show it was written for (On Your Toes, 1936.05).
The next year, Rodgers wrote his first great score, the score for Babes in Arms (1937.05). Within the context of the libretto, Rodgers created a series of songs that complemented each other and formed an integrated whole. He would progress into his collaboration with Hammerstein and would flood Broadway with Oklahoma! (1943.04), Carousel (1945.05), South Pacific (1949.04) The King and I (1951.12) and The Sound of Music (1959.24). Each of these shows has music that not only fits the storyline but rises to the level of uniform excellence.
In addition, these shows integrate symphonic music in a way that elevates the score and the story: Rodgers’ and Robert Russell Bennett’s ballet in Oklahoma!; Rodgers’ and Don Walker’s “Carousel Waltz” from Carousel; the “swing” dance music provided by Bennett that accompanies many of the songs in South Pacific; Rodgers’ and Bennett’s “March of the Siamese Children” in The King and I.
In many ways, Rodgers demonstrated his musical potential at its highest level of achievement when he collaborated, shortly after the end of WWII, with Bennett to write the symphonic soundtrack for Victory at Sea.