Sondheim on the language of music

American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has released a book Finishing the Hat: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and AnecdotesThe following is an extract from interview an article on Sondheim by Emma Brockes:

Initially a maths student at Williams College in Massachusetts, the young Sondheim took an elective course in music with no intention of pursuing it. During the first lecture, the students were played Debussy’s La Mer, and the lecturer asked: “what does it sound like to you? Does it sound like the sea? Doesn’t sound like it to me.” Something in Sondheim rose up and responded, both to the down-to-earth approach and to the understanding that “music has that remarkable quality of suggesting things without being specific. It’s an abstract art and yet it’s an emotional one, and that’s what makes it so remarkable.” The music teacher in question changed his life. “He was very spit-spot Mary Poppins – he took all the romance out of music – and that appealed to me. I believe in it. I believe that, far from demystifying it, it makes things clearer and, in a sense, adds to the mystery of creation. Because the desire to make form out of chaos is why we write.”The more precise, and concise, a lyric, the more likely it is to liberate the ideas behind it. “I think the more restrictive, the freer it is. It’s always been true. If you’re locked in a room, you explore all the corners.”

Emma Brockes, “Sondheim: a life in music”, The Guardian, 18 Dec 2010.  Click here to read full article.