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ClassicsOnline Home » LERNER and LOEWE: Orchestral Selections
Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) and Frederick Loewe (1901-1988)
Selections from My Fair Lady Camelot Gigi Brigadoon Paint Your Wagon
In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, the lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner was to produce some of the brightest, most successful of all late twentieth-century musicals. Born in New York on 31st August 1918 into a prosperous, middle-class background (his family ran a chain-store hosiery business), Alan Lerner trained first as a pianist before turning to writing (a Bachelor of Science graduate of Harvard during the late 1930s, his other educational background included schooling at Bedales in England and at the Juilliard School of Music). Employed initially as a journalist, he switched to radio where he wrote scripts and sketches for, among others, Victor Borge, Alfred Drake, and Hildegarde and Celeste Holm, and also won some fame during the early 1940s as a vocalist at the piano. He died in New York on 14th June 1986.
Although later naturalised American, the songwriter Frederick Loewe was born in Vienna, on 10th June 1901 (some sources give 1904), the son of an actress and Edmund Loewe, an international tenor of some note, who first sang in New York in 1905 in operetta at the Irving Place Theatre. The young Frederick trained in Europe as a concert pianist with Ferruccio Busoni and Eugen dAlbert and as a composer with Emile Reznicek and made his first appearance at the age of thirteen as a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic. After achieving some fame in Europe as a songwriter in traditional Viennese operetta vein (his 1919 song Katrina proved a minor hit), in 1924 he settled with his father in New York where, after various unsuccessful attempts at carving a career as a performer and composer, he had, out of necessity, from the mid-1930s found a more congenial and lucrative niche as a club pianist and theatre organist, although, before he teamed with Lerner, there were occasional contributions to shows and two well-meaning musical flops with Earle Crooker, Salute to Spring (St.Louis, 1937) and Great Lady (Broadway, 1938). Based until the early 1960s mainly in New York and Hollywood, Loewe died in retirement in Palm Springs, California, on 14th February 1988.
The remarkable eighteen-year Lerner-Loewe association began in 1942 at New Yorks Lambs Club. Their first assignment, to revamp Patricia, a Broadway flop of 1941, into the equally unsuccessful The Life of the Party had a positive dénouement insofar as it laid the foundations for their future collaborations, which began in 1943 with Whats Up?, a comic "revue with sketches" starring Jimmy Savo and Gloria Warren, which reached Broadway, although it only stayed for 63 performances. Their next co-operation, The Day Before Spring (1945; with Irene Manning, Bill Johnson, John Archer and Pat Marshall), redeemed by a handful of reasonable songs, remained on the Nationals billboards for a healthier 165 and marked the upturn of Lerner and Loewes fortunes which led to their first real breakthrough, Brigadoon, in 1947.
Following in the wake of Oklahoma!, Brigadoon was conceived in the revived operetta style. Set in the land of bluebell and heather and with book and lyrics by Lerner and a cast that included Marion Bell, David Brooks, George Keane and Lee Sullivan, it ran at the Ziegfeld for 581 performances and also enjoyed a substantial run in London, at His Majestys, of 685. Revived in New York in 1950 and 1957 and, later, on Broadway in 1980, its 1954 filming (by MGM, starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson) was awarded an Oscar for its art direction. The scores most enduring numbers are the tender, mythical The heather on the hill and Come to me, bend to me and the vibrant Almost like being in love.
For his next piece, Love Life (1948; starring Nanette Fabray and Ray Middleton), Lerner teamed with Kurt Weill on a score which despite a healthy 252-performance run and eighteen fine songs has apparently not survived. Then, in 1951, after working in Hollywood with Burton Lane on songs for MGMs film-musical Royal Wedding (their song Too Late Now earned an Oscar nomination), he made a welcome return to Loewe for the colourful, vigorous American folk-lore world of Paint Your Wagon. Set in the California gold rush of 1853 and starring veteran James Barton, Burl Ives and Eddie Dowling, the shows Broadway original, which opened at the Shubert in November, ran for 289 performances; its London sequel (1953), featuring father and daughter Bobby and Sally Ann Howes, ran for 477. Filmed in 1969 (by Paramount; starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, this won an Academy Award nomination for Nelson Riddles musical direction). Its score includes I talk to the trees, They call the wind Maria and Wandrin Star.
Biggest of all Lerner-Loewe hit shows, My Fair Lady (1956) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and broke all musical and film box-office records. Its original cast LP album was a United States No.1 which sold in excess of five million copies and stayed for 311 consecutive weeks in the Top Forty. A most impressively constructed period setting of Bernard Shaws 1913 comedy Pygmalion with book by Lerner, Loewes musical ran for 2717 performances on Broadway (Mark Hellinger Theatre, with Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway, directed by Moss Hart) and 2281 in London and has since been the subject of numerous international revivals. As a film (CBS/Warner, 1964: starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, overdubbed by Marni Nixon) it won four Academy Award nominations and seven Oscars, including one for André Previns musical direction. Its outstandingly well-integrated score which includes Ascot Gavotte, With a little bit of luck, The rain in Spain, You did it, Get me to the church on time, Wouldnt it be loverly and Ive grown accustomed to her face, is crowned by On the street where you live and I could have danced all night.
During 1957, in a bid to cash in further on the new vogue for musicals, MGM planned a musical version of Gigi. Based on the famous novelette by Colette and the first Hollywood musical shot entirely in Paris, the 1958 film still ranks as a classic. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, with script by Lerner and score by Loewe, it provided a vehicle for the still game, if ageing, Maurice Chevalier (he regaled his many fans with his characteristically OTT-French renditions of the films title-song and main theme Gigi and Thank Heaven for little girls and duetted nostalgically with Hermione Gingold in I remember it well ) and co-starred Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan and Isabel Jeans. Gigi won ten Oscars, including two to Lerner and Loewe for the title-song and the score and a special long-service award to Chevalier. Breaking with tradition in such matters, the film was later turned (rather less remarkably) into a musical (Uris Theatre, Broadway, 1973; starring Alfred Drake, Agnes Moorehead and Daniel Massey) and in order to integrate additional material for this, Loewe briefly re-emerged from the self-imposed retirement (due, reputedly, to ill-health) he had entered since his final collaboration with Lerner, Camelot, in 1960.
Hinging on themes from the Arthurian Legend adapted by Lerner from T. H. Whites cycle of novels The Once and Future King (1939 to 1958), Camelot opened on Broadway at the Majestic in December 1960, with Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowell in the leading rôles. Compared unfavourably by the critics to earlier Lerner and Loewe successes, its well-elaborated period sets and such appealingly sentimental numbers as How to handle a woman and If ever I would leave you made it nonetheless a sure-fire hit with audiences, with record advance sales and an initial run of 873 performances. Its London run (at Drury Lane) lasted 518 showings, while the film-version (Warner Brothers, 1967; co-starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere) won one Oscar nomination (for cinematography) and three Oscars, including one jointly, for musical direction under Ken Darby and Alfred Newman.
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LERNER and LOEWE: Orchestral Selections