Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career. Written By Stephen Sondheim. Cover By. Finishing the Hat (From “Sunday in the Park with George”) by Josh Groban · Finishing the Hat by Kelli O’Hara. “A printed collection [of lyrics],” says Stephen Sondheim at the beginning of Finishing the Hat, “is a dubious proposition.” Indeed: like making a.

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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim.

His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat —titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George —Sondheim has not Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors.

His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat —titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George —Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a rare personal look into his life as well as his remarkable productions.

Along with the lyrics for all of his musicals from to —including West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd —Sondheim treats us to never-before-published songs from each show, songs that were cut or discarded before seeing the light of day.

An excerpt from Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing The Hat” – The Globe and Mail

The anecdotes—filled with history, pointed observations and intimate details—transport us back to a time when theater was a major pillar of American culture.

Best of all, Sondheim appraises his work and dissects his lyrics, as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insights into songwriting that will be studied by fans and aspiring songwriters for years to come. It is also a book that will leave you humming the final bars of Merrily We Roll Along, while eagerly anticipating the next volume, which begins with the opening lines of Sunday in the Park with George.

Hardcoverpages. Published October 26th by Knopf first published October 26th The Hat Box 1. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Finishing the Hatplease sign up. Lists with This Book. Feb 01, Bruce rated it it was amazing Shelves: Look, I’m a music theater buff, and a Sondheim freak. So it was preordained that I would love this book. Actually, I was expecting to find it redundant, if not nostalgia-inducing, inasmuch as I have long owned and adored copies of his scores and libretti, and near-memorized recordings of every Sondheim show save the unloveable mess that is Road Showabout which you can read my review elsewhere on Goodreads.

It kicks off with an extended and fascinating essay on what distinguishes song lyrics from poetry, proceeds chronologically through Sondheim’s writings including lyrics to cut and rewritten songs from the chamber piece Saturday Night it took more than 50 years to see produced through to ‘s Merrily We Roll Along.

It is the latter of these that make this such an invaluable book; it’s chock full of insight not just to Sondheim’s work ethic, but to his attitudes about lyric writing in general. But wait, there’s more. In addition to collecting lyrics from thirteen different shows, Finishing the Hat is full of great examples that illustrate his principles from various writers including Dorothy Parkeras well as constructively critical assessments of his professional predecessors Fniishing Hammerstein, Noel Coward, Alan Jay Lerner, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, et al.

Best of all, the book is rich with photostats of handwritten early drafts, and you can thereby see the master at work it’s all about filling the margins with a brainstormed thesaurus of useable phrases and couplets.


Sondheim makes no bones about being both opinionated and rigid when it comes to the subject of lyric writing. Poems are written to be read, hta or aloud, not sung Poetry is an art of concision, lyrics of expansion. Poems depend on packed images, on resonance and juxtaposition, on density. Every reader absorbs a poem at his own pace, inflecting it with his own rhythms, stresses, and tone. The tempo is dictated less by what the poet intends than by the reader’s comprehension. All of us, as we read poetry prose, tooslow down, speed up, finisihng stop to reread when overwhelmed by the extravagance of the images or confused by the grammatical eccentricities.

Poetry can be set to music gracefully, as Franz Schubert and a long line of others have proved, but Lyrics are not light verse, either. Light verse doesn’t demand music because it supplies its own. All those emphatic rhythms, ringing rhymes, repeated refrains: This is why “The Pied Piper” has never been set well: Music tends to hammer light verse into monotony or shatter its grace Light verse is complete unto itself.

Lyrics by definition lack something; if they don’t, they’re probably not good lyrics.

However, to cite but one counter-example, I’ve always thought that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s setting of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha was both fun and also true to the light verse original without being sing-songy.

Examples of his extreme fussiness abound. When now it smiles, It smiles for lovers. When next it smiles, It smiles for fools. The last it smiles It smiles for them, The others, The rememberers, The truly silly people. Sondheim’s rightfully proud of the song as a whole, which was cut for reasons of pacing and character, but then he finds it necessary to add: One point in the lyric worth noting: That had been for me, anyhow a problem with “Together Wherever We Go” in Gypsywhere at the end of the chorus “Together” and “Wherever” were sung slowly, sounding as if they should rhyme.

In that case, the fogginess of the near-rhyme was partly mitigated by the two words coming together in the title, so that it seemed part of the fabric of the lyric. Here, the word “others” was the only word that I wanted to use, and I couldn’t avoid the juxtaposition.

Much as I like this song, the sound of “others” still makes the word a wrong choice. Given comments like this, one might suppose that Sondheim would accede to the idea that a computer program could be devised which through algorithm and dictionary alone as opposed to databases of exemplars could consistently churn out original and emotionally resonant works with few, if any boners.

No doubt there are AI’s out there that produce good facsimiles of poetry and song I’ve heard some great MIDI fractal generators, which, fed enough pieces to analyze, can occasionally mimic music composition fairly welland no doubt either that eventually, a Kurzweill will produce a program that devises one or more pieces which an educated musicologist cannot distinguish as automated in origin though I would nonetheless credit the programmer for the output.

I don’t ultimately see a distinction between the creative abilities of human versus artificial intelligence; I just think that any effective artistic statement requires variation among a set of one or many factors including changeable rules and input while strict adherence to a one-size-fits-all approach will be sterile. While I don’t dare dispute that good works can be found to adhere to articulatable principles and that craft can be found in the consistent application of those principles, I guess I would take issue with Sondheim’s view that there is an invariable, RIGHT way to compose lyrics, music, or what-have-you.

I find this to be an arrogantly myopic and unnecessary conceit. Nor am I alone in this. Sondheim’s works are sufficiently self-similar that they have been successfully re-assembled into multiple reviews, at least two of which, Marry Me a Little and Putting it Togetherhave complete books with plots unrelated to the songs’ original settings. Putting it Together is the more remarkable as a Sondheim meta-musical, in that it could credibly serve as a musical version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.


At one point in the second act, Sondheim’s “Live Alone and Like It” which while cut from Dick Tracysounds much of a piece with the songs of Saturday Night is sandwiched so neatly between companion songs from A Little Night Music and Companyit’s clear it could have been inserted as unobtrusively in any of those three other works.

Ironically, given Sondheim’s apparent contempt of self-similarity, he prides himself on his capacity for mimicry, both of the writing styles of his librettists and of the compositional styles of his peers. Deliberate pastiche abounds in his work especially in his lush score for Folliesalthough the line between period piece mimicry and competent fulfillment of genre expectations is a murky one. In any case, I’m not sure why it would be a bad thing for a talented artist to demonstrate a recognizable, personal style.

For me, the lyrical tic most evident from reading this collection is Sondheim’s constant contrast of “life” as an emblem of love, meaning, and fulfillment with its opposite a time-honored operatic tradition in the context of eros, as brilliantly documented by Peter Conrad ‘s A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera.

Personally, I find the obsession fascinating in its variation, and no less effective a metaphor for all its repetition from show to show. With a bit of familiarity, Sondheim’s work can be spotted a mile away.

And so what’s wrong with a bit of style? Anyone who can toss off lines as clever as: In the movies, life is finer, Life is cleaner. But in Brooklyn, it’s sondheiim minor Misdemeanor. Sondheim claims that collections of song lyrics are superfluous given the existence of performable shows and extant recordings.

Neither this work nor its anticipated sequel Look, I Made a Hat would have been written had not his publisher goaded him into it. Well, good on his publisher. I’m hard pressed to imagine a curmudgeon I’d rather read. View all 11 comments. He reprints fimishing lyrics and offers side remarks as to what was going on at the times these shows were composed.

To style this generous coffee-table-ish book, in part, “Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes” may have been a little too self-deprecating, but in so doing, Sondheim did grant himself leave to digress, which he does upon occasion.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – review

Never mind rhe even the digressions are worthwhile. If buying new, the canny consumer can usually get a discount if the two vols. Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, Jan 07, Schmacko rated it it was amazing. I will only add my own thoughts hxt which are wordy, because I love the man. When I was a freshman in my rural Iowa high school, I took vocal lessons with a local college instructor, Hollis Dobref, who later went on to work with Jason Smith to develop up-and-coming jazz artists at The School for Music Vocations.

I was fascinated by the skndheim, the dark and apocalyptic feel of the lyrics: I remember leaves Green as spearmint Crisp as paper I remember trees Bare as coat racks Spread like broken umbrellas I went to our small high school library — I graduated in a class of less than a hundred — but found almost nothing on Sondheim.

I went to our miniscule Matilda J. Then I was hooked. I went to our community college library — which was run by my foster mom — and found even more! I was scared, closeted, and sill primarily addicted to plays. I sat and finishint to many recordings as I read the lyrics, thoughts and anecdotes.

Sondheim is only snippy and gossipy once, and he eschews criticizing living lyricists. Also, you cannot hear his finishng and odd, stirring composition unless you do what I did, curling up with the book and taking it slow, listening to several cast recordings and artist finisshing. Wow that was self-indulgent and gay of me! I loved that you had to listen to the music several times to understand the structure.