Authors: Lorenz Hart

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American lyricist

Author Works

Drama:

Fly with Me, pr. 1920 (lyrics; libretto by Milton Kroopf and Philip Leavitt; music by Richard Rodgers)

The Melody Man, pr. 1924 (libretto, with Rodgers and Herbert Fields)

The Garrick Gaieties, pr. 1925 (lyrics; sketches by Sir Arthur Sullivan, Morrie Ryskind, and others; music by Rodgers)

Dearest Enemy, pr. 1925 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers; based on Jean Gilbert’s operetta Die Frau im Hermelin)

The Girl Friend, pr. 1926 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers)

Peggy-Ann, pr. 1926 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers)

A Connecticut Yankee, pr. 1927 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers)

Chee-Chee, pr. 1928 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers)

Present Arms, pr. 1928 (lyrics; libretto by Fields; music by Rodgers)

Jumbo, pr. 1935 (lyrics; libretto by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; music by Rodgers)

On Your Toes, pr. 1936 (lyrics; libretto, with Rodgers and George Abbott; music by Rodgers)

Babes in Arms, pr. 1937 (libretto, with Rodgers; music by Rodgers)

I’d Rather Be Right, pr., pb. 1937 (lyrics; libretto by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; music by Rodgers)

I Married an Angel, pr. 1938 (libretto, with Rodgers; music by Rodgers; adaptation of James Vasarzy’s play)

The Boys from Syracuse, pr. 1938 (lyrics; libretto by Abbott; music by Rodgers)

Pal Joey, pr. 1940 (lyrics; libretto by John O’Hara; music by Rodgers)

By Jupiter, pr. 1942 (lyrics; libretto, with Rodgers; music by Rodgers; adaptation of Julian Thompson’s play The Warrior’s Husband)

The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart, pb. 1986, expanded 1995

Biography

Lorenz Hart is a revolutionary figure in the history of the American musical stage. Before the arrival of Hart and his partner, Richard Rodgers, musical comedies had been sentimental arrangements of semioperatic songs. Hart’s witty words restored the balance between music and lyrics, established the lyricist in an equal partnership with the composer, and paved the way for such serious musicals as West Side Story (1957) and A Chorus Line (1975).{$I[AN]9810001808}{$I[A]Hart, Lorenz}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hart, Lorenz}{$I[tim]1895;Hart, Lorenz}

Hart was born in Manhattan in 1895 into a Jewish family. He attended a series of private schools, finally majoring in journalism at Columbia University but not obtaining a degree. It was evident early that Hart had a talent with words, and he often wrote satirical songs for school revues and summer camp shows. Hart was a voracious reader and could quote long passages from the works of William Shakespeare; this interest helped him to develop his talent as a songwriter. Throughout his life, Hart experienced social problems because of his short stature (he was less than five feet tall) and large head, which made him appear dwarfish. Many of his best song lyrics (“Where’s That Rainbow,” 1926, and “Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me,” 1942) were inspired by his personal difficulties, as was his masterpiece, about the dream of being accepted despite an odd appearance, “My Funny Valentine” (1937). Unfortunately, Hart never resolved his personal difficulties in life as he did in words, and he succumbed to drinking, dissolution, and an early death from pneumonia in 1943.

When Hart met his collaborator, Richard Rodgers, in 1919, each man instantly recognized the other’s talents. They began work on a song within an hour of their meeting, but they wrote without success until 1925. In that year, they produced the score for The Garrick Gaieties, which featured their first successful song, “Manhattan” (this had actually been written for an earlier, unproduced show, Winkle Town in 1922). Hart’s talent for clever internal rhymes was already evident, as was his ability to comment on a social situation. Although the song celebrates the glories of New York City, the young couple who sing it have no money and can enjoy only those pleasures that are free (“going through the zoo”) or inexpensive (“We’ll go to Coney/ and eat baloney/ on a roll”). Yet the song is charming rather than bitterly cynical because of the love that the pair shares.

First produced in 1940, Pal Joey was a musical decades ahead of its time. The libretto by the novelist John O’Hara tells the story of a charming but unregenerate heel who loses an innocent young girl because he decides in favor of a liaison with a married woman; when this woman rejects him, he fails to win back his first love. This was a totally new kind of ending for American musical theater. Pal Joey broke new ground and made possible even bolder musicals, which offered a more realistic view of life than had the song-and-dance musicals of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Even before Pal Joey, Hart had been injecting social criticism into musical comedy with such songs as “Ten Cents a Dance,” a portrayal of the life of a ballroom hostess, and “The Lady Is a Tramp,” which describes a lady censured by her companions because she refuses to play snobbish games and takes her freedom seriously. Hart was also aware of contemporary intellectual theories. “You Can’t Fool Your Dreams” (1920) was the first popular song based on Freudian psychological theory. One Rodgers and Hart show, Peggy-Ann, was based on the dream fantasies of its heroine. Dreams and strange psychological stages fascinated Hart throughout his career, and a song on the subject of deja vu (“Where or When,” 1937) starts with the arresting lines, “When you’re awake, the things you think/ Come from the dreams you dream.”

Hart abandoned wordplay and irony, however, when describing the euphoria of love. Such songs as “My Heart Stood Still” (1927), “With a Song in My Heart” (1929), “Isn’t It Romantic” (1932), and “Have You Met Miss Jones?” (1937) are as lushly romantic as any of those by Hart’s predecessors Rudolf Friml and Jerome Kern. Hart’s most emotional and most memorable songs, however, are about love that is lost or unrequited. In such songs as “Easy to Remember” (1935), “Here in My Arms” (1925), “Spring Is Here” (1938), “It Never Entered My Mind” (1940), and “Little Girl Blue” (1935), Hart established himself as the musical stage’s poet laureate of heartbreak.

BibliographyGreen, Stanley. “Rodgers and Hart.” In The World of Musical Comedy. 4th rev. ed. New York: DaCapo Press, 1980. Demonstrates how they formed the first composer-lyricist team in which each man received equal recognition. Provides standard biographies and traces the two artists’ development, show by show. Provides critical commentary on their artistic growth and on their contribution to the Broadway musical, detailing Pal Joey as the pinnacle of their collaboration.Hart, Dorothy. Thou Swell, Thou Witty: The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. Hart’s sister-in-law lovingly but truthfully tells the story of his tortured life. Includes reminiscences by friends and associates such as Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers. Contains the lyrics for more than ninety of Hart’s songs, a complete listing of his plays and films with the songs he wrote for each, and numerous personal and theatrical photographs.Lerner, Alan Jay. The Musical Theatre: A Celebration. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986. Lerner provides biographical and critical information about Hart from the perspective of a friend in the business. Of special interest is his description of Hart’s physical challenges and how they caused the melancholy and pessimism in his life and lyrics.Marx, Samuel, and Jan Clayton. Rodgers and Hart: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bedeviled. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976. This popular, anecdotal double biography of Richard Rodgers and Hart chronicles their lives, collaboration, and achievements. It contrasts Rodgers’s storybook life with Hart’s sad and troubled one and examines how those difficulties influenced their work.Nolan, Frederick W. Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.Rodgers, Richard. Musical Stages: An Autobiography. Rev. ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995. Rodgers’s autobiography comments extensively on Hart.Secrest, Meryle. Somewhere for Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers. New York: Random House, 2001. This biography of Rodgers covers his years of association with Hart. Bibliography and index.
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