Finishing the Hat (2010)
by Stephen Sondheim
There are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer, all of them familiar truisms. They were not immediately apparent to me when I started writing, but have come into focus via Oscar Hammerstein's tutoring, Strunk and White's huge little book, "The Elements of Style," and my own sixty-some years of practicing the craft. I have not always been skilled or diligent enough to follow them as faithfully as I would like, but they underlie everything I've ever written. In no particular order, and to be written in stone:
CONTENT DICTATES FORM
LESS IS MORE
GOD IS IN THE DETAILS
all in the service of
without which nothing else matters.
It was with an almost orgiastic frenzy that Stephen Sondheim devotees (including myself) devoured his book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes. It is a GLORIOUS volume, replete with pictures and lyrics from the thirteen shows for which Sondheim had written lyrics during those years (from Saturday Night through Merrily We Roll Along). Sondheim shares lyrics from each show (including gems that were cut from each production) and annotates them with personal stories, observations, critiques of his own work, critiques of others' work, gossip, and "inside tidbits" about theatre history and his collaborators.
I can't wait for the publication of his second volume: Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes due out this November!