By Lily Riesett
Vol. 82 Issue 6 December 14th 2021
Composer Stephen Sondheim passed away at 91 on Friday, Nov. 26 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. Sondheim’s friends and family knew he was ill, but the death was rather unexpected and sudden. After completing an autopsy, the cause of death had been marked as a cardiovascular disease. He had been celebrating Thanksgiving with some friends in Roxbury just the day before.
Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930, in Manhattan and lived on the Upper East Side of New York City. He attended military and private school up until his parents separated during his teenage years. He stayed living with his mother to support her, but had a very difficult relationship with her. He recalls her either flirting with him or belittling him. She was good friends with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II who took Sondheim under his wing and taught him how to write music.
Sondheim attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where he studied music composition. He got the opportunity to study under famous composers Milton Babbitt and Robert Barrow and worked for the agency representing Hammerstein after college. Sondheim then began writing for what he was destined to do: Broadway musicals.
Sondheim led a very successful life and career, writing music for some of Broadway’s most beloved shows. His first Broadway show which he wrote the music and lyrics for premiered in 1962, a comedy musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” He went on to win a Tony for Best Musical. Sondheim began his career on Broadway writing lyrics for well known musicals such as “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” in the late 50’s. After his success in ‘62, he decided to only write lyrics for his own compositions.
Some of his most prized works which he wrote both the music and lyrics for include “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” (1973), “Pacific Overtures” (1976), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981), “Sunday in the Park With George” (1984) and “Into the Woods” (1987). Five of his shows won Tonys for Best Musical, six won for Best Original Score and “Sunday in the Park With George” went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.
In honor of his passing, many Broadway stars joined together in Times Square to sing in remembrance of Sondheim. They performed pieces from his shows as the theater community grieved his death. Sondheim’s legacy will live on in the theater as being one of the most successful lyricists and composers in Broadway history.