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It was six years from Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s conception of a musical titled The Girls Upstairs to the work finding its final form in 1971 as Follies under the legendary co-direction of Hal Prince and Michael Bennett.
Along the way, Sondheim wrote the equivalent of two whole scores, each brilliant in its own way. Today, on Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday, we’ll take a deep dive into the evolution of this deeply moving, and now timeless piece of musical theater.
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Louis Rosen, composer, lyricist, performer, author and educator, is a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship recipient whose musical style is a fusion of folk, jazz, classical, rock and blues idioms. He has designed and taught the Music Appreciation/History and Music Theory curriculum for the 92Y’s School of Music for over 35 years.
The ten albums of Louis’ songs and compositions include three solo albums: I Don’t Know Anything (Music and Lyrics, 2020); Dust to Dust Blues (Music and Lyrics, 2017); Time Was (Music and Lyric Adaptations, 2013); ...
The ten albums of Louis’ songs and compositions include three solo albums: I Don’t Know Anything (Music and Lyrics, 2020); Dust to Dust Blues (Music and Lyrics, 2017); Time Was (Music and Lyric Adaptations, 2013); five albums with vocalist Capathia Jenkins: Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs and Songs Without Words (Music, 2018); One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs (Music, 2008); The Ache of Possibility (Music and Lyrics, 2009); South Side Stories (Music and Lyrics, 2006); and Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues on poems by Langston Hughes (Music, 2016), which also features vocalist Alton Fitzgerald White; as well as two albums of instrumental music: Act One: Piano Music for the Theater (2017); and the forthcoming Two Suites. Taken together, the three albums—Dream Suite, One Ounce of Truth and Phenomenal Woman—comprise The Black Loom Trilogy, three song cycles on poems of three major 20th Century African-American writers. Other song cycles include, It Is Still Dark: Songs of Love and Exile (Premiere—Great Hall at Cooper Union with vocalist Darius de Haas, 2006); Five Riversongs on poems by Edgar Lee Masters and Four Songs (Dual Premiere—The Museum of the City of New York and Lincoln Center Library, vocalists Peter Stewart and Barbara Peters, 1985); and A Child’s Garden Song Suite on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson (1994).
Louis’ theater compositions include three musicals: Book of the Night (Music and Co-Lyrics, Goodman Theater, 1991), winner of Chicago's John W. Schmid Award for Best New Work; A Child’s Garden (Music, Lyric Adaptations and Co-Libretto, Off-Broadway, 2000), named one of the top-ten Off-Broadway productions of that year by the New York Post; and The Ugly Duckling (Ann Arbor Arts Festival, 1989). He has also composed thirty scores for plays including the Tony-nominated Act One at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, written and directed by James Lapine (2014); Roundabout’s Broadway revivals of The Rainmaker (2000) and Picnic (1994); off-Broadway productions at theaters such as Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse, the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Delacorte in Central Park and The Acting Company at the Lucille Lortel; and for major regional theaters including the Goodman Theater in Chicago, Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, Seattle Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C.; New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater; Princeton’s McCarter Theater, the Williamstown Theater Festival and the Westport Country Playhouse, among others. His scores for plays have also yielded twelve concert suites, three of which—Act One Suite for Solo Piano, Into Night and On the Verge and Orchards (both for two pianos)—were included on the 2017 album Act One: Piano Music for the Theater.
Louis is the author of two books: the memoir/oral narrative, The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood (Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, Cloth 1998, Paperback, 1999); and Beyond Category: Music Theory from Bach through The Beatles for the Popular or Classical Musician (2015), which serves as the text for the 92Y School of Music’s Theory curriculum. He also wrote the theatrical adaptation of The South Side, which has played at Washington, D. C.’s Theater J and New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse.
Awards include the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Music Composition; the NEA New American Works Grant; the 2nd Gilman & Gonzalez Falla Musical Theater Award; ASCAP Awards, 1993-2020; a Puffin Foundation Grant; an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Galileo Prize & Commission; Chicago’s John W. Schmid Award, Best New Work for Book of the Night, among others.
Recent compositions reflect a new emphasis on instrumental music and include The Pearl Suite for Small Orchestra; The Pearl Octet; Suite for Clarinet and Piano; Twelve Guitar Preludes; The Black Loom Trilogy Epilogue for Jazz Sextet; the six-movement Sextet; Riversongs Octet; and Act One Suite for Solo Piano.
Teachers included Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Alfred Uhry and John Weidman (composing and writing for theater); William Russo (Music Theory and Jazz Composition); William Ferris (Choral Composition, Orchestration and Formal Analysis); and Joseph Reiser (Music Theory and Composition).
Follies: A Stephen Sondheim Birthday 90th Celebration Lecture
Road Show and Bounce—Sondheim, Weidman, and the Principle of Persistence
Collaborating with Sondheim: A Conversation with John Weidman on Assassins
Passion: Sondheim, Lapine, and the Opera Impulse Revived
Anyone Can Whistle: Sondheim Finding his Voice
Aaron Copland: The Third Symphony and the Populist Style
Stevie Wonder is 70!: Innervisions
Stephen Sondheim: Musical Theater Meets Classical Form
Sondheim, Part III: Company—The Complete Score
Court and Spark: Joni Mitchell and Art in the Marketplace
Sondheim, Part III: A Little Night Music—Music, Lyrics and the Art of Adaptation
Mozart—Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter”: Transcendent Perfection
The Beatles, Part V: Revolver and Musical Innovation
Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in G Major, Op. 58
Sondheim, Part III: John Weidman on Pacific Overtures—A Conversation with the Author
John Lennon: 80th Birthday Celebration
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
The Beatles: Roots and Beginnings
Bob Dylan: Freewheelin’ and Early Songs
The Beatles: Beatlemania, Part I—A Hard Day’s Night
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”—A Musical Revolution
Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changin' and the Politics of Song
Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home — Another Side
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
The Beatles: Beatlemania, Part II—Help!
Bernstein on Broadway at the Bicentennial
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited, Blues, Poetry and Electricity
Beethoven: Ode to Joy and Symphony No. 9
The Beatles: Album as Art, Part I—Rubber Soul
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Sondheim in the Realm of Farce
Advanced Theory, Part I
Erik Satie and the Rise of the Parisian Avant-Garde
The World of Music I: The Theater of Gershwin & Weill — New York and Berlin, 1920 to 1935
The World of Music II: Bach & His Contemporaries
Musical Analysis I: Songs of Lennon and McCartney
Joseph Haydn and his "Entirely New and Special Style"
Music by Chopin: The Tragedy Within
Singer-Songwriters, First Generation — Renewed and Thriving: 1980-1999
Musical Analysis II: Mozart Piano Sonatas and Fantasies, Part II
Beginning Theory Express: The Essentials
Bob Dylan 80th Birthday Celebration, Part V: Blonde on Blonde
Miles Davis and Gil Evans: Sketches of Spain
The Beatles, Part VI: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
Bob Dylan 80th Birthday Celebration, Part VI: The Basement Tapes
Mozart: Orchestral Genius — The Piano Concertos and Symphonies
Bob Dylan 80th Birthday Celebration, Part VII: John Wesley Harding to New Morning
Part II — Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique — Episode in the Life of an Artist in Five Sections
The Beatles, Part VIII and IX: The White Album, Complete
Bernstein, Sondheim, Robbins & Laurents: The Making of West Side Story, Revisited
Bob Dylan 80th Birthday Celebration, Part VIII: Blood on the Tracks
The Beatles, Part X: The Making of Let it Be
The Symphony after Beethoven: Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt
Lift Every Voice and Sing: The African-American Composer and the Concert Hall
Advanced Theory Part III: Bach Analysis — An Introduction
The Beatles: Abbey Road — A Farewell for the Ages
Petruska: Stravinsky and the Ballet Russe — A Modernist Explosion
After the Beatles — George, 1970: All Things Must Pass
The Rite of Spring: Stravinsky and the Ballet Russe — A Modernist Explosion
Paul McCartney: 80th Birthday Celebration
Carole King: An 80th Birthday Tribute