Stephen Sondheim: (Not) Getting Married

March 31, 2010

I just bought volume one of Stephen Sondheim singing his own songs (composers may like it; I did, Daniel did not). I’m not going to say RUSH OUT and buy it, but it is of great interest to composers. There were no Youtube copies so I can’t legally share it with you.

Tonight I needed a little pick-me-up. Madeline Kahn came to my rescue with her unforgettable performance of “(Not) Getting Married.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leonid April 1, 2010 at 1:32 am

Thanks, Roger. Nice piece, full of good humor. A lot of music has lost its human touch. This is one of those happy exceptions.

Yet there is some computer-generated music that really touches me:

http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/Leonid2010/961971

RandomWebern is an excellent tool, which often helps me when I’m feeling down. Push the green flag and let it play.

The Soviet mathematician Kolmogorov had developed the concept of algorithmic complexity.

In music this probably means: can I describe, say, Beethoven’s 5th symphony, in several lines of “code”? (i.e., a few formal procedures, which would generate the piece in its entirety).

A techno trance song, 5 minutes long, can probably be “printed” using two or three simple formal descriptions (commands).

Presumably a truly original piece is only equal to itself, it cannot be derived from a smaller set of procedures.

There is repetition, but it’s being used loosely. A composer’s intuition lies in the “regime shifting”, where you suddenly start using another tool from your toolbox, it’s not mechanical. You can’t really define style, imagery and taste – too elusive – but you can define sequentias, chord progressions etc.

Note that RandomWebern has only several lines of code.

Even Mozart’s infamous Twinkle-Twinkle-Little Star is only deceptively simple. The variations themselves are elusive, not really susceptible to a formal set of commands that would generate them.

Machines are attacking us, and soon that may become a problem.

Michael April 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I definitely recommend Volume II as well in a run-out-and-buy-it way, but I have a long history of Sondheim fanaticism (now latent). Some real masterpieces there, though, from when he was in his 20’s.

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