Stephen Sondheim: Fans celebrate his greatest songs, from Send in the Clowns to Being Alive

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  • Stephen Sondheim
    Stephen Sondheim
    American composer and lyricist

Fans are paying tribute to legendary musical theatre composer Stephen Sondheim, who has died aged 91,

Regarded as one of the foremost artists of the 20th Century, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and composed Into the Woods among many others including Sweeny Todd and Company.

Sondheim’s friend and lawyer F Richard Pappas announced his death, which he described as “sudden”. According to Pappas, Sondheim had spent the previous day having a Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Roxbury, Connecticut.

On hearing the news, fans of Sondheim’s started to share their favourite songs on social media.

“Stephen Sondheim was a genius,” one fan wrote, “One of the most important cultural figures of the last 100 years. ‘Send in the Clowns’ is probably my favourite song ever, and I’m an old punk – albeit with a soppy heart.”

Sondheim’s ballad “Send in the Clowns” has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.

Others chose songs including “Being Alive”, which was performed by, among others, Adam Driver during a memorable scene in the Oscar-winning 2019 film, Marriage Story.

Every few months, I tumble down YouTube rabbit holes watching every rendition I can find of “Rose’s Turn”, “No One Is Alone”, “Being Alive”, crying as some high school kid nails the transition on ‘Somebody hold me too close...’” tweeted writer Erik Voss. “Sondheim’s music was something we all held too close. RIP.”

“Have long held the belief that the lyrics to ‘Being Alive’ are some of the most devastating collection of words pieced together. Holding it so dear,” journalist Lucy Ford wrote.

You can see some more of the reactions here:

Born in New York in 1930, Sondheim was tutored by the great composer Oscar Hammerstein and wrote his first musical at 15. He went on to have his first hit at just 27 with West Side Story which was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Fifties New York City.

In a Broadway career that lasted over 60 years, Sondheim co-created other classics of the stage such as Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Company.

Across his lengthy career, Sondheim won nine Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammys and and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985.

Sondheim was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015.

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