Stephen Sondheim, age 91, died at his home this past Friday morning, the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with dinner at the home of friends. That seems like a pretty darn good way to leave this earth. Sondheim was a Broadway composer-lyricist, not a well known performer, but the outpouring of laudatory remembrances of the man and his work indicates how many generations he influenced—often for very different reasons—over his long, productive life.
It seems as if I have known Stephen Sondheim’s works forever. His was one of those names that was synonymous with Broadway. A few months ago, I happened upon a documentary about Sondheim and was taken by his obvious appreciation for aspiring performers. He was so attentive, intelligent and keen that that particular memory of him stayed with me.
Now, the weekend after Stephen Sondheim’s death, there is a feast of appreciative memories: Michael Schulman wrote in The New Yorker of his high school years: “Stephen Sondheim taught me how to be a person.” He quotes these lines from Into The Woods, “How can you know/Who you are till you know/What you want?” On Saturday, Adam Gopnik posted another remembrance on The New Yorker website, observing that “no songwriter—not Rodgers, not Schubert—has ever written so many great songs of longing and wanting.” On a personal note, I went to “A Little Night Music” in New York when I was in the midst of a divorce and “Send in the Clowns” nearly did me in.
Stephen Sondheim understood a whole range of human emotion. It seems fitting that after exploring the many conflicts one may suffer in a life, his departure seems to have been an appropriately gentle conclusion for a thoughtful man.