While some scholars have suggested that Jerome Kern’s early work has little relevance to his later output, there are many continuities—not only in the way that Kern constructed his songs, but also in the way that he employed music to convey dramatic meaning.
Before becoming a successful writer of full scores for Broadway, Kern spent over a decade working as an interpolator, contributing songs to shows written principally by other composers. In this capacity he learned to write songs to specification for a variety of theatrical genres, including British and American musical comedy, Viennese operetta, and Broadway revue.
Kern thus gained technical fluency in numerous musical styles, and learned how these styles and their diverse associations of genre, gender, race, and social class could be harnessed to convey specific dramatic meanings. Continuities are also evident between his early and later work in his musical grammar: preferred song structures, harmonic and melodic sequences, modulations, and cadences.
This according to Becoming Jerome Kern: The early songs and shows, 1903–1915 by James Kenneth Randall, a dissertation accepted by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 2004.
Today is Kern’s 130th birthday! Above, an early photograph of the composer; below, Ella Fitzgerald’s Jerome Kern songbook.
Several stage and screen productions derived from L. Frank Baum’s The wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) preceded the renowned 1939 film The wizard of Oz.
A number of Oz musicals were staged between 1902 and 1918, beginning with Baum’s own The Wizard of Oz (1902; the full book and lyrics are here). A wide variety of silent Oz films followed between 1908 and 1925. While these are largely forgotten now, they figured in discussions when MGM began work on what was to become their classic Judy Garland vehicle.
This according to Oz before the rainbow: L. Frank Baum’s The wonderful wizard of Oz on stage and screen to 1939 by Mark E. Swartz (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Above, a poster for the 1902 production; below, the earliest known film of the story, which is thought to have been based on that stage version.
From the 1950s to the 1980s U.S. corporations commissioned a vast array of lavish, Broadway-style musical shows that were only for the eyes and ears of employees.
These improbable productions were meant to educate and motivate the sales force to sell cars, appliances, tractors, soda, and a thousand other products.
Though most of these shows were lost to the universe, some were recorded and distributed to convention attendees via souvenir vinyl records.
This according to Everything’s coming up profits: The golden age of the industrial musical by Steve Young and Sport Murphy (New York: Blast, 2013). Above, the cover of the souvenir album from American Standard’s 1969 musical The bathrooms are coming! (click to enlarge). Below, an excerpt from General Electric’s 1973 show Got to investigate silicones.
You can listen to more songs from industrial musicals here.
The earliest known secular stage play with music, Adam de la Halle’s Le jeu de Robin et de Marion, has been touted as the first musical comedy.
Of the two extant sources, the Paris version is by far the rowdier one—three characters that do not appear in the Aix version engage in mooning the audience, playing with sheep dung, and speaking in unimaginable metaphors worthy of Hungarians.
Common to both versions, Robin, Marion, and the seducing knight are more stock characters, but their lines are pithy and suggestive—e.g., from the scene depicted above:
Knight: You surely won’t put up a fight—you’re just a peasant, I’m a knight!
Marion: Money can’t buy love, you know.
Knight: It can buy something like it, though.
This according to “The hows and whys of Adam de la Halle’s Robin & Marion” by Lucy E. Cross (Early music America XVII/1 [Spring 2011] pp. 38–42). Below, a complete family-friendly performance of the work.
Theaterencyclopedie, a free online resource published in 2012 by the Theater Instituut Nederland, includes a complete database of all theatrical performances in the Netherlands since 1900, along with hundreds of biographies of singers, actors, and directors.
Audio and video clips are also included. Musical productions—opera, cabaret, and musical theater—are well represented.