Oh, and I forgot a little morning music. I’m not a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim (in fact, I’m not a fan at all); perhaps I’m just one of those philistines who likes the musicals of yore: Camelot, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and so on—and not the rarefied musicals for intellectuals. It seems to me that nearly every song in those old musicals was memorable, while in modern musicals there may be one (at most two) songs that become classics. This is one of them.
Sondheim was, however, the lyricist for one of the best musicals ever: West Side Story. And he wrote, I believe, both the lyrics and the music for a single unquestionably great song: this one, from “A Little Night Music” (1973).
In fact, the song is so good that it’s become a cliché, like White Christmas, even though most people don’t really know what it’s about. It expresses a wistful longing for lost love, and the misery of the present, sung by a woman who meets an old lover after many years, finds him married to another, importunes him to leave his wife for her, and is turned down. It’s about as sad as can be.
Here it’s played by Sondheim on piano and sung by the incomparable Bernadette Peters. Try listening with fresh ears, even though you’ve heard this a thousand times, probably most often in the famous cover by Judy Collins. It’s an amazingly complex song, but immensely moving.