The Song Is Him: "The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II" in the Works

News   The Song Is Him: "The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II" in the Works Knopf will publish "The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II," adding to its impressive series of books cataloging the work of Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Frank Loesser.
Oscar Hammerstein II
Oscar Hammerstein II

No publication date has been announced, but editor Amy Asch has begun digging through archives around the country to find every lyric scrap possible from the man who penned songs for Sweet Adeline, Show Boat, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song, Carmen Jones, Carousel, The King and I, as well as notable operettas The New Moon, Rose-Marie and The Desert Song.

The book will be in the same format as Knopf's previous "Complete Lyrics" volumes, all edited or co-edited by Robert Kimball. Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, said the Hammerstein book will be edited by Robert Gottlieb.

There had been talk for years of a complete book of lyricist-librettist Hammerstein's lyrics, but there was some resistance in the Hammerstein family — did his lesser known work merit being documented as literature? As with all writers whose work is created over a long period of time, some of the writing will be more mature and crafty than other pieces, and some will represent the voice of a novice.

Chapin told the Hammerstein family: "The good ones are still going to be good."

At the time of the publication of "The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin," Chapin approached the Hammerstein family members again and got a receptive response. There is a famous volume of lyrics (a 1949 book called "Lyrics") that the master himself had selected for publication. The volume also includes the important essay, "Notes on Lyrics." Son William Hammerstein expanded the collection in later years, to include lyrics from 1950 to 1959 (including songs from The Sound of Music). Hammerstein died at the age of 65 in 1960.

This is an "opportunity to do a comprehensive study," editor Amy Asch agreed. "I've already collected more than a thousand lyrics, from 50-plus stage and screen productions. A book like this lets you see the evolution of his craft. And in certain cases the evolution of a certain moment in a beloved story: for instance, the precursors to 'Hello, Young Lovers,' or 'Younger Than Springtime.'"

The book will include "a lot of material that hasn't been seen in years," including songs from films of the 1930s, dropped songs, unpublished lyrics, notes by Hammerstein and more.

"The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and Oscar Hammerstein's daughter, Alice Hammerstein Matthias, have put their files at my disposal," Asch said. "The Music Division of the Library of Congress has an incredible trove of Hammerstein, Kern, Romberg and Rodgers manuscripts."

Raised on show tunes and Jonathan Schwartz's Sunday morning radio show, Amy Asch met Robert Kimball at a book signing in 1994. He took her on as a research assistant for "The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin" and she also worked with him on the chapters added for the 100th birthday paperback reissue of "The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart." She was consultant for A&E's "Biography" of Irving Berlin; co-produced and wrote liner notes for the "Irving Sings Berlin" recording on the Koch label. As archivist for the papers of the late composer lyricist Jonathan Larson, she has prepared a catalog of his works, a biographical essay for the American National Biography and the Larson chapter in "The Playwrights' Muse" (Joan Herrington, editor). To supplement her freelance musical theatre history projects, she edits the regional theatre listings that appear on Playbill On Line.