Meryl Secrest – Stephen Sondheim: A Life

Taenzer am Meer(c)rob_j_uk/SXC

One of Sondheim’s first acts on joining the Hammerstein househould was to teach Ockie how to play chess. He said, “The first time we played, I taught him the rules and of course I beat him. The second time I beat hime, but not as easily as the first time. The third time I set up something like a two- or three-move-trap, which was as far as I could go, and he started to move a piece, and in chess the rule is you haven’t completed the move until you have actually taken your finger off the piece. He moved a piece forward, and thought about it, and looked at me, and took it back. And then he moved another piece. I said, ‘Gosh, you’re getting good. You saw what I was setting up,’ and he said, ‘No, I heard your heart beating.'”

This book seems more like a piece of fiction than the story of a real American. It seems Meryle Secrest must have spent years doing interviews with people who knew and know him. She did lots of interviews with Sondheim himself. The personal view of the author gives distinction to the story of the famous composer.

A footnote to that is that about ten years ago, when I was in London for some purpose, I had a call from P. L. Travers, who said, ‘Mr. Sondheim, I would like you to adapt Mary Poppins for the stage,’ and I said, ‘Funny you should call, because when I was nineteen years old this is exactly what I did’. She was astonished; I was flattered and astonished.

The small anecdotes – like the one above about Mary Poppins – show a very differentiated character. Meryle Secrest has done a terrific job in combining the episodes to a picture of a very creative but also very insecure man who is questioning himself and his work again and again.

What I’m doing when I’m writing is acting. That’s whay the best playwrights, with the exception of Chekhov and a couple of others, have been actors. And so I’m able to infuse myself. So when I’m writing the sond ‘Finishing the hat’ [from Sunday in the park with George], half of it is writing about what I, Steve, feel, and the other is what Seurat feels. And I’m aware of both going on at the same time. … I think all writers get attracted to stories that resonate in them.

Deutsche Zusammenfassung: Diese Biographie liest sich mehr wie ein Roman als wie die Geschichte eines lebendigen Amerikaners. Meryle Secrest scheint Jahre damit verbracht zu haben, Menschen zu interviewen, die Stephen Sondheim kannten und kennen. Viele Interviews mit Stephen Sondheim selbst geben der Geschichte des Komponisten eine klare Richtung. Die Autorin kombiniert die Episoden zu einem komplizierten Bilder eines kreativen, aber auch unsicheren Mannes, der sich selbst immer wieder hinterfragt.