Irving Berlin remembers Lorenz Hart

My generation, you know, are all gone. As someone who has been around for a long time, longer than many, and seen many lyric writers and songwriters come up over the years, my opinion is that Larry Hart was the first of the so-called sophisticated lyric writers. But he also wrote words. There is a very important distinction. "Your looks are laughable, unphotographable." That was a clever rhyme, but it tells a story about what he was trying to say about this girl. I'm not splitting hairs, and it's not semantics.

Let's put it this way. Stephen Sondheim is a lyric writer. Stephen Foster was a word writer. Larry Hart was the first of the sophisitcated word writers. The important thing in my opinion, and that goes for all songwriters and for so-called composers, is, How long do they last? Go back to "Manhattan," which was written over fifty years ago. They still play it. It's better today. It's timeless, because there's still a Manhattan. Larry wrote about Manhattan the way other people are still trying to write about New York. They don't do it as well.

Now he's being criticized. I remember a few years ago Stephen Sondheim, a very successful lyric writer, came out of left field with an unkindly, an unjust interview about Larry Hart as a lyric writer. All I can say is that Larry Hart's lyrics have lasted so many years. The books that Rodgers and Hart wrote their songs for weren't all successes. Most of them were pretty bad books. But out of those books came very popular songs that lasted.

You can't divorce those lyrics from Rodger's melodies. They're not just lyrics, they're songs. If Larry had just written those lyrics (which he couldn't have, because he was probably writing to a melody or they were working together) and just printed them, they'd mean nothing. And if you just took Rodger's melodies, as fine as they are, and just played them as orchestral numbers, they would last four hours. You see, they are songs. Larry Hart was a great songwriter, but I repeat, he was not only a lyric writer but a word writer. He had a fine education and could use four- and five- and six- and seven-letter words, and still get down to writing "With a Song in My Heart." I mean, he could be very simple. And very moving, when a lot of others can't be.

Then he could write songs, very sophisticated, like "You Are Too Beautiful." From my point of view, the only way you can tell is, Look at his record. Why has he lasted? In the sixty-five years I've been around as a songwriter, we've had so many great big hits, and you don't hear them anymore. And many of them include my big hits. If there are some songs that last, there must be a reason. There's a quality that has nothing to do with whether you rhyme well or whether you've had any education at all. Whether you read or write music doesn't make a damn bit of difference.

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