Stephen Sondheim

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POSTED: October 26, 2006

When I was a teenager I persuaded myself to buy a copy of the deluxe box set (two lps and a big booklet) of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, because I was an aspiring cultural intellectual.

Even at the age of sixteen or seventeen, I could tell that something was amiss. The work had an atmosphere redolent of a slightly drunken uncle demonstrating the twist to an embarrassed family at a Christmas party. The whole piece sounded vaguely like Hair dressed in up the vocabulary of classical counterpoint.

In an article in today’s Guardian, Philip Hensher reminded me of Stephen Sondheim’s reaction to the opening performance. After listening to it in the company of Bernstein, he asked: “Have you thought of translating it into Latin, so you won’t have to listen to the words?”