Goddard Lieberson

Goddard Lieberson

In the late 1940s, an advancement of technology changed forever how listeners would appreciate the Broadway musical: It was the invention of the LP, the long-playing record. When Goddard Lieberson introduced this new audio format to the American public, he changed how listeners engaged with music at home. Instead of encountering the album of the Broadway show as a series of song-length sides in a collection of 78 rpm records, listeners to the LP could appreciate how the sequence of songs conveyed the narrative arc that was so essential to the experience of the Broadway show.
The first Broadway show to be released on LP by Lieberson’s Columbia label was Street Scene, a 1947 production with a book by Elmer Rice, lyrics by Langston Hughes, and music by Kurt Weill. Shortly thereafter, Lieberson released such classic Broadway musicals as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate (both 1949) on LP.
Under Lieberson’s leadership, the Columbia label soon dominated Broadway, recording some fifty-four shows over the span of his career, including twenty-three musical shows by 1959. These included the original cast albums for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, Bells Are Ringing (1956), Candide (also 1956), the television cast for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957), West Side Story (1957), Flower Drum Song (1958), Gypsy (1959), and, of course, My Fair Lady (with the original Broadway cast in mono in 1956 and the original London cast in stereo in 1959).
With My Fair Lady, Lieberson deepened the label’s commitment to the Broadway musical by having Columbia Records serving as the sole backer of the show. The musical debuted in 1956 and set the mark for Broadway musicals at the time, running for 2,717 performances closing on September 29, 1962.
Lieberson also proved to be something of a Broadway musicologist, being the first producer to create what were known as “studio cast recordings,” starting with older popular musicals, like The Boys from Syracuse and Pal Joey (both by Rodgers and Hart) and Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, that had closed before the advent of the original cast album. The success of the studio cast album for Pal Joey inspired presenters to revive the show, leading to a far more successful run in revival than it had ever had in the original production.
The innovation of the studio cast recording enabled Lieberson to produce. In 1955, he produced the studio recording of George Gershwin’s 1925 hit show, Oh, Kay!, and in 1960, a studio cast version of Bernstein’s iconic New York musical, On the Town, which had first run on Broadway back in 1944.
He also on occasion took advantage of studio casts to compete against original cast recordings released by such rivals as Decca and RCA, most notably in 1952 with his studio cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and the 1957 LP version of Brigadoon.
The keen sensibility that made Lieberson the most successful Broadway record producer of the 1950s remained with him into the 1970s. His catalog of cast recordings from those years included Erwin Drake’s forgotten hit show from 1964, What Makes Sammy Run?, Barbra Streisand’s breakout performance in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Colman and Fields’s 1966 hit, Sweet Charity, Jerry Herman’s Mame (also 1966), and Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical, A Little Night Music.
The last Broadway cast recording Goddard Liberson produced came in 1975 – it was the original cast recording of A Chorus Line, by Edward Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch.
For all of the years he spent associated with Broadway, there is only one documented instance when Lieberson actually appeared on stage – on March 11, 1973, in a benefit for the National Hemophilia Foundation called Sondheim: A Musical Tribute. . READ what Goddard Lieberson had to say in 1961 about the art of preserving Broadway shows on vinyl: . ON THE RECORDING OF MUSICALS (Liner note to the 2-LP set “This Is Broadway’s Best” (BW2S 1), released February 6, 1961) The musical show transplanted from the theatre to the recording studio becomes quite a different creature. Without scenery, costumes, lighting effects, dancing, dialogue, jokes, facial expressions on actors making (or missing) a point – without any number of minuscule elements which contribute to the existence of the theatrical production – the full responsibility for the success of the show suddenly falls heavily and entirely onto the performance of the words and music of the score. It is, as I have said, a heavy burden, and not one which is easily sustained by all scores. On the other hand, some scores are buried or obfuscated by the other elements of a theatrical production and when recorded denuded of the non-musical and plush and finery, seem to shine forth with a brilliance never before suspected. I’m not foolish enough to furnish examples of such shows, but perhaps you have, from time to time, discovered some of these for yourself. And, of course, there are some shows that are perfect in every regard, as all shows start out to be. But in all cases, musical shows need “recording,” and by that I mean something which involves much more than just taking the cast and orchestra into a studio. Perhaps this is worth speaking about. In general, it is thought that the important difference between the recording of a musical show and its theatrical production is the addition of microphonic technique. Naturally, this is an important alteration, but it is not, in my opinion, the most important. Much more important is the thinking and editing done before the cast ever reaches the studio; conceptions as to how the most may be made of a musical scene, how its dramatic context can be retained, how the orchestra must sound out of the theatre pit and how it can suggest for the ears what was formerly supplemented by the eyes. While it is true that these concepts must be measured in terms of the microphone and its peculiarities (just as we must consider the time limitations for recording which do not exist in the theatre) they are elements which are not by any means wholly dependent upon microphones. The microphone must be subservient to the dramatic idea and not the other way around as, I fear, is often the case. In the studio, the record producer may improvise with any of the elements which make up the musical aspect of the show, but he had better know what he is doing, and this knowledge he can only gain from several hearings of the score and from an understanding of the dramatic impulses of the piece. It might be objected that, in this case, the recording of a show will reflect the record producer’s concepts which might be something far afield from those of the creators. But this is not true. As with a director or a scene designer, a record producer of taste can only enhance the qualities of a show: conversely, a record producer without taste can destroy the qualities of the original production. All of this, perhaps, sounds simple-minded; yet it should be stated since the wide currency given recordings of original cast albums is assuming proportions which make the record, in many cases, not only the most widely distributed representation of a musical show, but in addition, its most permanent representation. A record is, in the true sense of the word, an archive – and as such, is something that demands a good deal of respect. About Revivals Since the invention of moveable type, there is very little writing worth publishing that has not been published. This has not been the case, unhappily, with phonograph records, though there have been valiant attempts since the advent of the “LP,” to fill in the gaps. These gaps are particularly noticeable in the area of musical shows where, either because of technical developments coming about too late or simply disinterest, a wealth of material has gone unrecorded. A few years back, I embarked on a program – sporadic, I’m afraid, and too meager when measured by the amount which should be done – of trying to put together not all but at least some of the shows I have thought worth preserving. This proved a much more difficult task than one would have thought, even with the valuable assistance of the conductor Lehman Engel. Scores had been haphazardly kept if at all; original parts of orchestrations were missing; in some cases, songs had disappeared out of scores, or new ones had been added; and, as with the music, librettos and prompt books were gone, and with them, important details which had to be painstakingly run down. And there were difficult decisions to make when it came time to record: the kind of voices, the size of the chorus, and most important, the great question as to whether we should try to reproduce the musical style contemporary with the show, or add later musical developments, for better or for worse. This was an important consideration because, curiously enough, the concepts of some well-known songs had so radically changed that had they been done in the original tempo and style, they would be found grotesque, or we would have been accused of burlesquing the music. At the same time, hitting upon a combination which worked was always gratifying. Oh, Kay! for example, I find one of the most successful of the recorded “re-creations.” The nostalgic sound of the Gershwinesque orchestra which features two pianos, and an intimate style of singing which we asked for from Jack Cassidy and Barbara Ruick make for an atmosphere of mixed flamboyance and heartbreak that suggests F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. An important consideration in choosing the shows to be revived for records was, of course, the power of the score, and some of the earlier shows were breathtaking for the number of great songs which were included in one score. One has only to look at the list of songs in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes or Gershwin’s Girl Crazy or Richard Rodgers’ Babes In Arms, to name only three. But even more enchanting, is to listen and discover the wonderful songs that have somehow been forgotten; for the objective in re-creating on records these musicals is to provide, whenever possible, a whole score, which is, after all, the meaning of a musical show. For example, in the middle Thirties, when the Rodgers and Hart scores filled the air with one brilliant song after another, the public was fairly quick to recognize “Johnnie One Note,” “Where Or When,” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” – all in Babes In Arms; but it took several years for the recognition of one of Rodgers and Hart’s most remarkable songs, “My Funny Valentine.” The recording of the complete Porgy And Bess was quite a different problem. It was an enormous undertaking, since, unbelievably, this was the first recording of the complete opera and involved an orchestra of symphonic size, a very large cast and a well-trained chorus. It was gratifying to hear later from Ira Gershwin that this Porgy was “the way George would have wanted to hear it,” and a very moving experience for me was the playing of the test records one evening in California at Ira Gershwin’s home, not only for him, but for my friend Oscar Levant, and for other close friends of George Gershwin whom Ira had collected for the evening. There has never been – before or since, I think – a more enthusiastic recording session, and for everybody involved, it was a labor of love. How successful we were in this project of Recorded Revivals is difficult to measure; but there seems to be evidence that our recordings were influential in bringing about the stage revivals of Pal Joey, On Your Toes and Porgy And Bess. I hope that was the case, and, if so, I’m sorry there weren’t more! Goddard Lieberson President, Columbia Records