The Song Is Ended

The first half of the twentieth century, with its two world wars and worldwide depression, produced a harvest of popular music and musical drama unlike anything know before. William G. Hyland traces this era of achievement to its origins and records its development, providing critical analysis of the major works. What the reader finds most striking, however, is the profusion of song titles that tumble forth on almost every page, heralding songs that still seem unforgettable.

Hyland traces the movement’s origins to the distinctly American songs of Stephen Foster, the Viennese operetta tradition of Victor Herbert, and the popular American idiom of George M. Cohan. After identifying the origins, he centers upon the contributions of the five greatest composers of the period: Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers. Because they all wrote throughout most of the period, he interlaces the account so as to preserve chronology.

Usually a chapter deals with more than one composer, but a few are devoted to one influential musical, for example, SHOW BOAT, OKLAHOMA, or PAL JOEY. Typically, he provides a thorough account of the composition, casting, production, theater history, and critical reception of major productions. At the same time, he explains the concurrent influences of jazz, blues, swing, the revue, and Hollywood on the popular music of the period.

Hyland writes with verve, enthusiasm, and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge, and the effect combines extensive information and nostalgia. His expertise in music enables him to go beyond history to a technical analysis of musical innovations and effects. Yet knowledge and understanding are only part of the book’s rewards; the reader is likely to join the author in celebrating musical gems of a bygone era.