Stephen Sondheim at the piano. Photo by Friedman-Abeles, via New York Public Library.

In Thursday’s (12/14) New York Times, classical music critic Joshua Barone writes, “Among musical theater artists of his generation, [composer and lyricist Stephen] Sondheim, who died in 2021 at 91, was arguably the most artistic—challenging, unusual, incapable of superficiality … Sondheim has always had a dedicated fan base, but right now his musicals are true hot tickets … Together, they form a portrait that helps in considering Sondheim’s place among American composers…. His work constantly pushed the art form further. Where so many of his colleagues have operated within standard structures, he, even in writing a 32-bar song, seemed to always ask, ‘What else is possible?’… His writing reflects a creative mind repeatedly fixated on the idea of his homeland, with an ambivalence by turns affectionate and acerbic…. Sondheim seemed fated to create musical theater at a higher level than his colleagues…. His mentor, for lyric writing, was Oscar Hammerstein II, of Rodgers and Hammerstein; for composition, the modernist Milton Babbitt. Yet he emulated neither…. He thought of [his songs] in more classical terms, ‘sonata form— statement, development and recapitulation.’… The Sondheim works most likely to last, from a purely musical perspective … happen to be classical-leaning and postmodern.”