Reviewing Rodgers – 2: My Romance

The love songs of Rodgers and Hart are often not exactly love songs, tending to have a sting in their tail (which may or may not be revelatory concerning Hart’s character). Love is frequently compared to an illness (see ‘This Can’t Be Love’ or ‘It’s Got To Be Love’), and some of their best songs tell of a lack of love or a wrong love (‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ or ‘Spring Is Here’). One of their most emphatically positive love songs, though, is ‘My Romance’ from the musical Jumbo.

Jumbo, it has to be said, is not a show that is likely to be revived in the near future, despite having served as the songwriting duo’s triumphant return to Broadway in 1935 (having not found great success or pleasure on Hollywood). Descriptions vary, but you get the impression that plot, songs and performances were overshadowed by the setting – a circus, complete with a live elephant. Frankly, what chance does any normal element of a production have when it’s competing with a great big elephant, particularly when the climax of the show involves said elephant placing its foot on Jimmy Durante’s head?

It would have been entirely understandable if Rodgers and Hart had made a negligible effort with the score for this show, since it could be drowned out by the hundreds of regular-sized animals and overshadowed by the horse-riders, jugglers, human cannonballs and, of course, the titular pachyderm. However, several of the songs are highly noteworthy. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ is a very pleasant waltz number (Rodgers has a lot of very pleasant waltz numbers in his catalogue), and ‘Little Girl Blue’ is an astonishing song of loneliness. ‘My Romance’ itself is a beautiful ballad of love, with a simple, affecting tune and an inventive lyric.

In his lyrics, Lorenz Hart has fun with the stereotypical love song, subverting the trite, overused ideas to create something new. The song is full of negatives, with sprinklings of ‘no’, ‘not’ and ‘doesn’t’ throughout the lyric, as the singer describes what is *not* necessary for romance – “my romance” doesn’t require moons, lagoons, castles, soft guitars, dances, specific times of year or starlit nights. All the things that lyricists are so fond of rhyming in their love songs, essentially. So if all these things and more are unnecessary, what does this romance need?

Wide awake, I can make my most fantastic dreams come true
My romance doesn’t need a thing but you.

It was not truly a new idea, but the way it was expressed is refreshingly different, allowing Hart to make a point about some of the lyricists of his day while still providing a romantic conclusion.

Rodgers, for his part, provided a gorgeous melody which spends most of its time gradually climbing upwards, apart from a ‘B’ section which rises and falls in unexpected ways. The main tune is full of long phrases which convey the depth of feeling behind the song and the steady climb upwards speaks of a building ardour which climaxes on ‘fantastic dream come true’ before descending on the final phrase, making it almost a statement of rational fact. A very happy fact, of course, but the shift from the steady climb to a gentle descent shifts gears from rhapsody to contentment.

It is rare for me to be able to identify exactly what the melody is doing, but because the words and music fit so beautifully together, the music makes complete sense (though this is likely to be Hart’s doing, as they tended to work music-first, while Rodgers and Hammerstein were generally lyric-first). Because of this, ‘My Romance’ is one of my favourite Rodgers and Hart songs to listen to and quite possibly my favourite to sing. There is a wonderful simplicity about it which disguises the craft that went in to creating the song. It’s an absolute gem.

  1. Thanks for the heads up on this Music. I never heard of it before but from your post it seems like I should check it out sometime soon. Thanks again and congratulations on your site/blog/books etc… 🙂

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