In considering the songs which Richard Rodgers wrote in different periods of his career with two different lyricists, some contrasting characteristics emerge. With Larry Hart, who worked with him in the early years and provided him with often ironic and acerbic lyrics, Rodgers’ melodies could be rhythmic, witty, and jazzy. Many of these tunes have in fact become jazz standards. One thinks, for example, of "You Took Advantage of Me", "Thou Swell", and "The Blue Room". Then, too, there were more than a few memorable and poignant ballad melodies which perfectly mirrored Hart’s lyrics of longing and loneliness, emotions which perhaps arose from the writer’s own unfulfilled emotional life. Consider "Bewitches, Bothered, and Bewildered" and "My Funny Valentine".
Later, with Oscar Hammerstein, there were a succession of shows which more deeply plumbed the depths of character. One might cite the books of Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music to explain the dramatic evolution of Rodgers’ compositions.
If Irving Berlin’s tremendous output makes him the undisputed champ, that of Richard Rodgers is nevertheless astonishing: greater than that of Gershwin, Porter, or Kern, with many songs still performed in their original form. Others have had increased longevity through their use as improvisatory vehicles by jazzmen such as John Coltrane, whose take on "My Favorite Things" as a quasi-oriental chant was a remarkable departure from its original setting in the score of The Sound of Music. -- Dick Hyman.