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Stephen Schwartz Plays Favorites: The Composer Reveals His 7 Most Beloved Tunes

Schwartz celebrates his 70th birthday with a Dramatists Guild Foundation concert on April 23.

Stephen Schwartz celebrates his 70th birthday with the Dramatists Guild Foundation.
(© David Gordon)

Stephen Schwartz, the esteemed composer behind iconic musicals like Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked, turned 70 on March 6, and now he's looking back on his career in the form of a blowout birthday concert.

But don't tell him anything about the April 23 event, which is produced by and benefits the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Schwartz is willingly keeping himself in the dark and says he won't know the list of performers until they walk onstage.

With that in mind — and because talking about a concert is hard when you don't want to know anything about it — we posed Schwartz a question that allowed him to review his entire canon: "If a professor was putting together a Stephen Schwartz survey course, what songs would have to be included?"

1. "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin

"This song is representative of where I was as a young man. It's a little bit antitheatrical, if you will, because it's verse-chorus, verse-chorus, without a bridge. I think it partly represents what I was doing when I first started out, which was bringing pop music, the kind of songs I was hearing on the radio, into the theater."

2. "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife

"In writing 'Meadowlark,' I learned about using my own emotional experiences and filtering them through the story of another character. By tapping into the truth of my own emotions, it allowed the song to speak to audiences even though I wasn't doing a straight-out Joni Mitchell confessional. At first, I felt shy about sharing it because I was so exposed. But the technique I learned on this song — drawing upon something that happens in your life and putting it into the emotion of the character, even if they don't align specifically — served me very well."

3.-5. "In the Beginning", "Lost in the Wilderness," and "Stranger to the Rain" from Children of Eden

"From a philosophical point of view, if I had one song of mine that I would want to live on, it is the final song from Children of Eden, 'In the Beginning.' It very strongly expresses my philosophy of life. I'm very good at and enjoy writing angry songs, and 'Lost in the Wilderness' was when I started to first harness that kind of songwriting and writing out of a place of anger. 'Stranger to the Rain' is one of my favorite songs musically. The way the harmonics work and the minimalism of it was an advance for me."

6. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked

"In some ways, 'Defying Gravity' combines a lot of what we've been talking about. Because of the way that song functions in the show, the effect it has as the first act ends, and the kind of emotion it generates in the audience, it is an example of my really being able, later in my career, to put a lot of the techniques of writing and theatrical storytelling I've learned to work in a way that was very effective.

7. "Testimony"

"This piece is derived from the "It Gets Better" project that Dan Savage and Terry Miller started. Because it's written for a chorus, it uses more of my classical training. It's a piece that has been used a lot at schools and places where it communicates something to people. Anecdotally, I know it has been very helpful to people. Being able to use art and music not just to communicate, but to have a positive effect on people, that's significant to me."


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