Frederick Loewe


With his librettist Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe penned some of America's most memorable works of musical theatre. Among Loewe's hit shows were Brigadoon (1947) Paint Your Wagon (1951), Camelot (1960), the film musical Gigi (1958) and the incomparable My Fair Lady (1956).

Loewe was born in Berlin on 10 June 1901, the son of a popular operetta singer and an actress. Little is known of Loewe's life in Germany. He claims to have been a child prodigy, composing at 5 and sexually active at 9, who appeared as a pianist with the Berlin Philharmonic at 13. He also claims to have been taught by Eugen d' Albert and Ferruccio Busoni, but little of this can be verified.

In 1924 Loewe emigrated to the USA and for the next decade, according to his own account, worked as a gold prospector, a boxer, a mailman delivering letters on horseback, and as a cowboy. In 1935 one of his waltzes was sung in the play Petticoat Fever and over the next few years he had a number of failed musicals. In 1942 he met Alan Jay Lerner, and a remarkable partnership was born.

After two failures, the pair hit the big time with the Scottish-set romantic fantasy, Brigadoon and, following the relatively unsuccessful Paint Your Wagon, scored a triumph with My Fair Lady, the longest running show of its era. Their final Broadway collaboration, before increasing health worries and difficulties with Lerner forced Loewe to retire, was Camelot, based on Arthurian legend. The pair would later re-unite in the early 1970s for a stage adaptation of Gigi and a film, The Little Prince (1974). Loewe died in Palm Springs on Valentine's Day 1988.

Lerner and Loewe's musicals, along with those of Rodgers and Hammerstein, helped establish the musical as a form that fully integrated music, play and lyrics. Loewe was particularly skilful in establishing location with his music, evoking Scottish melodies in Brigadoon, Western folk music in Paint Your Wagon, and the British music hall in My Fair Lady. His musicals feature some of the most popular songs in American culture.

Related composers: Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Stephen Sondheim

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