Composers Datebook®

Sondheim at the Forum

Composers Datebook - May 8, 2024


Stephen Sondheim was 32 years old when his musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened on Broadway on today’s date in 1962. The best seats would have cost you $8.60, but decent tickets were available for three bucks in those days — and, much to Sondheim’s relief, New Yorkers snapped them up in short order.

The trial run of Forum in Washington, D.C. had been a near disaster, and, as this was the first major musical for which Sondheim wrote both the lyrics and the music, he had a lot riding on the show’s success.

Audiences and critics alike loved the over-the-top fusion of an ancient Roman comedy by Plautus with the kick-in-the-pants conventions of American Vaudeville, spiced up with a liberal dash of Burlesque dancers in Roman costumes. As the New York Times review put it, the cast included six courtesans who “are not obliged to do much, but have a great deal to show.”

Forum won several Tony Awards in 1962, including Best Musical. Even so, while Sondheim’s lyrics were praised, his music was barely mentioned; his skill as a composer were not yet fully appreciated. That would occur several years — and several shows — later.

Music Played in Today's Program

Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021): A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; 1996 Broadway Cast; Angel 52223

On This Day


  • 1745 - Baptismal date of Bohemian violinist and composer Carl Philipp Stamitz, in Mannheim. He was the son of the composer Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz (b. 1717), and the brother of composer Johann Anton Stamitz (b. 1750).

  • 1829 - American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, in New Orleans

  • 1945 - American pianist and composer Keith Jarrett, in Allentown, Pennsylvania


  • 1829 - Italian composer and guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani, 47, in Naples

  • 1944 - British composer and women’s rights advocate Ethel Smyth, 86, in Woking

  • 1960 - Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén, 88, in Falun


  • 1720 - Handel: opera Radamisto (first version) (Julian date: April 27)

  • 1736 - Handel: anthem Sing unto God (Julian date: April 27)

  • 1749 - Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks (Julian date: April 27)

  • 1924 - Honegger: Pacific 231, in Paris at a Koussevitzky Concert

  • 1938 - Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, at Dumbarton Oaks, conducted by Nadia Boulanger

  • 1939 - Persichetti: Piano Sonata No. 1, at Philadelphia Conservatory, composer performing

  • 1946 - Menotti: The Medium, at Columbia University in New York City

  • 1958 - Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1 (Metamorphoses nocturnes), in Vienna, by the Ramor Quartet

  • 1962 - Sondheim: Broadway premiere of musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Near-disasterous trial run performances in Washington, D.C. and other cities preceded the show’s Broadway premiere. This was the first major musical for which Sondheim wrote both the lyrics and the music. It won several Tony Awards in 1962, including Best Musical.

  • 1965 - Rochberg: Zodiac (orchestral version), by Cincinnati Symphony, Max Rudolf conducting

  • 1970 - Gunther Schuller: children's opera The Fisherman and His Wife, in Boston

  • 1973 - Rochberg: Imago Mundi, by Baltimore Symphony, Sergiu Commisiona conducting

  • 1979 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical Evita, in Los Angeles. The musical opened on Broadway on September 25, 1979.

  • 1985 - Frank Zappa: Time’s Beach for winds, at Alice Tully Hall in New York, by the Aspen Wind Quintet

  • 1996 - Lowell Liebermann: opera The Picture of Dorian Gray, at the Monte Carlo Opera, with tenor Jeffrey Lentz in the title role and Steuart Bedford conducting. The American premiere of this opera was staged in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the Florentine Opera in February 1999.

  • 1998 - Saariaho: Cello Octet, at the Beauvais Cello Festival in Beavais, France


  • 1747 - J.S. Bach performs an organ recital at the Heiligeistkirche in Potsdam

  • 1821 - Earliest documented American performance Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, in Philadelphia at Washington Hall, by the Musical Fund Society, Charles Hupfeld conducting. The finale only was performed by the Philharmonic Society in New York on December 16, 1824 and repeated at Castle Garden on April 21, 1825. The first complete performance in New York was apparently given on April 22, 1843, at the Apollo Room during the first season of the New York Philharmonic with George Loder conducting.

  • 1874 - American premiere of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, at the Music Hall in Boston, by the Handel and Haydn Society, Carl Zerrahn conducting. The performing forces included a chorus of 600, and orchestra of 90, and a 60-voice boys’ choir. For this performance, the first 12 numbers of Part II were omitted. The complete Passion was not performed by the Society until 1879. About half of Bach's Passion was given its New York City premiere at St. George's Church on March 17, 1880, by the New York Oratorio Society under Leopold Damrosch. Theodore Thomas conducted the next documented performance in Cincinnati on May 17, 1882, during that city's May Festival.

  • 1945 - Aaron Copland’s Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Appalachian Spring ballet score is announced on V-E Day (the day the Allied Forces won the war in Europe)

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®