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Lyricist Herbert Kretzmer

January 29, 2010

You may not know who Herbert Kretzmer is, but you know his work.  He’s a British journalist and lyricist.  His most famous work was on the musical Les Miserables. If you laughed at “Master of the House” or were moved by “Bring Him Home”, you were under the influence of Kretzmer.

Al Sheahan interviewed Kretzmer in 1988 for the in house publication of Les Miserables companies called “The Barricade”.  An edited version of the article can be found on Kretzmer’s website.

Cameron Mackintosh brought Kretzmer into the production to both write original lyrics and translate lyrics from the French version of the musical.  Kretzmer’s philosophy of translation is quite remarkable. He advises lyricists who translate from one language to another to avoid slavish translation of the original text.

Re-invent the lyric in your own words, remembering there may be better ways of serving a master than trotting behind him on a leash.

The literal translation of the French lyric for “I Dreamed a Dream” goes like this:

I had dreamed of another life
In which my life would pass by like a dream.
I was prepared for all follies,
All passions which arise.

Kretzmer’s translation of that lyric:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die.
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

File:LesMisLogo.pngKretzmer tells a fascinating story about his struggle in writing the lyrics for “Bring Him Home”.  The melody for this number had already been written with a slow three note structure, which for a lyricist means you write three syllable phrases. “A lyricist’s nightmare,”  according to Kretzmer.  He struggled with the concept for weeks, until a friend observed that the melody sounded like  a prayer.  That broke the code for Kretzmer and he wrote the song in one night.

The creative process of bringing Les Miserables to the stage was incredibly chaotic, as Kretzmer relates.  Yet the creative minds at work were able to produce one of the most successful and timeless musicals of all time.

To appreciate Kretzmer’s work you can find “Master of the House” and “Bring Him Home” on YouTube.

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