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“Softly As In a Summer Morning” by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II was written for the musical “New Moon”, which opened September 19, 1928. Robert Halliday introduced the song which, with “Lover, Come Back to Me”, became the best-known songs of the show. Both songs were incorporated after trial runs in Cleveland went badly. Ultimately, “New Moon” did well, with two movie versions, one in 1931 and the other in 1940 and a number of revivals, one of which was broadcast on PBS in 1989. Originally written as a tango in 2/4 time, later recordings have used a wide variety of time signatures.
Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) emigrated to the United States in 1909 after serving in the Hungarian army. After starting an orchestra and publishing a few songs he was hired by the Shubert brothers to write for their Broadway shows. His first successful revue was 1914’s “The Whirl of the World”. His best known operettas were “The Student Prince” (1924), “The Desert Song” (1926) and “The New Moon” (1928). Romberg went on from operettas to writing and conducting for film, and from 1945 to 1950 he conducted orchestral arrangements of his music for Columbia Records. He died in 1951 of a stroke.
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was the namesake and grandson of an opera impresario, Oscar Hammerstein, and studied law before becoming one of America’s most popular lyricists and producers. He collaborated with several sterling composers (including Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml, Sigmund Romberg and Jerome Kern) before his signature collaboration with Richard Rodgers began in 1943. Known for innovative combinations of bright tunes with sophisticated story lines, Hammerstein’s influence on American music is still celebrated.