1. Anastasia: I read that the
inspiration to write music for stage came to you after seeing
musical “My Fair Lady” when you were just 10 years old. Were there/are
there any other musical works (musical, opera, symphony, song, etc.)
that had/has an important influence on you as a composer?
Maury Yeston: Yes, very
The Bethoven Symphonies, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Edith Piaf
(heard on the radio in French Canada), Gershwin, The Everly Brothers,
First: BEETHOVEN. From the time I was 8 years old. Always Beethoven...
not Bach, not Mozart.. Bach for me was always an unapproachable
genius. Mozart.. even beyond that. Mozart was like a rainbow or a
flower -- a miracle that no human being could create.
But, with Beethoven, I always felt and understood, even as a child,
that this music contained within itself the struggle of its composer
to force it into existence. In Beethoven I discovered a human being...
behind the music... a human being I could never hope to equal or
even come close to, but a human being who would always inspire me to
Beethoven's music is always about something... there is a subject in
it always: some aspect of life, or the struggle for life.
Others, of course, have influenced and inspired me -- the great
American songwriters, the Beatles, Noel Coward,
William Walton, Aaron Copeland.... but none have ever overwhelmed me
throughout my life as has Beethoven.
I began playing piano at age 5, composing at age 6, and I have been
writing songs since age 7. I have always loved the interplay of
words and music and understood the intricate play and joy of musical
rhyme interacting with word-rhyme and rhythm. When I saw "My Fair
Lady" I felt I truly wanted to write shows. At age 11 started playing
thru a very large collection of American songs and learned almost a
thousand of the great songs from the golden age.. and also Jazz –
Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie.
2. Anastasia: What were your dreams
about your future activities and career, before you decided to
become a composer?
Maury Yeston: When I was
very young I though I might be the President, or an Astronaut. But
really, it was always writing music and words for me, with no
serious second choice. The question was always, however, what kind
As I grew and developed, I branched out into all forms of
composition. At Yale, I wrote my big cello concerto as a senior
essay - won the Friends of Music Prize... won the scholarship to
Cambridge for 2 years. That was a godsend. The 2 years in England
enabled me to focus on what I truly loved -- melody -- and to
understand that devoting a life to melody is as great a life-project
as devoting a life to creating symphonies -- with Schubert as much a
hero to me as Kern, Gershwin or Berlin. To float the voice, to find
a way to soar vocally, to shape the emotions of the listener, to
delight, to amuse.. to create dance -- melody does all these things,.,,
and carries with it a whole other possibility of self-expression :
words, which have their own craft and careful science of creation.
Not the words of an opera libretto or poetry.. but lyrics, which are
designed to be heard only once, and to be completely understood the
moment they are heard. This is the essence of musical theater -- the
fact that words sung are meant to be understood as people's thoughts,
or as people speaking passionately.
Songwriting is a medium in which to paint in music... just as
watercolor, or still life, or oils or acrylics are mediums of
Simply put, I chose song to be the medium I would explore as a
3. Anastasia: You composed
scores to several quite different musicals. Which score do you like
most and which of your musicals is your favourite one?
Maury Yeston: I think my
first love will always be NINE -- not only because it brings me back
to my young and passionate days of making discoveries about how to
write, but also because I love the film it is based on, and the
content contains and is influenced by my late-teen summers,
traveling thru europe and falling in love with its music and
cultures -- all of which is reflected in the score., NINE also
contains the complete range of my musical world, from classical and
contrapuntal influences like the opera or the WOMEN'S OVERTURE, throu
French music hall (FOLIES), Jazz (Vatican), and art-song (UNUSUAL
My next Bway show will be DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY -- also set in Italy,
this time in 1922.. and in a way, it is a
return to the Italian world that seems to inspire me so much.
4. Anastasia: Why did you decide to write “Phantom”? What
did attract you in the story of Phantom?
Maury Yeston: I decided
to write Phantom around 1983, because a director named Geoffrey
Holder asked me to write it. This was long before Andrew Lloyd
Weber’s project began. At first I rejected the idea as a silly movie.
But then I realized, if I could change the story so that the Phantom
was disfigured from his very birth, then I would have a story of a
man who is ugly on the outside, but beautiful on the inside, and the
beauty is the music he hears growing up beneath the opera. So he
becomes like Quasimodo or the Elephant Man – a pathetic but
5. Anastasia: Did you have any
movie on this subject in mind when you were working on the score to
“Phantom” (e.g., classical black and white movie with Lon Chaney) or
was it only Leroux’s original novel that was the main inspiration?
Or was Mr. Kopit’s play the main moving force behind the whole thing?
Maury Yeston: None of the
above. Actually, my work was based on my own ideas. None of the
movies made any sense to me, and only when I realized I could define
the character my own way did the door become wide open for me and
Arthur to create our story.
6. Anastasia: How did the work
on “Phantom” go? Did you discuss every step with Mr. Kopit or did
you work separately?
Maury Yeston: Arthur and
I discussed everything together: the secret identity of the
Phantom’s mother and father, the importance that Christine is first
discovered in the light of a sunny day in the Bois de Boulogne etc.
7. Anastasia: Is there any
particular musical influence (from operas or classical music) on
your score to “Phantom”? Any hidden references?
Maury Yeston: Yes. I was
very much influence by French music-hall, French folk-music, French
pre-Renaissance music and the French love for counterpoint. That is
why there is a fugue in Act One, a feeling of Can-Can in the Opening,
an influence of French operetta in The Bistro.
8. Anastasia: Who is your
favourite character from “Phantom” and why?
Maury Yeston: I love
Christine very much, she is Cinderella. But my absolute favorite
character is the Phantom’s father. He has been caring for his son,
masquerading as his uncle, living with the guilt of the Phantom’s
birth, for his whole life. And it is wonderful thing to see the
whole audience begin to cry in Act Two, when father and son are
9. Anastasia: What is your
favourite musical piece/song from the musical “Phantom” and what is
your favourite scene from it?
Maury Yeston: I have two
favorites: (YOU ARE MUSIC), which is a wonderful and strange musical
moment in which Eric and Christine fall in love within music and a
music lesson. And the second choice would be YOU ARE MY OWN, a duet
when father and son come together again.
10. Anastasia: “Phantom” has
been produced in several countries. What is your attitude to all
these foreign productions? Have you seen any of them? How do you
feel, for example, about Japanese Takarazuka productions with
all-female casts, staged in 2004 and in 2006?
Maury Yeston: There have
been over a thousand productions. I love all the ones I have seen.
The all-female version in Japan is quite unusual, but also quite
entertaining. They have just now done a male/female version in Tokyo
quite successfully. I very much enjoy being surprised by how other
people interpret my work in unexpected ways.
11. Anastasia: Have you seen TV
miniseries “The Phantom of the Opera” 1990, based on Mr. Kopit’s
play, with Charles Dance, Teri Polo and Burt Lancaster? What do you
think of it? What do you think of Charles Dance’s performance?
Maury Yeston: Yes. This
is actually close to the story Arthur and I wrote. And this
miniseries is written by Arthur. I enjoyed Charles Dance’s
12. Anastasia: What is your
attitude to other two famous Phantom musicals: the one by Ken Hill
and the other by Andrew Lloyd Webber? Have you seen them? Have you
seen the movie version of Webber’s Phantom and if you have, what do
you think of it?
Maury Yeston: I have
actually never seen either of them. I have heard some of the music
from Andrew’s show, and I admire his work very much.
13. Anastasia: In your opinion –
who is the best musical (or, maybe, non-musical) performer ever? And
who is the best musical performer ever to perform your work?
Maury Yeston: Best
musical performer ever would have to be Louis Armstrong. Second
place goes to Fred Astaire. Third place, Ella Fitzgerald.
Best musical performer for my work would probably be Barbra
Streisand. Although I love Placido Dominigo, and Gloria Estefan –
who also have sung my work.
14. Anastasia: As I’m Russian, I
cannot but ask: do you have any favourite Russian composers or
favourite piece of music?
Maury Yeston: The
Russians have influenced me greatly. Moussorgsky especially with his
magnificent songs and piano music, Stravinsky, Rimsky, Borodin,
Glinka – they have all had a great effect on me, in addition to
Prokofiev whom I already mentioned – especially his film score to
15. Anastasia: Besides music, I
would like to know: what are your favourite novels or, perhaps,
Maury Yeston: This is an
easy question. My two favorite novels are : 1)War and Peace, and 2)
War and Peace. After these I love the works of Edith Wharton, Moby
Dick, Jane Austen. I began reading poetry in foreign languages when
I was very young. My English favorites are Hart Crane, Auden, James
Joyce, Shakespeare. French are Rimbaud, Baudelaire, German are
Goethe, Paul Celan, Brecht, Spanish are Lorca and especially Neruda.
I love the Russians, but especially Mayakovsky. I was quite taken
when I was young by Yevtushenko and Voznesenski.
16. Anastasia: And what about
movies? What kind of movies do you prefer?
Maury Yeston: I love what
are called “art movies”, Fellini, Truffaut, Wajda, Satyajit Ray,
17. Anastasia: Are you working
currently on any new musical? What are your creative plans and ideas
for the future?
Maury Yeston: Yes. “Death
Takes A Holiday” is my next show, based on a play by Alberto
Cassella. After that, I am working on a show based on Hans Christian
Anderson, and I am exploring one about Edgar Allen Poe.
Thank you very much,