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Monday 22 January 2018

Jerry Bock

Winner of Tony award who wrote the music for 'If I Were a Rich Man'

Jerry Bock, who has died aged 81, wrote the music for Fiddler on the Roof -- one of the most successful shows in Broadway and West End history.

With his lyricist Sheldon Harnick, his collaborator for 13 years, Bock created such timeless numbers as Sunrise, Sunset, Matchmaker, and If I Were a Rich Man. The original production ran on Broadway for eight years, earning both men Tony awards in 1965.

Bock's music was characterised by unmistakable surge and drive -- "the tide race of confident melody", as Sunday Telegraph critic Alan Brien put it. Fiddler on the Roof, set in a Russian-Jewish shtetl in 1905, had its origin in a collection of stories called Tevye and his Daughters by the Jewish fabulist Sholem Aleichem.

On Broadway, the comedian Zero Mostel took the comic lead, but the London production at Her Majesty's starred Chaim Topol in his British musical debut. Critic WA Darlington praised Topol's "majestic authority" and "fine singing voice, very well served by Jerry Bock's music".

Bock and Harnick first found success with the music and lyrics to the award-winning Fiorello! -- a musical about the reforming mayor of New York City in the Twenties -- which transferred to the West End of London in 1962.

Bock's scores for The Apple Tree in 1967 and The Rothschilds in 1971 were both nominated for Tony awards.

Jerrold Lewis Bock was born on November 23, 1928, in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of a travelling salesman and a mother who played the piano by ear. When he was nine, the young composer also took up the piano, but, becoming impatient with formal lessons, preferred to improvise.

At the University of Wisconsin he found his first collaborator, Larry Holofcener, a fellow student who became his lyricist. The two collaborated on the Broadway musical Mr Wonderful in 1956, starring Sammy Davis Jr in his Broadway debut. Bock's second complete Broadway score, The Body Beautiful (1958), was a box-office disaster.

Bock and Harnick were first introduced at a restaurant by actor Jack Cassidy after the opening night of Shangri-La, a musical in which Harnick had helped with the lyrics. They went on to form one of the most influential partnerships in Broadway history.

The pair collaborated on Tenderloin in 1960 and She Loves Me three years later. Although both shows failed, they had a spectacular success with Fiddler on the Roof.

After The Rothschilds in 1970, Bock decided to become his own lyricist. He released two experimental albums in the early Seventies.

Inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1972, Bock also wrote dozens of children's songs and won an Emmy for A Fiddler Crab Am I from the show The Wonder Pets. He had just finished writing music and lyrics for a new musical, Counterpoint, based on a script by Evan Hunter.

Jerry Bock is survived by his wife, Patti, and their son and daughter.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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