Gabe Mollica ’14 first discovered Stephen Sondheim’s music during a weeklong Westminster Choir summer camp at Rider University and was struck by the complication and sophistication of the composer’s work. Mollica will continue to study Sondheim’s work with the help of an Emerson summer research grant. Sondheim is considered by many to be the greatest Broadway composer of all time, with more Tony Awards than any other composer, multiple Grammy Awards and even a Pulitzer Prize. He is also well-known as the lyricist for the timeless musical West Side Story.
Despite this incredible resume, few scholarly works exist on Sondheim’s productions, and after much searching, Mollica was unable to find a single scholarly work on one of Sondheim’s most successful musicals, Into the Woods. In his research with Burke library’s reference librarians, Mollica came across only three doctoral theses which even mentioned the play. A music major, Mollica aims to change this by completing a comprehensive analysis on the idea of consequence for Into the Woods under the guidance of Associate Professor of Music Robert Hopkins. Mollica has prepared for this research by studying music theory for three semesters and by completing a number of literature analysis courses.
Mollica is particularly interested in how certain musical elements are repeated at different points in Into the Woods in order to link characters’ actions to certain consequences. These musical intervals are known as motives and play an important role in the tonal transition from the first to the second act. In the first act of Into the Woods, the characters, which include popular fairytale beings such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, all profess a single desire which they wish to achieve over all else.
These characters then go on achieve those desires, often through nefarious means, and their stories begin to interlace. The characters are eventually confronted with the consequences of their actions, and thus learn that good things come to those who do good deeds. Mollica is most interested in how the accompanying music – specifically the use of motives – helps to illustrate and reinforce the motif of consequence within the play. He will also examine subtle lyrical changes in songs between the first and second acts to further reinforce the idea of musical consequence. Mollica is currently in the process of analyzing the music and lyrics within Into the Woods.
Mollica hopes to fill the void in scholarly examinations of Sondheim and is considering presenting his paper at a chapter meeting of the American Musicological Society. He also hopes to contact Sondheim in order to get his thoughts on this research – Sondheim was generous enough to send Mollica a signed headshot after Mollica contacted him over the previous summer.
Mollica is grateful to have received an Emerson grant to pursue this research and believes that “This type of academic independence is something… only a school like Hamilton can give.” Mollica’s eventual goal is to study music in graduate school and to go into choir directing or teaching music.
Gabe Mollica is a graduate of graduate of Garden City Senior High School (N.Y.).