'Fiddler' Composer Jerry Bock, 1928-2010

Zero Mostel as Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof cast i i

Actor Zero Mostel, who originated the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, poses with cast members after the play's opening performance on Sept. 22, 1964. AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photo
Zero Mostel as Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof cast

Actor Zero Mostel, who originated the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, poses with cast members after the play's opening performance on Sept. 22, 1964.

AP Photo

This interview originally aired on June 21, 2004.

Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock i i

Sheldon Harnick (left) and Jerry Bock pose before a rehearsal of their show The Apple Tree on Nov. 1, 2006. Bock died on Thursday; he was 81. Adam Rountree/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Rountree/AP Photo
Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock

Sheldon Harnick (left) and Jerry Bock pose before a rehearsal of their show The Apple Tree on Nov. 1, 2006. Bock died on Thursday; he was 81.

Adam Rountree/AP Photo

Jerry Bock, the composer who wrote the score for some of Broadway’s most popular musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!, died Nov. 3. He was 81.

Fiddler, based on Sholem Aleichem’s short stories, opened on Broadway in 1964. The following year, the show won nine Tony Awards; it became Broadway’s longest running musical in 1971. (That record has since been shattered several times and is now held by The Phantom of the Opera.)

In 2004, Bock and Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick joined Terry Gross for a discussion about their 14-year collaboration. Starting in 1956, they produced nine Broadway shows as well as contributions to several other plays. In 1960, the two men won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their musical Fiorello!, about New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.  

On Fresh Air, Harnick recalled how a performance at a Hebrew Actors Union benefit show helped influence Bock's musical arrangements for "If I Were A Rich Man" — one of the most famous songs from Fiddler.

"As part of the entertainment, a mother and daughter came out and they did a Hasidic chant all in thirds and sixths with just syllables, no actual words," Harnick said. "And Jerry called me the next day, saying he had been so taken with this, that it inspired him to write something similar."

The song, performed by Tevye in the musical, was written in a Klezmer style that's heavily influenced by Eastern European music.

"Somehow I had unknowingly, unwittingly stored a lot of the sound of it without having been able to express myself with it," said Bock. "I love Russian music, I love Romanian music. Minor is my major key. ... For every song that was used, we wrote at least three [more.] And if we were asked to write 10 or 15 more, we probably could have, because it was the kind of show that allowed us to express ourselves as we had never expressed ourselves before."

Bock received an Emmy this year for an original children's song, "A Fiddler Crab Am I." He is survived by his wife Patricia and their children Portia and George.

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