Fans of composer Jonathan Larson and his revolutionary show, Rent (aka, Rentheads), are eagerly anticipating Fox’s live broadcast of the musical this Sunday night. The Library of Congress is home to the Jonathan Larson Papers, a rich collection of papers and recordings that reveal Larson’s creative process behind Rent as well as other projects and endeavors.
One of the show’s best-known songs, “Seasons of Love,” opens the second act of the stage production. Whether sung on stage by a professional company or at a local school choir concert, the anthem consistently moves audiences and directly asks, “How do you measure a year in the life? How about love?” The song begins with that familiar piano ostinato figure, followed by all voices singing in unison: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…” The Larson Papers include many boxes of scripts, research notes, and more pertaining to Rent, including lyric sheets and sketches. Imagine the moment when one of our archivists first encountered the pages pictured below: Larson’s handwritten notes brainstorming ways to measure a year lived – complete with the mathematical calculations. As you can see, he does the math out all the way to 31,536,000 seconds!
There are countless more pages to study in the collection, and it’s a truly moving experience to sit with these pages while uncovering the kernels of ideas and moments of inspiration that eventually led to the production as we know it. To research the Jonathan Larson Papers in person or learn more about the collection, contact a music librarian in the Performing Arts Reading Room. In addition, you can listen to Larson singing and playing his own work on Jonathan Sings Larson, a 2007 album that the Library of Congress underwrote.