Send In The Clowns is a song by Stephen Sondheim, for the musical “A Little Night Music” in 1973. Frank Sinatra recorded this song in his album “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back”, in the same year. The song has a deep meaning and chooses an uncommon way to tell about a break-up.
What did Frank Sinatra say about Send In The Clowns?
Frank Sinatra: This is a song about a couple of adult people who have spent quite a long time together to one day one of them gets restless and decides to leave. Whether it’s the man or woman who left is unimportant, it’s a break-up. It’s a lovely marriage of words and music, written by Stephen Sondheim.
Frank Sinatra: I’d like to do a song for you that I think it is one of the most beautiful songs written in maybe all the time i’ve been in this racket. This is very infrequently done, it’s not done often. (1975-03-26, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas)
Frank Sinatra: It’s quite pointing, quite beautiful.
Frank Sinatra: I would like to sing for you a very pretty song. Sad, beautifully written however. From a show called “A Little Night Music”, and it was written by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a story of two adult people who had had a very nice life together, and suddenly, in older age, one of them decides to split. (1974-09-15, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas)
Frank Sinatra: Probably one the best marriages of words and music done in a long time. (1975 MDA Telethon)
The following performance of Send In The Clowns is from his concert, “Concert For The Americas”, 1982. Tonny Mattola is playing the guitar.
Send In The Clowns is a very beautiful song indeed. The lyrics are simply amazing and when listening for the first time, it could be difficult to understand the song completely, but as the song is listened more and more times, it’s real beauty can be understood better. Although the song was written just in two days by Sondheim, he surely did an amazing work. Barbra Streisand’s version is also good, but not as good and emotional as Sinatra’s I believe.
And this is the other, more widely known version of Send In The Clowns, again by Mr. Sinatra.
On the following video, Stephen Sondheim tells about Send In The Clowns. If you would like to find out more about this song, this video could be helpful.
Stephen Sondheim: I get a lot of letters over the years asking what the title means and what the song’s about. I never thought it would be in any way esoteric. I wanted to use theatrical imagery in the song, because she’s an actress, but it’s not supposed to be a ‘circus’. It’s a theater reference meaning ‘if the show isn’t going well, let’s send in the clowns’; in other words, ‘let’s do the jokes.’ I always want to know, when I’m writing a song, what the end is going to be, so ‘Send in the Clowns’ didn’t settle in until I got the notion, ‘Don’t bother, they’re here’ which means that ‘We are the fools. And, that’s the story.
Judy Collins sang this song the best, imho. I never understood the lyrics, but the melody was hypnotic. Why would a songwriter assume we know what this song is about? I thought it had something to do with the circus: “me in midair” a trapeze artist, “send in the clowns” now something funny for the kids, “opening doors,” possibly dressing room doors be cause she’s lost or but she’s really looking for his. By the way, I LOVE Frank Sinatra’s voice, but not on this song.
I think, in my humble my opinion, that Sinatra’s version is the most poignant expression of the “meaning” of the lyrics. I’m sure Sinatra dug deep into his personal life to convey an authentic feeling in his performance of Sondheim’s masterpiece. I think his voice, tempered and seasoned by age and experience, provides a certain sense of someone who really understands heartbreak and disappointment.
I love Frank singing this song with the guitarist. AND no one else can compete with him singing “Something” and of course, “New York, New York!”