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Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote musical lyrics that became chart-topping hits, dies at 95

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Herbert Kretzmer, the musicologist who wrote the lyrics to some of the most beloved songs in musical theater, including the famous title song from “Les Misérables,” died Oct. 4 in New York. He was 95.

Mr. Kretzmer, a professor emeritus at Yale, composed the lyrics for “You Gotta Believe,” sung by Fantine, the mother of the show’s iconic thief-hero Jean Valjean; “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by Cosette, the orphan of Cinderella; and “All You Need Is Love,” sung by characters in a production of “Annie.”

Mr. Kretzmer was no stranger to the limelight. He contributed lyrics to “The Threepenny Opera,” and he was the mastermind behind the major revamp of the show. Mr. Kretzmer and his collaborator, Tom O’Neil, took the late Peter Brook’s production and turned it into an exploration of a marriage. He and Brook showed the ways in which the couple had grown apart. Mr. Kretzmer thought the marriage would be a fitting parallel for the Wurlitzer organ to which the couple was confined to a tiny room in the Badlands.

Mr. Kretzmer was honored a number of times for his work. For his original score, he was a winner of the Grammy Award for Best Score written for the screen. He was nominated six other times. And for his lyrics, he won a Grammy in 1993 for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture.

Mr. Kretzmer was born in St. Louis and raised in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Illinois, then earned a master’s degree in voice from the Juilliard School. He had a degree in musicology from Northwestern University.

His personal ties to Broadway would lead him to the hit show, and to include songs in it. From the beginning, his accompanist, Peter Misanek, included several Broadway songs in his opening numbers. Mr. Kretzmer joined the company as the conductor of the orchestra.

The “Les Miz” show premiered at the Chicago Civic Opera House in 1987. When the company moved to New York, Mr. Kretzmer wrote additional lyrics for a few songs. They were the most familiar hits from the musical. And it was Misanek’s arrangements and costumes that helped Mr. Kretzmer set the stage for them.

Mr. Kretzmer is survived by his second wife, Diana Spinelli Kretzmer, and a son, John G. Kretzmer, from his first marriage.

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