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Gershwin Plays Gershwin

MusicMasters 5062-2-C

Gershwin Performs Gershwin
Rare Recordings 1931 – 1935

“Music by Gershwin” Radio Program
February 19, 1934

1. Signature (1:31)

2. Of Thee I Sing: Overture (3:32)

3. The Man I Love (4:43)

4. I Got Rhythm (2:46)

5. Commercial (0:58)

6. Swanee; Sign-Off (1:08)

“Music by Gershwin” Radio Program,
April 30, 1934

7. Signature

8. Mine (1:05)

9. Variations on “I Got Rhythm”

10. Love Is Sweeping The Country (1:00)

11. Commercial (1:27)

12. Wintergreen For President; Sign-Off

Rudy Vallee “Fleischmann Hour” Radio Program,
November 10, 1932

13. Variations on “Fascinating Rhythm”; Variations on “Liza” (2:27)

14. Second Prelude

15. Interview (1:29)

16. I Got Rhythm (1:03)

17. Second Rhapsody Rehearsal Performance,
June 26, 1931*

Porgy and Bess Rehearsal Performance,
July 19, 1935*

18. Introduction; Summertime (4:08) Abbie Mitchell

19. A Woman Is A Sometime Thing (2:30)
Edward Matthews

20. Act 1, Scene 1: Finale (1:41)

21. My Man’s Gone Now (4:15) Ruby Elzy

22. Bess, You Is My Woman Now
Todd Duncan, Anne Brown

George Gershwin, Pianist and *Conductor
Consultant: Edward Jablonski

Producer: Russell L. Caplan / American Classics, Inc.

(P) Amerco, Inc., 1991 © MusicMasters 1991 1710 Highway 35, Ocean, New Jersey 07712
Made and Printed in the USA Distributed in the USA by BMG Music


During a visit with Ira Gershwin at his Beverly Hills home in the early 1970’s, the lifelong devotee wandered into the Gershwin record archive and discovered a box of recordings marked “George Gershwin Radio Broadcasts.” An examination revealed several acetates that had been copied from the original paper-thin celluloid discs which George Gershwin had ordered, and which had since completely deteriorated.

The box contained two broadcasts of the “Music by Gershwin” radio program. To help underwrite the composition of his “folk opera” masterpiece Porgy and Bess, Gershwin had two 15-minute shows a week – Mondays and Fridays, from 7:30 – 7:45 p.m., on the National Broadcasting Company (originating from New York City’s station WJZ). Later, it would become a weekly half-hour show on the Columbia Broadcasting System. The very first “Music by Gershwin” show, for Monday, February 19, 1934, includes the Of Thee I Sing overture, plus Gershwin playing “The Man I Love” and “I Got Rhythm.” The second broadcast, from April 30, 1934, is notable for its complete performance of the scintillating “I Got Rhythm” Variations. This work George dedicated “To my brother Ira,” whose favorite section was the spicy Chinese Variation.

Among popular radio show, the Rudy Vallee “Fleischmann Hour” program, broadcast on Thursday evening in the 8 – 9 p.m. time slot (originating also from New York), was one of the most adventurous. The next segment on this album, from an acetate disc in Vallee’s library, captures Gershwin’s first appearance on the show, during the broadcast of November 10, 1932. As Gershwin himself indicates, “Fascinating Rhythm” (from Lady Be Good!, 1924) and “Liza” (from Show Girl, 1929) are played in variation form. Early in 1932 Gershwin had set these down, along with 16 others, and published them as George Gershwin’s Song Book; they are also know as Piano Transcriptions of 18 Songs. These variants are delightful representations of the Gershwin performance style as well as his method of improvising on familiar themes. The Second Prelude (of three) was written for a December 1926 recital in which the composer accompanied the Peruvian contralto Marguerite d’Alvarez in a “Futuristic” concert in New York and other points. The guest appearance closes with another Gershwin rendition of his favorite “I Got Rhythm” (from Girl Crazy, 1930). Note the figurations he improvises when he is joined by Vallee’s orchestra for the finale.

The Second Rhapsody is unique among Gershwin’s “serious” compositions; it wasn’t originally designed for the concert hall, but was an expansion of the “Manhattan Rhapsody” sequence written for Delicious, the Gershwin brothers’ first film, which they had completed in the spring of 1931. The Second Rhapsody remains one of George Gershwin’s most important and, for some reason, least known works. Here he conducts from the piano; we step into history.

Working from the Delicious version, Gershwin plotted the fuller score for two pianos and from that developed the final orchestration. “There is no program to the Rhapsody,” he explained. “As the part of the picture where it is to be played takes place in many streets of New York, I used a starting-point that I called a ‘rivet theme,’ but, after that, I just wrote a piece of music without any program.” In expanding the Rhapsody, Gershwin tended toward attenuation of the two main themes – the rivet motif and the broad, not quite bluesy “Brahmsian melody,” as he called it.

On June 2, 1931, about a month after Gershwin had completed the 2nd Rhapsody for Orchestra and Piano (so the title page reads), he was given the use of the National Broadcasting Company’s Studio B in Radio City to try it out. He was happy with the outcome, as he confided to Isaac Goldberg, his first biographer: “I hired fifty-five men last Friday to play my orchestrations of the new Rhapsody, and the result was most gratifying. In many respects, such as orchestration and form, it is the best thing I’ve written … The National Broadcasting Company, whose studio I used, are connected by wire with the Victor Recording Laboratories so the studio, as a great favor to me, had a record made of the rehearsal … Good idea, eh?”

The reference recording Gershwin obtained – an aluminum-based acetate disc rediscovered years later with Ira’s assistance, and preserved on this album – enabled George to study the composition in order to make some final changes. These were minor: e.g., in the opening, he extended the piano’s rivet theme from four bars to six.

More than a month before the orchestration for Porgy and Bess was completed, Gershwin decided he would test some of it with several members of the cast. William Paley, head of CBS, arranged for the use of one of his company’s transcription studios for the run-through. Gershwin, the cast and a 43-piece orchestra entered the studio on July 19, 1934, to hear how Porgy (as it was still being called) sounded. Gershwin worked from his manuscript, the soloists and orchestra from the published music. During the rehearsal, which lasted two and a half hours, engineer Jean V. Grombach recorded some of the proceedings, preserving a rare example of Gershwin conducting one of his own works (the only other is the Second Rhapsody performance). Gershwin announces the selections and since he did not have a transcription turntable, the original 16-inch discs were not worn. Their striking fidelity puts us at the rehearsal.

It is fascinating to witness Gershwin’s hand shaping the music with sensitivity and assurance. The introductory music leading into “Summertime,” with the composer providing the “Jasbo Brown” piano music (eventually cut from the opera) and filling in vocally for the chorus, is an electric revelation of his musicianship. As he cues in different sections of the orchestra, there is an excitement and tension that culminates in the signing of the now-classic “Summertime” by Abbie Mitchell (soprano), the original Clara, who never again recorded her aria. She is followed by the original Jake, Edward Matthews (baritone), in “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing,” with a little vocal assistance from the composer. The brief orchestral passage which follows is a beautiful blending of Porgy’s entrance music (“They Pass By Singin’”) and the introduction of what will become “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” in the next scene.

The remarkably gifted Ruby Elzy (soprano), the original Serena, often stopped the show with her magnificent rendition of one of the opera’s most moving arias, “My Man’s Gone Now.” The session concludes with the original title stars, Todd Duncan (bass-baritone) and Anne Brown (soprano), in the popular duet, “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” one of the great moments in the American lyric theatre – just as Porgy and Bess remains the American Opera, and George Gershwin, the American Composer.

- Edward Jablonski    

Mr. Jablonski, who was a longtime friend of Ira Gershwin’s, is the author of The Encyclopedia of American Music (Doubleday, 1981) and Gershwin (DoubleDay, 1987), for which he received ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award.

Music by George Gershwin (all selections); lyrics by Ira Gershwin (Tracks 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12 & 16), by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward (Track 22), by DuBose Heyward (Tracks 18, 19 & 21), by Irving Caesar (Track 6).

All selections ASCAP, used with permission of Warner Bros. Music

Special thanks to Mrs. Ira Gershwin, Marc George Gershwin, Francis Gershwin Godowsky, Leopold Godowky III and Ronald L. Blanc for assistance in obtaining recordings from the Library of Congress for digital remastering. Special thanks also to Eleanor Vallee Hustedt for permission to remaster the Rudy Vallee “Fleischmann Hour” broadcast; source tape courtesy Ed Jablonski, “Music by Gershwin” and Rudy Vallee “Fleischmann Hour” programs appear courtesy the National Broadcasting Company, Inc.

Front Cover: Self-portrait, 1936/Courtesy Ed Jablonski

Transfer Engineer: Michael Donaldson;
Production Assistant: Kevin Cole

Mastering Engineer: Jack Towers.
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