George Gershwin

(1898 - 1937)

Audio Selections

Porgy & Bess  (1935)

INTRODUCTION

This Conductor’s Corner segment is a departure from my previous format. Instead of a broad overview and sampling of different works from the composer’s output, here we focus our attention wholly on a single work: Gershwin’s greatest masterpiece, Porgy and Bess. It is my hope that after studying the contents herein you will have both a firm knowledge of the opera’s origins and plot, as well as an appreciation for the widespread impact the work has had on virtually all American musicians.

  1. BulletI Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’
    Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Gershwin Video Links

Porgy and Bess: “It Ain’t Necessarily So”

We begin our video odyssey with three renderings of what is probably the single most famous “hit tune” from Porgy and Bess: ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. Gershwin’s music is sung by virtually all serious classical vocal artists. Here is a wonderful performance by the acclaimed Simon Estes.

Porgy and Bess, 1959 Film

From the beginning, Porgy and Bess has stirred up controversy, mainly due to racial considerations. A particularly good example is the 1959 film version of the movie, which starred Sydney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr. Poitier later reminisced that accepting the role of Porgy was a huge mistake. Here is footage from the film featuring Sammy Davis Jr. as Sporting Life giving his “sermon” on Kittiwah Island.

Heifitz Gershwin Tunes for Violin and Piano

As many of you may know, at an early age I was accepted into the Jascha Heifitz Master Class in Los Angeles. Although I declined the offer, I bumped into Heifitz, literally, many years later at USC. This video from his later years is exactly how I remember him: suave, cool as a cucumber, and possessed with infinite grace. Heifitz arranged many Gershwin tunes for violin and piano. Here is one of his favorites.

“Summertime”

Now for something completely different! Here is a short clip of Summertime as sung by The Ravens, a fine African-American vocal chamber quartet.

“I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’”

If you thought that Porgy and Bess arrangements exist only for orchestra and band, I suggest you reconsider after watching this video. Believe or not, there are many choral arrangements from the opera. Here is I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’, sung by plenty o’ singers.

“I Loves You, Porgy”

As was noted in the audio examples, many of the finest jazz musicians in America took up the songs of George Gershwin. Perhaps the greatest (and most tragic) was Billie Holiday. Here is rare film footage singing I Loves You, Porgy. Given the very sad circumstances of her life, I have always found this interpretation particularly endearing.

Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera singing Gershwin???

LA Opera’s Porgy and Bess

This is a wonderful medley from the LA Opera production of Porgy and Bess. Particularly noteworthy is Sporting Life’s wonderful stage presence and dancing. I think you will all heartily enjoy this video clip.

For this series of Conductor’s Corner audio samples I am taking a different approach. I offer here five famous arrangements that are all based on “hit tunes” from Porgy and Bess. Since Porgy and Bess owes a great deal to jazz-influenced music, it should be no surprise that many of the greatest jazz musicians in America found a treasure trove in the opera which they eagerly mined. Ultimately, this resulted in some of the finest jazz standards of their careers.

  1. BulletSummertime
    Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

PROGRAM NOTES

Porgy and Bess, A Symphonic Picture

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Arranged by Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981)

Composed in 1935; arranged in 1942.

Premiered on September 30, 1935 in Boston.


The Rhapsody in Blue of 1924 marked George Gershwin’s debut as a serious composer.  A year later, DuBose Heyward, a poet and writer from Charleston, South Carolina, published a novel titled Porgy, loosely based on a local character called “Goat Sammy,” a Negro cripple who got about town in a goat cart.  Goat Sammy was known to many as a beggar on the city’s streets, but Heyward was struck by a news article in 1924 reporting that the man had been arrested on a charge of aggravated assault in a crime of passion. Heyward thought it extraordinary that “the object of public charity by day, had a private life of his own by night. It was a tempestuous life and in it were the seeds of human struggle that make for drama.” Porgy became a best-seller.

CYS Performance History


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