GEORGE GERSHWIN: A LOOK INTO HIS LITTLE KNOWN
AND PREVIOUSLY LOST PIANO WORKS

George Gershwin was born at a time in American history when immigration from Europe was at a peak. His own parents had migrated from Russia. They were poor and did not recognize nor understand the genius in their young son George, and so he was left to his own devices when it came to his education. However, it was this "benign neglect" of his intellect that at once freed him to indulge his musical imagination without any external constraints, but also set upon him a "curse" that he carried with him to his grave.

Despite the fact that Gershwin studied classical composition almost continuously throughout his life, to the extent that he intimately knew the work of such diverse composers as Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg and Berg, there is little question that he felt intimidated by his classical contemporaries. For example, on his trip to Paris in 1928, although already successful and famous, his requests to study with the illustrious Nadia Boulanger were turned down. Maurice Ravel, who inquired about his income, jokingly suggested that he (Ravel) come to New York to study with Gershwin when the young man answered his query. That was Ravel's gentle rebuff of Gershwin, but the message was clear: Gershwin lacked traditional conservatory training. Ironically, the subsequent influence that these two composers had upon one another was obvious, despite their different backgrounds. Ever sensitive to his critics and detractors inmore forgiving marketplace of musical theater and films. As a result, we were left with precious little piano literature.

Over the years, it was not unusual to read about "lost" Piano Preludes that Gershwin had probably composed as part of his collection of preludes that were to have been titled "The Melting Pot". They were inspired by Chopin's 24 Preludes. It is a known fact that Gershwin premiered five Preludes in 1926 in New York and added a sixth at his Boston concert shortly thereafter. Only three were published at the time. Two others, Rubato and the Novelette in Fourths became a separate, much altered publication for violin and piano titled Short Story. Another, his Melody No. 17, was set aside for future use as a song later known as Sleepless Night. A mysterious manuscript fragment titled Prelude, January 1925 was never presented publicly as a Prelude, but surfaced as Piano Concerto in F. All seven Preludes have now been published by Warner Bros. Publications and are available as The Complete Preludes.

Another fascinating fragment lying in wait was Gershwin's 1919 piece for piano titled Lullaby.*  I was able to reconstruct this hauntingly beautiful work by using Gershwin's own subsequent transcription of it as a string quartet. In the middle section, one finds the root of the piano entrance, developmental themes, and ending to the future Rhapsody in Blue, still five years away. Until its reconstruction, this piece for piano never "existed".

The evolution of Gershwin the classical composer began with Lullaby. But the same theme and rhythmic patterns used in it made another appearance before he incorporated them into the Rhapsody. They were the inspiration behind Gershwin's first major classical work, his opera Blue Monday (1922). In Blue Monday, all his studies in classical composition reveal themselves in a series of gorgeous themes connected by early jazz motives.

Blue Monday was an extraordinary find. Gershwin's own manuscript of it was virtually unknown and had never been published until now* . It comprises a beautiful piano piece as it was composed in his early stages as an orchestrator (although Will Vodery orchestrated it originally and Grofe reorchestrated it in 1925), and is more pianistic than orchestral.

Finally, by 1924, Gershwin had become a highly developed classical composer. When Paul Whiteman invited him to compose a serious work combining classical and jazz elements, he already had the seed cellar for his Rhapsody in Blue. The similarities between the two pieces are remarkable.

My most astonishing research discovery, however, lay in the actual manuscript of the Rhapsody in Blue. In the piano/orchestra version, originally published in 1924, his editors deleted over fifty measures in the piano part. In the ensuing piano solo version, eighty-eight bars were cut from the manuscript. Ferde Grofe's manuscript of the orchestration of the Rhapsody was identical to Gershwin's. These two manuscripts provided absolute proof that this version was the version performed by Gershwin at Aeolian Hall in 1924, and at subsequent concerts, a fact confirmed to me by his sister Francis. Gershwin's verbal directives had also been altered, changing the performance style of the Rhapsody from lighthearted and jazzy (his time was, after all, the "roaring twenties"!), to romantic in the style of the late nineteenth century. Pleased with the enormous commercial success of the piece, Gershwin performed all versions of it, from piano rolls to a 1927 nine-minute RCA recording, according to the occasion. The unfortunate result of all this was that the Rhapsody came to be known as an immature, fragmented piece with disconnected themes, when in fact Gershwin had carefully linked all his material in a well planned-out structure.

There is some information indicating that he had plans to correct the originally published Rhapsody at some point in time, but his early death in 1937 precluded this.

The new Warner Bros. Annotated Rhapsody in Blue covers in detail all the differences between the manuscripts and other versions and finally makes available to pianists and teachers and "Urtext" Edition that reveals it as a true masterpiece.

* Lullaby for piano solo; Blue Monday for piano solo; Warner Bros. Publications
Alicia Zizzo December 1999

Alicia Zizzo's editions of The Rhapsody in Blue Addendum for Piano and Orchestra, The Rhapsody in Blue for Piano Solo, Blue Monday, The Complete Seven Gershwin Preludes and Lullaby have been published by Warner Bros. Her two CDs, Gershwin Rediscovered, Vol. I (1996) and Vol. II (1997) are on the Carlton Classics label, and contain first recordings of her new discoveries. She can be contacted through Jeffrey James Arts Consulting, 316 Pacific St., Farmingdale, NY 11735 - 516-586-3433 - phone and fax.

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Jeffrey James,   President
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