Liner notes from original albums and CDs for proofreading
On October 26, 1933, contracts were signed by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Du Bose Heyward and The Theatre Guild for the composition and production of a new American opera, Porgy and Bess. Although hopes must clearly have been high, none of the participants can have had any idea of the eventual significance of the work, nor of the unending beauty of its music. The manuscript was marked finished on August 23, 1935, and the first public performance was heard at the Colonial Theatre in Boston on September 30. New York heard Porgy and Bess on October 10, and received it with a mixture of enthusiasm and dismissal; everyone liked the tunes, but critics felt it was not a true opera and audiences—at least Broadway audiences—tended to shun anything even approaching opera. So shortly thereafter, having run up 124 performances, Porgy and Bess was retired from the stage, leaving only its superb songs as a legacy.
In 1942 the work was revived to considerably more acclaim—both critics and audiences came around, this time, and a long run and extensive tour resulted. The music grew and grew in popularity, both as individual numbers and as a suite arranged for symphony orchestra. Columbia Records then undertook to record the complete work, including several sections cut from stage productions, and met with signal success. And then, on June 9, 1952, Porgy and Bess was revived in Dallas, and a fantastic saga began. The production toured Europe, returned for a year in New York and an American tour, went back to Europe, on to Latin America, played for a week at La Scala in Milan, went behind the Iron Curtain to Leningrad (December 26, 1955) and Moscow, and closed four years later on June 3, 1956 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. As an example of American theatrical art it provided an unparalleled exhibit for residents of twenty-nine countries. It was pointed out at the time that Porgy and Bess did not so much make a tour as a triumphal procession. And now, to round out the story, Porgy and Bess has been adapted for motion pictures in a Samuel Goldwyn production, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Bailey.
In this program of music from Porgy and Bess, Percy Faith has chosen not only the magnificent highlights but has gone on to include some rarely-heard sections of the Gershwin score. Divorced from its lyrics, the music proves as exciting and vibrant as ever—few melodies anywhere are lovelier than “Summertime” or more touching than “My Man’s Gone Now,” fewer still have the ebullience of “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” or “It Ain’t Neceesarily So.” And included, too, are such comparatively unfamiliar gems as “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing,” “Oh, I Can’t Sit Down” and the street cries of “The Strawberry Woman” and “The Crab Man.” Mr. Faith has presented these selections in the sequence in which they appear in opera, forming a sweeping panorama that moves with engrossing power from the opening sketch of “Catfish Row” to the proud finale, “I’m on My Way.”
The plot of Porgy and Bess concerns a crippled Negro beggar who lives in Catfish Row, a tenement on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina. (In the film, the time has been set back from Heyward’s original contemporary setting to that of roughly 1911.) Bess, a vibrant young woman, takes refuge from the law with Porgy, and grows to love him for his gentleness and strength. When Porgy is arrested on suspicion of murder, Bess falls under the evil influences of Sportin’ Life and goes off to New York City with him. On his return, Porgy finds her gone, but with deep faith sets off in his little goat cart to find her. A synopsis so brief can only hint at the richness and depth of the libretto itself, and gives no idea at all of the incomparable splendors of the score. Nevertheless, in Percy Faith’s instrumental settings, the power and excitement of Porgy and Bess are preserved with genuine sympathy, and the music is so ‘right,’ so true, that one is swept along by it. It may be apposite to quote a remark by Virgil Thomson: “When one considers one by one the new works that the world’s greatest opera houses have produced with ballyhoos and hallelujahs in the past forty years and the almost unvarying pattern of their failure, one is inclined to be more than proud of our little Georgie.” And even without Mr. Thomson’s qualification, one is inclined, as these magnificent melodies unfold, to be more than proud.
“There’s a magic in the distance, where the sea-line meets the sky,” wrote the poet Alfred Noyes. And in this enchanting collection of music inspired by faraway horizons of the world, Percy Faith applies his matchless touch to a dozen songs that take on a nostalgic glow even for hose who have never journeyed to mysterious India, the fabulous Orient or found peace and contentment on a sun-drenched Pacific isle.
Percy leads his orchestra (sometimes augmented by a wordless vocal chorus) in shimmering evocations of a mythical Himalayan utopia, Shangri-La; a delightfully languid version of Kashmiri Song, suggestive of all the seductive charm of pale hands beside the Shalimar, and songs of Siam (Richard Rodgers’ beloved March of Siamese Children), Persia (Stranger in Paradise, And This Is My Beloved), Japan (Percy’s own composition, Cherry Blossom, and Irving Berlin’s Sayonara), China (Mountain High, Valley Low) and the Pacific region (Beyond the Reef, The Moon of Manakoora, Return to Paradise).
As he has unforgettably demonstrated in his superb series of recordings of Latin American music, popular ballads, favorite standards and Broadway hits, Percy Faith can color a melody as no other conductor-arranger-composer can. The sounds of SHANGRI-LA! Make it abundantly clear that the music of distant realms—real or imagined—has inspired the Maestro’s palette to glow more brilliantly than ever.
The miracle of modern instrumentation has brought new life to the popular song market. So accustomed are we to hearing “classical” arrangements that we often take them for granted; the effortless beautify and grace of the music belies its struggle for popular acclaim. Actually, it has cost our foremost arrangers over a decade of trial and error to produce the colorful variety which marks today’s popular hits. Not only does this variety mean higher standards of performance, but also a greater range and incentive for songwriting in the future.
Experience, the key to making significant music, is widely reflected in the career of arranger-conductor Percy Faith. One of the leading concert, broadcast and recording figures, he has been keeping popular music alive and interesting ever since, as a youngster, he played piano in a picture theatre. Born in Canada, Percy made his radio debut while studying at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. He was active in orchestra work, and at the age of twenty-three conducted his own string group on the air. At twenty-six, he was signed as a staff arranger and conductor by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and three years later became musical director of C.B.C. through the show “Music by Faith.”
When Percy came to the United States in 1940 to succeed Josef Pasternak on the “Carnation Contented Hour,” popular music was resistant to classicized arranging, except in the films. As conductor of this program for the next seven years, however, he witnessed and helped to create many changes in the scoring of everyday ballads. It was during this era that dance bands adopted violins and also gave birth to “progressive” jazz. Contracted to star as the director of radio’s “Pause That Refreshes” between 1947 and 1950, Percy aided current Folk and International trends by featuring well-known American, European and South American singers as guests on the program.
Because of his activity as a composer, Percy Faith’s arrangements never lose their highly original flair. It is evident in this album of mood settings, as they were selected for melodic evenness and recorded to emphasize the feeling of simple yet pervasive sound. One of the most striking features you will hear is the contrast between novel instrumentation and the familiarity of the music itself. Under the skilled direction of Percy Faith, this imaginative contrast forms the basis for one of the most delightful collections in the modern repertoire.
With the mid-90s Easy Listening revival well and truly under way, it is a very good time to be introducing this new compilation of Columbia recordings by master arranger-conductor Percy Faith.
Melody is the essence of ‘Easy,’ as it’s now trendily referred to, and there is no greater lover and respecter of melody than Canadian-born Faith, here heard enhancing twenty magnificent themes from stage and screen.
It will come as little surprise to anyone that Percy Faith, known worldwide for his sumptuous string sound, started his musical education playing the violin at the age of seven. Courtesy of an aunt, a piano then came into his life and for a while, both instruments shared his affections. Then the keyboard edged ahead.
Aged eleven, precocious Percy was playing piano for the silent movies – a fabulous training ground – at $3 a time, and aged fifteen, he was giving his first major recital at Massey Hall. But a tragic accident around 1926, in which his hands were burned, effectively ruled out a concert career and the young maestro turned to arranging.
For the remainder of the ‘20s, Faith combined theory and practice, balancing study at the Toronto Conservatory with hands-on experience on bandstands and radio. He even formed his own string ensemble, another pointer to his fate.
By the early ‘30s, he was safely ensconced at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, presenting “Gaiety In Romance,” then “Streamline” and ultimately “Music By Faith,” which was carried in the USA by MBS. However, budget cuts prompted him to move on and in 1940, he moved to America, immediately replacing Josef Paternak as M.D. for Carnation’s “Contented Hour” on NBC. More radio work followed, as did records for Decca and RCA before, in 1950, aged forty-two, he arrived at Columbia Records, there to remain for twenty-six years, until his death.
“Your Dance Date” was the first of over eighty albums Faith and his orchestra made for the company, a body of work that eventually embraced everything from salutes to great Broadway shows and great American composers via exploration of great Latin rhythms to pop tunes and even, in the mid-70s, disco treatments. Total sales topped the fifty million mark.
Along the way, Faith enjoyed hit singles (“Delicado,” “The Song From Moulin Rouge,” “Theme From A Summer Place”), accompanied Columbia’s star singers (Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis), composed or adapted hit tunes (“My Heart Cries For You,” “Swedish Rhapsody,” “Theme For Young Lovers,” “The Virginian”), scored movies (“Love Me Or Leave Me,” “Tammy Tell Me True,” “The Oscar”) and toured Japan, where he remains an MOR icon.
Percy Faith died on February 9th, 1976, six weeks after completing work on “Summer Place ’76,” an album led by a contemporary update of his single best-known title.
The top-drawer film and show tunes assembled here were meat and drink to the man and consequently, despite the absence of his hits (readily available elsewhere), this collection in many ways represents quintessential Faith.
Gerald Mahlowe, 1996
Ever feel that the daily grind of making a living was interfering with living itself? Tired of big business deals, mass culture, bomb shelters? Then come for an exciting subway ride with composer Jule Styne and arranger-conductor Percy Faith. Percy is an expert guide through Jule Styne’s irresistible score for the new Broadway musical hit, Subways Are for Sleeping, all about Manhattan’s zany “underground” population. Book and lyrics are by the famed team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Percy Faith’s arrangement of the opening number begins, appropriately, with drums representing the distant rumble of a subway train, then swells to a roaring orchestral crescendo as we Ride Through The Night to meet some of New York’s most relaxed and picturesque odd-balls. The easy-going strains of I’m Just Taking My Time puts us in a receptive mood to meet these carefree denizens of subways, Grand Central Station benches—and even deserted galleries in the hallowed Metropolitan Museum of Art! We discover with them how amicable the world really can be as we listen to the cheerful, lilting When You Help a Friend Out.
Who Knows What Might Have Been? Introduces us to the show’s hero Tom Bailey, ex-business tycoon turned odd-jobber (walking people’s dogs is a specialty). A chance encounter in the subway introduces him to a runaway bride, Angie McKay. The driving tempo of Getting Married reflects Angie’s impetuous decision to escape matrimony with her boss for whom she represents a combination tax deduction and social hostess.
Percy Faith emphasizes restless, insistent percussion and wistful strings in his arrangement of I Just Can’t Wait. (Charlie Smith, professional meal moocher, can’t wait for the treat of seeing his girl friend fully dressed—her “system” is to wear a wrap-around bath towel in her hotel room and thus for long, rent-overdue periods stave off forcible eviction!)
Tom avoid the Christmas gift rush by standing still—as a street corner Santa Claus, collecting money for the Community Center. Percy Faith lends the spirited, joyous Be A Santa a rousing orchestral treatment. Sleigh bells jingle gaily, church bells ring out merrily and piccolos tweet brightly in this captivating salute to the Yuletide.
Percy’s famous trademark, silken strings, are used appropriately for How Can You Describe a Face?, Tom’s eloquent attempt to describe Angie’s beauty. Now I Have Someone is equally persuasive.
Come Once in a Lifetime is a characteristically-buoyant Jule Styne showstopper. Conductor Faith captures brilliantly its infectious exuberance. Wind instruments followed by rhapsodic strings translate into purely orchestral terms Angie’s declaration of love, I Said It and I’m Glad.
Percy Faith concludes his musical tour of the Subways system by answering the happy question, What Is This Feeling in the Air? With a hint of wedding bells.
—CURTIS F. BROWN
The suave arrangements of Percy Faith have propelled three superb records over the million-seller mark: Theme from “A Summer Place,” “The Song from Moulin Rouge” and “Delicado.” Moreover, it was Percy himself who adapted “The Song from Moulin Rouge” from the original movie score, and whose music for “My Heart Cries for You” provided singer Guy Mitchell with his first million-selling record. This collection of great themes from motion pictures, including Percy’s latest composition, the theme from “Tammy Tell Me True,” is in the same great Faith tradition, sumptuous, tasteful and exciting. Percy Faith was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 7, 1908. He began his studies early, and worked so studiously that by the time he was eleven, he was earning three dollars a night (plus carfare) as a pianist for silent movies in a Toronto theatre. At fifteen, Percy made his concert debut as a pianist in Massey Hall. As he continued his studies, he discovered a growing interest in arranging and composing, which in time outran his desire for a pianistic career. In 1933, he was appointed staff conductor for the Canadian Broadcasting System, where he remained until 1940 when he moved to the United States to become conductor of “The Contented Hour.” In 1947, Percy became conductor of “The Pause That Refreshes on the Air,” later for “The Woolworth Hour.” Other radio programs and guest appearances with such orchestras as the NBC Symphony further enhanced his reputation. He joined Columbia Records in 1950. Conservatory-trained Faith follows a composer’s intentions so sympathetically that he never distorts a melody. He enhances it, adding exotic color with instruments, creating constant surprises with counterpoint of tunes or intricate rhythms. His inventions are so considerable that a Percy Faith arrangement can be virtually a fresh composition, yet it never masks the original. The sound of his massed violins, his lustrous brasses and his impeccable tempos is unmistakable.
Rock ‘n’ roll is generally presumed to be a young person’s game, so it may come as a surprise to learn that the best-selling instrumental of the rock era was a lush, richly orchestrated ballad credited to a 52-year-old conductor. Percy Faith was the conductor and his hit was The Theme From “A Summer Place.” It sold well over a million copies and topped the Bilbaord pop chart for nine weeks in early 1960.
Born in Toronto, Canada, April 7, 1908, Faith learned to play the violin by the time he was 7. He went on to study at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. He also played piano in a silent movie theater and the violin with several Canadian orchestras.
When Faith was 18 he severely damaged his hands trying to put out a fire at a clothing store operated by his sister. His violin-playing days were over but he continued in music, working as a conductor and arranger, joining the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1933. He had his own show – “Music By Faith” – that was so popular in Canada it was picked up for broadcast in the U.S. by the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Faith relocated to the United States in 1940 as musical director for a radio series called “The Carnation Contented Hour.” In 1950, he was hired by Columbia Records’ head Mitch Miler to serve as an arranger and conductor for the label’s staff orchestra.
The Faith touch was soon heard on huge pop hits for Tony Bennett, including Because Of You (1950), Cold Cold Heart (1952) and Rags To Riches (1953). Faith also worked on big singles for Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, Frankie Laine and Doris Day.
Miller also encouraged Faith to record on his own and his first success came in 1950 when I Cross My Fingers, with a vocal by Russ Emery, was a Top 20 hit. All My Love, also issued in 1950, went Top 10. Faith closed out the year with Christmas In Killarney, which was a Top 30 song.
The hits kept coming in the early ‘50s. In 1951, he went Top 10 with On Top Of Old Smokey which sported the voice of Burl Ives. He also did well with When The Saints Go Marching In. Delicado, issued in the spring of 1952, went to No. 1 for a week.
In the spring of 1953, Faith’s recording of Swedish Rhapsody went on the charts where it would peak at No. 21. It’s flip side, Song From ‘Moulin Rouge’ (Where Is Your Heart), with a sweet vocal by Felicia Sanders, went on the Billboard list a month after Swedish Rhapsody. It would stay there for 24 weeks – 10 at No. 1 – and be cited as the best-selling record of 1953.
Later in ’53 Faith had a Top 20 record with Return To Paradise. Many Times was also popular that year. In 1954 he charted with Dream, Dream, Dream and The Bandit.
While Faith’s singles were being challenged by Elvis Presley and his pals, the conductor was doing well on the album charts. Adults were taken with his lush arrangements of standards and “Passport To Romance” was a Top 20 in the summer of 1956. “My Fair Lady,” with songs from the enormously popular Broadway musical, did even better, going Top 10 in 1957. A collection of songs from “Porgy And Bess” did well in 1959. In 1960, both “Bouquet” and “Jealousy” were Top 10 sellers.
In the early fall of 1959, Faith – who continued to release an occasional single – recorded the them from Warner Bros.’ “A Summer Place.” It was a steamy story of young love starring teen sensations Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue and adults Dorothy McGuire, Richard Egan and Arthur Kennedy. The single took almost six months to edge into Billboard’s Hot 100 in January 1960.
Once it got on the charts, the record moved quickly, and, after less than two months, it settled in at the top of the rankings for a nine-week run. It also won a Grammy as Record of the Year.
Despite his massive hit, Faith didn’t release an album based on the single. But he didn’t seem to need to as his albums of lush mood music continued to sell very well. In 1961, he was back in the Top 10 with music from “Camelot.” That was followed by popular collections featuring the music of Mexico and Brazil.
In 1963, Faith slightly altered his musical direction. He was still doing lush collections of instrumentals, but he switched from standards as his source to the Top 40. “Themes For Young Lovers” featured his 1960 hit of the same name and string-filled arrangements of teen hits like Go Away Little Girl, All Alone Am I and On Broadway. The sparkling sound of the album pushed it to Billboard’s Top 15 and eventual gold record status.
Faith continued to offer his versions of pop hits on “Shangri-La” and “Great Folk Themes.” In 1964, he was back with “More Themes For Young Lovers.”
Through the early ‘70s, Faith continued to record popular albums featuring his orchestra and chorus, including “Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet,” for which he received a 1969 Grammy for Best Contemporary Performance by a Chorus.
In all, Faith had 30 albums on the Billboard charts between 1956 and 1972. Three of them went gold.
Faith died of cancer February 9, 1976. He left a huge legacy of great music during his years on Columbia and Collectables is pleased to present some of the best of that work on this tribute to a man who spent more than 40 years bringing fine music to the work.
– Mark Marymount
The Percy Faith Strings, born a dozen years ago in a golden and inevitable album we called Bouquet, are, indeed, the essence of the Percy Faith writing. In four wedges of first and second violins, violas and cellos, forty-eight of the finest string players in the world spread out from the podium like four exquisite ribs in a delicate fan of sound—a Beatle ballad as familiar as a friend woven into counter melodies so precisely right that they too sound familiar. Then, the startling individuality of a flugel horn, an alto sax, a trombone or a flute appears warm and confidential, then disappears again into the flowing strings. Percy Faith, the composer, the arranger, the conductor, distills in this orchestra these complimentary talents, which, for him, are best expressed by the bows of a family of strings.
The songs of The Beatles, which “play for strings” was the criterion. The most memorable and meaningful compositions of the past decade of important music are the program. To some these performances simply reinforce what they have always known—that these songs are beautiful. To some others this new and flattering expression of the songs brings, at last the new realization. To me, and probably to you, the setting fits the gem, and the listening is lovely.
And isn’t it nice to know that not everything in the air waters the eyes, stings the membranes, shatters the atmosphere? This graceful, airborne music enhances our environment and charms the surface of the earth just as Thoreau’s flute, floating above Walden, charmed the perch in the pond.
The four creative minds of The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) and “Jesus Christ Superstar’s” two originators (Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) are unanimously considered by both musicologists and casual listeners as among the very best composers of the last 50 years. Their music has been, to this day, the soundtrack of our lives. They are continually paid homage by other artists who record interpretations of their music.
In 1970 and 1971, one of Columbia Records’ most prolific and popular musicmakers, orchestra leader Percy Faith, produced two projects, “The Beatles Album” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” that reflected the public’s fascination with the two, and the joy their music brought to millions.
Since 1950, when he arrived at Columbia as both a recording artist and music director, the Toronto-born Faith began producing albums of tunes that were linked either conceptually, lyrically, or through association with a specific artist, project or part of the world. Albums like “Viva! The Music Of Mexico,” released in 1958, and “The Sound Of Music,” a 1960 issue, focused on their subjects to great effect, achieving commercial success. Faith would utilize the formula of translating well-known melodies into fantastically ornate and richly wrought orchestral works of dynamic beauty. His distinctive voicings for strings and innovative recording techniques made him the undisputed leader in the field of recorded instrumental music. He treated pop with the dignity of classical music, and made records that have withstood the test of time.
What can be said about the Beatles that has not been already said by hundreds of writers? No one alive during their time will ever forget them. Their songs combine romance with fancifully imaginative concepts in a refreshing innocence that is at once strange, yet completely memorable. Combine with a joie de vivre that was a trademark of the Sixties, and you have music that resides at pop’s pinnacle.
The delight of surprise abounds in Beatles music, and “The Beatles Album” is full of creative interpretations of their music. The pizzicato strings of Eleanor Rigby, the quiet grace of Because, which is based on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played in reverse, and the unlikely choice of The Ballad Of John And Yoko, one of the group’s more controversial tunes, are highlights. The musical contributions of Ted Nash on saxophone and Buddy Childers on flugelhorn should not go unnoticed, as they excel in their solo spots.
As the son of William Lloyd Webber, the director of the London College Of Music, Andrew Lloyd Webber was exposed to “good” music at a tender age. He would later train at the Royal Academy Of Music, an unlikely place for a “pop” songwriter to begin his career.
In the 1970s, “concept” albums were in vogue. A record album was a relatively inexpensive way to stage a musical. His first effort, “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” received critical kudos but at the time remained unproduced. The second attempt to write a musical by Webber and lyricist Tim Rice was a world-wide ground-shaking event. “Jesus Christ Superstar,” released in 1971 first as a full-length recording project, had all the right elements. A fresh, melodic score with the brash swagger of great rock music made the piece a natural for theatrical production, as well as being based on the most famous “book” and lead character in history.
The musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” re-energized Broadway, and paved the way for later Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpieces like “Evita,” “Cats,” “Phantom Of The Opera,” “Aspects Of Love,” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Andrew Lloyd Webber is today the reigning monarch of the musical.
His “Jesus Christ Superstar” partner, Time Rice, has also fared well in the theatre. Besides their collaboration on “Evita,” Rice has the album / musical “Chess,” written in collaboration with Abba’s Bjorn and Benny, and his recent work with Elton John (“The Lion King,” “Aida,” and “The Road To El Dorado”) as evidence of his outstanding contribution to the history of Broadway and the film musical.
In the capable hands of a master like Percy Faith, the music of The Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is meticulously presented. They are our modern-day Schubert and Gershwin, creating popular songs for the ages. Here now are two landmark examples of their brilliant careers, “The Beatles Album” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
— Al Fichera
The music of George Gershwin played in this collection by Percy Faith and His Orchestra is discussed here chronologically, to help place it in perspective.
Somebody Loves Me
This song was unforgettably interpreted by Winnie Lightner in the Scandals of 1924. Its appeal is primarily melodic, for in this song Gershwin tapped the rich, full-blooded lyricism that henceforth would identify his best love songs. Gershwin’s way of suddenly interpolating a flatted third in the melody here personalized his writing. The nebulous harmony was also a part of the song’s charm. “Somebody Loves Me” was one of Gershwin’s greatest hits after “Swanee.”
Oh, Lady Be Good and Fascinatin’ Rhythm
Lady Be Good was Gershwin’s first major musical-comedy success. It opened on December 1, 1924, the first musical produced by the new team of Aarons and Freedley, who were to be associated with so many Gershwin musicals. Fred and Adele Astaire were starred. Cast as a brother-and-sister dancing act who had come upon unhappy days.
Gershwin’s music was the principal attraction of this gay musical. Never before had he brought such a wealth of original invention to his stage music. The irresistible appeal the repeated triplets in the title song, the kinesthetic effect of the changing meters in “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”—all this represented a new sophistication in popular music.
The Man I Love
The best song Gershwin wrote for Lady Be Good was not in the show when it opened in New York. It has since become one of the Gershwin song classics, and the one song he often considered his greatest. But before it finally achieved recognition it had an eventful history. The chorus as it is known today originated as the verse for another song; but Gershwin soon realized that the individual melody consisted of a six-note blues progression that reappeared through with cumulative effect, achieving poignancy through the contrapuntal background of a descending chromatic scale. In rewriting his song, Gershwin now used the verse as the chorus, and prefaced it with a simple but appealing introductory tune.
“The Man I Love” was sung by Adele Astaire in the opening scene of the Philadelphia tryout of Lady Be Good. In that setting the song missed aim completely; it was too static. Vinton Freedley insisted that it be dropped from the show, and Gershwin consented. In 1927, Gershwin removed the song from his shelf and incorporated it into the score he was then writing for Strike Up the Band (first version). Once again it was tried out of town, was found wanting, and was deleted.
But the song found admirers. One of them was Otto H. Kahn, to whom Gershwin played it when he planned using it for Lady Be Good. Kahn liked the song so much that he decided to invest $10,000 in the musical. Another admirer was Lady Louis Mountbatten, to whom Gershwin presented an autographed copy in New York. When she returned to London, Lady Mountbatten arranged for the Berkeley Square Orchestra to introduce the song there. It became such a success that—though no printed copies were available in England—it was picked up by many other jazz groups in Paris, where it also caught on. American visitors to London and Paris heard the song and, returning home, asked for it. Then singers and orchestras took it up until its acceptance in this country became complete.
Gershwin has explained that the reason it took so long for the song to be appreciated is that the melody of the chorus, with its chromatic pitfalls, was not easy to catch; also, when caught, it was not easy to sing or whistle or hum without a piano accompaniment.
Preludes Two and Three
On December 4, 1926, at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York, Marguerite d’Alvarez, the operatic contralto, gave a serious song recital that included French and Spanish art songs. Gershwin participated, not only by accompanying her in his songs, but also by appearing as piano soloist. On this occasion, he gave the world premiere of his Preludes for the piano.
The second, in C-sharp minor (Andante con moto e poco rubato) is the most famous of the set: a poignant three-part blues melody set against an exciting harmony that grows richer as the melody unfolds. Rhythm once again predominates in the third prelude, in B-flat major (Allegretto ben ritmatto e deciso), an uninhibited outburst of joyous feeling.
Clap Yo’ Hands, Maybe, and Someone to Watch over Me
Oh, Kay, in 1926, was the first American musical comedy starring Gertrude Lawrence, who had made her Broadway debut in 1924 in the Charlot’s Revue imported from London. When Aarons and Freedley discussed with her the possibility of coming to New York in a new musical, she was considering a similar offer from Ziegfeld. The information that George Gershwin would write the music was the deciding factor in her acceptance of the Aarons and Freedley contract.
The Gershwin score was a rich cache of treasures, “a marvel of its kind,” as Percy Hammond Reported. To no other musical production up to this time had he been so lavish in his gifts. There was “Someone to Watch over Me,” in his most soaring and beguiling lyric vein touched with the glow of Gertrude Lawrence’s charm, “Clap Yo’ Hands,” with its fascinating rhythms, and “Maybe.”
In 1927, Aarons and Freedley built a new theater for their productions, the Alvin on West 52nd Street. It was a house that Gershwin had helped build with the profits from Lady Be Good, Tip Toes and Oh, Kay. What, then was more appropriate than that it should be opened on November 22 with a new Gershwin musical? The musical was Funny Face, in which Fred and Adele Astaire made their first welcome return in a Gershwin musical since Lady Be Good. Victor Moore was also in the cast, appearing as a helpless, hapless thug who gets involved in all sorts of difficulties while trying to steal a string of pearls. “’S Wonderful” was the hit of the show.
“Liza” was a particular favorite of Gershwin’s. He continually played it for friends, frequently with improvised variations. It appeared in Show Girl, a lavish Ziegfeld production, in 1929. Ruby Keeler sang and danced to its tantalizing rhythms, as her husband Al Jolson ran up and down the aisles singing the refrain to his wife—for several nights an unscheduled, unexpected and unpaid-for attraction.
With Strike Up the Band, in 1929, a new kind of musical came to Times Square. This was no longer just a spectacular for the eye and an opiate for the senses—as had been the case with so many earlier Gershwin musicals—but a bitter satire on war, enlisting all the resources of good theatre….It was first launched in 1927…and was abandoned. In 1929, the authors returned to the play….It brought new dimensions to musical comedy by being one of the first with a pronounced political consciousness.
The Gershwin score—which was published in its entirety—is not only rich in details. Individual songs stand out prominently, “Soon” is one of Gershwin’s most beautiful ballads, unforgettable for its purple mood.
Embraceable You, Bidin’ My Time, I Got Rhythm
Girl Crazy, one of Gershwin’s greatest musical-comedy successes, began a long run at the Alvin Theatre on October 14, 1930. The book, by Bolton and MacGowan, was no better—and no worse—than earlier ones for which Gershwin supplied the music….One of the things that made Girl Crazy as good as it was—“a never-ending bubbling of pure joyousness,” as one New York critic described it—was the casting. Ginger Rogers, fresh from her first screen triumph in Young Man of Manhattan, here made her bow on the Broadway stage. Willie Howard brought his accent and uninhibited comedy to the part of Gieber Goldfarb. Allen Kearns, veteran of many Gershwin musicals, was cast in the male lead. Each of these gave a performance calculated to steal the limelight. But the limelight belonged not to any of them, but to a young and then still unknown lady whose personality swept through the theater like a tropical cyclone, and whose large, brassy voice struck the consciousness of the listeners like a sledge hammer. She was Ethel Merman, in her first appearance in musical comedy….In “I Got Rhythm” she threw her voice across the footlights the way Louis Armstrong does the tones of a trumpet. When, in the second chorus, she held a high C for sixteen bars, while the orchestra continued with the melody, the theater was hers: not only the Alvin theatre, but the musical theater as well. “I Got Rhythm” is remarkable in its chorus not only for the agility of the changing rhythms, but also for the unusual melody made up of a rising and falling five-note phrase in the pentatonic scale.
“Embraceable You,” the hit song of the production, belongs to the half dozen or so of Gershwin song classics in which his melodic writing is most expressive.
In 1933, many of those who had helped make the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Of Thee I Sing” the historic occasion it was in the theater, joined forces for a sequel entitled Let ‘Em Eat Cake….There was much that was bright and witty and stinging; but the play as a whole did not quite jell. The critics and audiences rejected the play and it failed to reach its hundredth performance on Broadway.
On the positive side was one of Gershwin’s important songs, “Mine.” This was a pioneer attempt to use a vocal counterpoint for the main melody (a practice subsequently employed so effectively by Frank Loesser in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Irving Berlin in “You’re Just in Love”). The vocal counterpoint consists in an aside by the chorus which carries overtones of Gilbert and Sullivan.
I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’, Summertime, Bess, you Is My Woman Now, My Man’s Gone Now
The writing of Porgy and Bess occupied Gershwin for about twenty months. Most of the actual composition was done in about eleven months and completed in mid-April 1935. While some of the orchestration for the first act had been done in September 1934, that task consumed about eight months in 1935. Then it was completed: seven hundred neat and compact pages of written music (560 pages of the published vocal score), which if performed as written would require four and a half hours. During rehearsals, cuts had to be made in order to compress the opera within the prescribed limits of a normal evening at the theater.
Porgy and Bess opened at the Colonial Theatre in Boston on September 30, 1935. The audience began early to demonstrate its enthusiasm, and by the time the opera ended the ovation reached such proportions that the shouts and cries lasted over fifteen minutes….Two weeks later, on the evening of October 10, Porgy and Bess came to New York, to the Alvin Theatre….
They Can’t Take That Away from Me, They All Laughed, A Foggy Day, Nice Work if You Can Get it, Love Is Here to Stay, Love Walked in
After 1935, and up to the time of his death, Gershwin worked exclusively for motion pictures. His first film, during this period, was a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, Shall We Dance?, described by The New York Times as “One of the best things the screen’s premiere dance team has done, a zestful, prancing, sophisticated musical.” Gershwin’s score was a gold mine, and two of the treasures were the deft and suave “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “They All Laughed.”
One chore completed, Gershwin went to work for another screen musical. The star once again was Fred Astaire, but this time he was paired with a new dancing partner, Joan Fontaine. This film, A Damsel in Distress, would not have been “half so good without the splendid Gershwin melodies,” reported Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune. The best of these melodies were “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”
Gershwin’s last score was for the Goldwyn Follies, for which he did not live to complete. He was able to write only five numbers for that production, and for some of those Vernon Duke had to provided the verses. Since two of these Gershwin songs are among his most beautiful—“Love Is Here to Stay” and “Love Walked in”—it is apparent that even in his last troublesome months there was no creative disintegration, and that when he died so prematurely he was still at the height of his melodic powers.
For You, for Me, for Evermore
Manuscripts left behind by Gershwin were explored for possibilities, and in 1947 a new motion picture, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim with Betty Grable, offered a “new” and posthumous score, with lyrics, by the irreplaceable Ira. Several of the songs became popular, the most lasting of them being “For You, for Me, for Evermore.”