The 21-year-old George Gershwin composed the Lullaby for String Quartet in 1919 as a harmony exercise for his teacher, Edward Kilenyi. The effortless melody was so remarkable that it circulated among Gershwin’s friends and was performed frequently at gatherings. Gershwin later reused the melody in his 1922 one-act “jazz opera,” Blue Monday, for the aria, “Has one of you seen my Joe?”
Lullaby begins with the ethereal tones of the first violin’s harmonics. The violin introduces a gentle, rocking rhythm which is picked up by the cello. A tender, velvety blanket of sound emerges from the muted stings. Dreamy and plaintive, Gershwin’s Lullaby is filled with echoes of the blues and the impressionistic harmonies of Claude Debussy.
This performance features Leonard Slatkin and the string section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: