Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”: From Jazzy Scherzo to Ballad

Among the timeless and unforgettable melodies of George Gershwin is Someone to Watch Over Me. The song was composed in 1926 for the musical, Oh, Kay!, where it was performed by Gertrude Lawrence, who sang it as a lonely, impassioned soliloquy to a rag doll. Although the lyrics were written primarily by Ira Gershwin, Howard Dietz assisted while the former was hospitalized for six weeks as a result of a ruptured appendix. …

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André Watts Plays Gershwin: “The Man I Love,” “That Certain Feeling”

On a Sunday afternoon recital at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in 1976, the late André Watts placed the piano music of Gershwin and Schubert side by side. A reviewer at the time noted that it was the habit of both composers, when at parties, to take a seat at the piano and dazzle attendees with their most recent music. The music of George Gershwin remained a staple of Watts’ repertoire. An …

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Gershwin’s Lullaby: A Tender and Enduring Harmony Exercise

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 …

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Adventures in Fourths: Music of Debussy, Bartók, and Gershwin

The Greek name for the interval of the perfect fourth was diatessaron. Translating as “across four,” it is a word which brings to mind Pythagorean harmonic ratios. Wide open sonorities that suggest neither major nor minor, perfect fourths and fifths became prevalent in the early medieval polyphony of composers such as Léonin and Pérotin. In the piano pieces below, we hear twentieth century composers exploiting the perfect fourth for purely expressive reasons. Here are three …

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Gershwin on Piano Roll: “Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling”

George Gershwin’s delirious foxtrot, Sweet and Lowdown, was written for the 1925 musical, Tip-Toes. With lyrics by Ira Gershwin, the farcical comedy centers around a three-member vaudeville act which, through duplicity, attempts to snare a wealthy millionaire. The melody exemplifies the high-flying euphoria of the Roaring Twenties, with jazz and blues harmonies and exuberant, tumbling rhythms. George Gershwin’s 1926 performance is preserved on piano roll: The song, That Certain Feeling, was also written for Tip-Toes. It’s …

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Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Art Tatum in 1949

Holding hands at midnight ‘Neath a starry sky Nice work if you can get it And you can get it if you try Ira Gershwin’s famous lyric is not about work in the occupational sense. The song’s verse rejects “the man who only lives for making money” and who “works for fame.” Instead, it is the more spiritually informed work of building a loving relationship. The song’s narrator seems to have all of …

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“I Got Rhythm”: Gershwin in 1931

Even in the midst of the Great Depression, George Gershwin’s 1931 piano performance of I Got Rhythm swings with youthful vitality and optimism. The melody, tossed off with sparkling virtuosity, displays an elegance comparable to the composer’s sleek, finely tailored suit. Gershwin remains eternally young in our collective imagination. Tragically, six years after the recording of this clip, he would succumb to brain cancer at the age of 38. Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm for …

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