University of Michigan to become epicenter of research on music of George & Ira Gershwin
- Partnership with Gershwin families seeks to permanently establish a Gershwin legacy
- U-M granted scholarly rights to the Gershwins’ music, complete access to archives
- First critical edition and definitive scores to be created for all Gershwin works
- Initiative elevates study, international reputation of American music and brings new educational opportunities to Michigan students
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - September 15, 2013 - The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (U-M SMTD) has entered a new partnership with the estates of George and Ira Gershwin to provide U-M music scholars complete access to all of the Gershwins’ papers, compositional drafts and original scores to create the first-ever critical edition of their works. Additionally, the agreement allows U-M SMTD to create new, definitive scores and parts for Gershwin compositions, the first time such a sustained, scholarly effort will be made to establish authoritative performance material that accurately reflects the composer’s and lyricist’s intent. The edition in turn will catalyze a broad educational effort on campus, known as the Gershwin Initiative, which will include student performances of the Gershwins’ music, new courses and scholarly symposia of national reach and impact.
The University of Michigan George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition comprises an ongoing scholarly examination of the Gershwins’ music, in which U-M scholars will document and analyze, note-by-note and word-by-word, the treasure trove of works featuring music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin—including Porgy and Bess, often considered America’s greatest opera—as well as the celebrated instrumental works by George Gershwin. The complete critical edition will consist of at least seven series and a total number of between 35 and 45 volumes, to be made available in book and electronic forms through European American Music and Schott International music publishers. Each volume will contain an introductory essay concentrating on the genesis of the composition and performance traditions, as well as critical commentary that explains editorial decisions and allows artists to engage more authoritatively with the music as interpreters.
“The U-M Gershwin Initiative exemplifies how the arts thrive within a great research institution,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “With this project, the University of Michigan celebrates and protects the brilliant contributions of two of America’s most legendary artists, while elevating arts scholarship and performance opportunities for faculty and students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.”
The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition will give conductors, musicians, performers, scholars and audiences greater insight into the Gershwins’ original manuscripts and, in many cases, offer the first performance materials to accurately reflect the creators’ vision. In addition to Porgy and Bess, famous works to be included in the scholarly review include George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, Concerto in F and Cuban Overture, along with the scores that the brothers wrote together for more than two dozen Broadway and Hollywood musicals, resulting in some of the most recognizable and beloved songs in American music history. Among the dozens of immensely popular songs they crafted together were “I Got Rhythm,” “’S Wonderful,” “Embraceable You,” “Funny Face,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Love is Here to Stay,” to name just a few.
“We are profoundly grateful for this generous gift from the Gershwin estates. It allows us to conduct rigorous scholarship that will offer the world a greater appreciation of George and Ira Gershwin’s genius, and open the gates for a deeper look at their legacy,” said Christopher Kendall, dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “Our school is ideally suited to this project: It is a center of internationally recognized American musicology and theoretical studies, and an arbiter of excellence in the fields of classical music performance, jazz, opera, dance and musical theatre—all of which figure strongly in the Gershwins’ music.”
Preserving a Legacy
The Gershwins’ works have never received the benefit of scholarly editing, partially due to George Gershwin’s premature and tragic death from a brain tumor at age 38. While readily accessible in print and recordings, the scores and parts to many Gershwin works circulate in substandard editions—often hard-to-read photocopies of handwritten scores—that contain notational errors and confusing inconsistencies. Even such notable scores as Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue are known only in problematic editions that diminish performances by wasting rehearsal time, at best, and, at worst, causing performance errors.
“Preserving the legacy and sharing the genius of both George and Ira Gershwin is a primary goal of creating a critical edition of his work,” said Marc George Gershwin, nephew of George and Ira Gershwin and majority member of the Marc George Gershwin LLC and trustee of the Arthur Gershwin Testamentary Trust, which are the owners and administrators of George Gershwin copyrights. “The University of Michigan, with research and performance disciplines that parallel the Gershwins’ music, will provide an ideal home for this project. We believe this partnership will help George Gershwin take his place, for centuries to come, among the preeminent composers of the 20th century.”
“I am so thrilled that the works of George and Ira Gershwin are going to receive the scholarly attention they so richly deserve,” said Michael Strunsky, nephew of Ira Gershwin and trustee of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, which owns and manages Ira’s copyrights. “The Gershwin songbook has maintained its popularity throughout the last century and shows no signs of stopping. It is very much America’s music and we look forward to securing its future legacy through this important research.”
This substantial and historically significant partnership between the Gershwin families and U-M was initiated by Todd Gershwin, a U-M alumnus who is the grand-nephew of George and Ira Gershwin and the son of Marc George Gershwin. The project will be overseen by Mark Clague, U-M associate professor of musicology and SMTD director of research, who will serve as editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition.
This long-overdue scholarship elevates the Gershwins’ work into the pantheon of America’s greatest composers, on library shelves and music stands alongside the music of Stephen Foster and Charles Ives and such canonic European masters as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
A range of leading musicians and scholars have joined the project’s Advisory Board, including composer William Bolcom and singer Joan Morris; Broadway entrepreneur Robert Nederlander, Sr.; musicologists and historians Richard Crawford, Walter Frisch, Joseph Horowitz and Robert Kimball; conductors Laura Jackson, Andrew Litton and Michael Tilson Thomas; and vocalists Michael Feinstein, Thomas Hampson and Jessye Norman.
For U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, unique educational opportunities for students will be created by this partnership. For the critical edition, musicology doctoral students will act as production and editorial assistants, learning about the publishing process and about the Gershwins’ music. For performance majors, opportunities will arise for participation in test performances, workshops, concerts and recordings of the newly researched scores and songs. Additional educational impact will include courses, such as a graduate research seminar on the Gershwins, courses on the principles and practices of scholarly editing, classes on the Gershwins and American culture, and the appointment of a Gershwin Fellow (a visiting scholar or artist) who could contribute a volume to the Gershwin Edition, direct performances of a show and/or teach one or more courses at U-M.
A center for American music scholarship
For U-M, rare scholarship rights to the Gershwin catalog brings attention to what is widely known in academic circles, but less well-known to the broader public: The U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance has one of the longest-standing and most prominent American music research programs in the nation and the world. Established in the early 1940s, the School’s musicology department was among the first to embrace American music studies and is now one of the leading centers for American music research.
During the last six years, the U-M SMTD’s Department of Musicology oversaw the gathering, writing and editing of more than 9,000 entries on people, places, practices, genres, themes and American musical traditions. This scholarly work culminated earlier this year in the publishing of The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Second Edition, edited and coordinated by U-M musicology professors Charles Garret and Mark Clague and published by Oxford University Press. Known as AmeriGrove, the work is considered the definitive resource on the influences that have shaped American music history.
For more than a half-century, U-M has been the home of key figures in American music education and scholarship, including Raymond Kendall, who taught one of the first courses dedicated to American music; Allen Britton, a groundbreaking professor of music education and hymnody scholar; H. Wiley Hitchcock, an early advocate for the study of American music and founder of the Institute for Studies in American Music; and Richard Crawford, who is considered one of the most eminent Americanists in the field of musicology today. Crawford, now a professor emeritus of U-M, has directed expanded studies into jazz and popular music and is currently completing a major biography of George Gershwin.
“With Amerigrove, the core knowledge in the field of American music has been broadened and deepened by researchers at U-M working closely with scholars around the world,” said Clague. “The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition extends this work by exploring musical creativity at the crossroads of musical routes at which blues, jazz, popular song, the Broadway stage and, of course, the Western European tradition all intersect. We want to celebrate the magic of the Gershwins’ distinctly ‘American’ imagination and share our research with students, scholars, musicians and audiences across the globe. I am thrilled and honored to help bring the Gershwins’ genius to the next generation.”
In 1988, U-M SMTD founded the American Music Institute (AMI) to foster collaborative investigation of musical life in the U.S. Since then, the AMI has become the headquarters for Music in the United States of America, (MUSA), a collaborative venture administered by the American Musicological Society. MUSA has published 25 imprints of a 40-volume series of critical editions devoted to expanding the legacy of American music available for study and performance, including classical, jazz, Native American, musical theatre and Tin Pan Alley song. In addition to musical notation, each volume includes a substantial essay and a critical editorial apparatus.
The public can follow along as researchers delve into Gershwin materials and documents. To see a list of the Gershwins’ compositions under scholarly review, along with a range of relevant information on the composer and lyricist, status of scholarship, and promise of the findings, visit www.music.umich.edu or directly at www.umich.edu/ami/gershwin
View the Rhapsody in Maize and Blue video: goo.gl/Uot9H3
View the New York Times Article: nyti.ms/1eaRDdH
University of Michigan / Gershwin Initiative
B A C K G R O U N D
Who are George and Ira Gershwin?
George Gershwin (1898–1937) is one of the world’s most popular and successful composers of the 20th century in any genre—a status that is both compliment and curse. In his too brief but prolific career, George Gershwin composed a long list of popular songs, many written for Broadway and for Hollywood films. He worked with the early 20th century’s top lyricists, though his most brilliant collaborations were with his brother Ira Gershwin (1896–1983), with whom he enjoyed a unique and prolific partnership. Together they have long been honored as two of the leading contributors to the “Great American Songbook.”
George Gershwin created some of music history’s most cherished melodies, not only in song, but also in works for orchestra, such as the jazz-inspired Rhapsody in Blue, and in what is arguably the most significant American opera, Porgy and Bess (with lyrics co-written by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, on whose book the opera is based). Ira Gershwin is celebrated for his genius with words, crafting hundreds of lyrics that are clever, funny, moving—or all of the above. Adept at implementing new lyrical styles, playing with timing and incorporating unusual word combinations, he was the first lyricist to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (in 1932 for Of Thee I Sing).
Ira Gershwin was born as Israel Gershowitz on the Lower East Side of New York City, and George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershwine in Brooklyn, New York. Their Jewish immigrant parents, from St. Petersburg, had joined the American melting pot seeking better opportunity. George took immediately to the piano bought originally for Ira and studied piano with Charles Hambitzer. George later studied composition with Rubin Goldmark and modernist Henry Cowell. George’s skills at the keyboard were admired by African American stride pianists such as Luckey Roberts and James P. Johnson. After George began making a name for himself in the music business, he encouraged Ira to try his hand at writing lyrics. Ira wrote his first song in 1918, launching both his songwriting career and the remarkably successful partnership with his brother.
Perhaps more than any other American composer, George Gershwin integrated a range of musical genres, most notably blending classical music with jazz, blues and popular music phrasings. Influenced by his on-the-job songwriting and performing experience working in New York City’s Tin Pan Alley as a “song-plugger,” George created musical compositions distinguished by their playful and engaging melodies and seemingly spontaneous inflections. He infused popular song with enriched classical harmonies and imbued symphonic and operatic works with the improvisational energy and rhythmic vitality of jazz. His music, according to U-M SMTD musicology professor Mark Clague, reflects the power of the American cultural melting pot: A blend of sonic dialects and styles at the heart of democracy.
Because of his tragic and unexpected death due to an untreatable brain tumor, George Gershwin simply did not live long enough to give proper consideration to his musical legacy. Aaron Copland, by contrast, lived into his 90s, and his work has been published in accurate and authoritative editions. Following George’s death, Ira continued—after a three-year hiatus—to write lyrics with many talented composers. The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition and the U-M Gershwin partnership will finally give the Gershwins’ music the editorial attention their artistic stature requires.
Why is the Gershwins’ music a significant source of scholarship?
During his life and for decades after his death, George Gershwin’s reputation was limited in certain quarters by the cultural bias of the age that placed abstract classical composition ahead of commercial music. Most music critics of the day discounted Gershwin’s non-lyrical work, if only because it was easily accessible and widely popular. George also suffered because his first classical work involved a collaborator: Ferde Grofé orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue for its premiere. The songs written with Ira suffered the same stigma of popularity.
In an age characterized by the aesthetic battle between the European composers Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, which even ardent classical music audiences found dense and distant, George Gershwin’s very success led to him being labeled a “commercial artist” whose work was presumed to be based on the whims of the marketplace, disposable and hence lesser. In recent decades, however, his music, as well as the brothers’ collaboration, has been re-examined and has taken its place amongst America’s most revered cultural achievements. George’s genius for blending musical styles and his sheer inventiveness with melody and rhythm has forged an expansive legacy in American music. Ira’s lyrics delight hearts and minds to capture the rhymes and rhythms of America’s triumphs and tribulations. Today, George Gershwin’s concert pieces are part of the core repertory of major orchestras while his songs with Ira continue to pervade jazz, pop music and musical theatre, inspiring revivals as well as new works.
What is a critical edition?
The Gershwin Critical Edition will be the first-ever scholarly edition of the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin. A critical edition combines the best of historical research with the best of editorial accuracy and tradition to produce an edition that represents the author’s work in as definitive a form as possible. There are critical editions of the plays of Shakespeare, the symphonies of Beethoven and the poems of E. E. Cummings.
A critical edition differs from a standard edition or anthology mainly because the critical edition explains the choices made in its creation. Standard editions present a text but fail to explain the inevitable decisions made by editors. With essays, editorial policy statements and explanatory notes, the critical edition invites users to understand the artistry of authors more deeply.
The Gershwins’ music requires careful editing as it combines classical music, jazz, blues and popular song—artistic traditions with very different conventions of musical notation. In an art form like jazz, based on improvisation, notation in transcription is often done after the performance or the playing of the notes. A solo by Charlie Parker, for instance, would be recognized by his trademark phrases and musical gestures, but it would be the work of a transcriptionist, rather than the composer. Some of George Gershwin’s most famous works, such as the piano part to Rhapsody in Blue, were only written down after their premiere.
In the case of George Gershwin, who often composed quickly and created versions for a variety of ensembles and contexts, current published editions contain numerous errors of notes and even inconsistencies in the numbers of measures. Scholars will determine the exact notes and orchestrations. “Traditional musical scores are highly precise and prescriptive,” said Mark Clague, who will be the executive editor of the Gershwin Critical Edition. “Yet as a composer, George sometimes presents a framework that gave performers room for invention. To determine the exact notation for his work always requires detailed research as well as musically sensitive interpretation.”
Specifically, what will be included in a critical edition on the Gershwins?
Scholars will examine the Gershwins’ handwritten manuscripts, previous published editions, scores and performance parts, private notes and correspondence to document and clarify the composer’s and lyricist’s intent. The Gershwin Papers are held in the United States’ Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. thanks to Ira Gershwin and his wife, Leonore, who, in the years after George’s death, attended to the Gershwin legacy of songs, show and film scores, and concert works. Ira lovingly annotated all the materials that pertained to the careers of his brother and himself before donating them to the Library of Congress to become part of our national heritage. In 1985 the United States Congress recognized this legacy by awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to George and Ira—only the third time in our nation’s history that songwriters had been so honored.
What is the American Music Institute?
The American Music Institute (AMI) was founded in 1988 at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance “to foster collaborative investigation of musical life in the United States, drawing from resources throughout the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, across the University of Michigan campus, and throughout the nation.” A number of projects fall under the AMI aegis including Music of the United States of America (MUSA), a 40-volume series of notated scholarly editions of musical compositions representing the fullest possible range of American creativity, and the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, the foremost reference work dedicated to the music of the United States.
Mark Clague, Ph.D.
Mark Clague, Ph.D., is an associate professor of music at U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, specializing in the music of the United States of America. He holds joint appointments in American Culture, Afro-American Studies, Non-Profit Management and Entrepreneurship. From 1997 to 2003 he served as executive editor of MUSA, a critical edition series of American music also housed at the University of Michigan, and was project editor for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Second Edition as well as the encyclopedia’s subject editor for “Cities and Institutions.” His research covers the full range of musical styles and periods in U.S. history with special focus on musical institutions and patriotic music, especially “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in September 2014.
Laura Lessnau, 734-647-1851, email@example.com
Deborah Holdship, 734-647-5717, firstname.lastname@example.org