Porgy & Bess, Louis & Ella

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Arts & Culture, Music, Stream of Consciousness Archive

Photo by Mano Solo

This week began with John leaving early on Sunday and me stumbling on a great Live from Lincoln Center program on KMHD hosted by the always-informative Wynton Marsalis. The show’s theme? George Gershwin. A very very very interesting fellow.

I listened to the opera, Porgy and Bess, over two days this week and now, in celebration of the return of summer, I’m listening to the fabulous Ella Fitzgerald and the inimitable Louis Armstrong do P&B highlights. Now is that a great cultural Friday night or what? Wikipedia yields up arcane facts. Did you know (I did not) that George was born Jacob Gerhsowitz? Another high school dropout, following his artistic passion in an earlier era when that wasn’t economic suicide, I guess…I share a birthdate with George’s brother, Ira — he was born 99 years before me. Does that explain my adoration for their music? Here is what the Wiki has to say about George, Porgy, and Bess:

“His most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess (1935). Called by Gershwin himself a “folk opera,” the piece premièred in a Broadway theater and is now widely regarded as the most important American opera of the twentieth century. Based on the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, the action takes place in a black neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina, and with the exception of several minor speaking roles, all of the characters are black. The music combines elements of popular music of the day, which was strongly influenced by black music, with techniques found in opera, such as recitative and leitmotifs. It also includes a fugue and “advanced” techniques such as polytonality and even a tone row.

“Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he was smelling burned rubber. He had developed a type of cystic malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme. It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that he had collapsed on July 11, 1937, dying at the age of 38 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital following surgery for the tumor. Gershwin died intestate, and all his property passed to his mother. He is buried in the West Chester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.[17] The Gershwin estate continues to bring in significant royalties from licensing the copyrights on Gershwin’s work. The estate supported the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act because its 1923 cutoff date was shortly before Gershwin had begun to create his most popular works. The copyrights on those works were expired at the end of 2007 in the European Union and will expire between 2019 and 2027 in the United States of America. According to Fred Astaire’s letters to Adele Astaire, Gershwin whispered Astaire’s name before passing away.”

There’s a novel in that revelation, methinks.

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