The School of Music, Theatre & Dance (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 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 collection 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 U-M George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition comprises an ongoing scholarly examination of the Gershwins’ music, in which university 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 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. 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.”
“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 SMTD. “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.”
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.
“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 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 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 SMTD, 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.
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.music.umich.edu/ami/gershwin.
Jeff Harrold, academic standards adviser, LSA, on his professional and personal work: “I like seeing folks succeed over difficulties, whether educational or in life.”
Music in the Arb concert with chamber ensemble Arborata, 6-7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, Nichols Arboretum amphitheater.