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About this Piece

Gershwin got his start at age 15 as a “song-plugger,” demonstrating popular tunes on piano for Tin Pan Alley publishers. Soon, he began composing his own songs and piano pieces; by the time he was 20, he had written his first Broadway show. At the time of his untimely death at age 38, he was almost certainly the best-known American composer of the day. Said an admiring Arnold Schoenberg: “I grieve over the deplorable loss to music, for there is no doubt that he was a great composer.”

As successful as he was, Gershwin had doubts about his abilities. His opera Porgy and Bess, for example, caused him no end of emotional trials and tribulations. It took him over a decade to complete, and not just because he was busy: He also wanted it to be his magnum opus, the one work for which he would be remembered. Ironically, it was not a success in his lifetime, though it now ranks among his greatest works. Of the tunes from that opera, none is more universally known, sung, recorded, and performed than “Summertime”—a masterful standard that opens the opera with more than a touch of irony, the hopeful lyrics of DuBose Heyward set to Gershwin’s mournful minor-keyed tune.

“Summertime” was only one of the hundreds of Gershwin tunes that joined the popular repertory; a selection of them will be performed tonight. Other famous tunes include “A Foggy Day,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (all four with lyrics by brother Ira Gershwin), and “Swanee” (lyrics by Irving Caesar), to mention only a few. —Excerpted from a note by Dave Kopplin