U-M to become epicenter of research on music of George & Ira Gershwin

September 14, 2013
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance 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.


The agreement allows the school 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,” U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said. “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 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 U-M 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 theater—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 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 pre-eminent 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. (U-M Regent Emeritus, AB ’55, JD ’58, LLD Hon ’90); musicologists and historians Richard Crawford (BM ’58, MM ’59, PhD 65), 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 (MM ’68, ScD Hon ’87).

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,” Clague said. “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, the U-M SMTD founded the American Music Institute 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,” 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 theater 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.music.umich.edu/ami/gershwin.