Oscar Levant Plays Gershwin’s Concerto in F, 3rd Movement, Conducted by Oscar Levant, with The Oscar Levant Orchestra

Oscar Levant

From An American in Paris, 1951. I wonder if he’s shouty, scary on the podium.

Advertisements

Die Trapp-Familie (1956) and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958), with Music by Franz Grothe

Die Trapp Familie in Amerika (1958)

Ein Weihnachtsgeschenk für alle (A Christmas gift for all): Die Trapp-Familie (1956) and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958) in their entirety.

Die Trapp-Familie looks familiar to American audiences, as 20th Century Fox’s The Sound of Music shamelessly ripped off its costume and set design, its color palette, and many of its scene compositions. But what the American movie lacked was the Viennese charm and humor of the original, as well as its two immensely glamorous stars, German-born Ruth Leuwerik (1924-2016) and Austrian-born Hans Holt (1909-2001).

Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika, however, although filmed in location in the States, is wonderfully unfamiliar and well deserves a viewing: New York’s Lower East Side and the rich melting pot of immigrant life, as idealized by post-war European filmmakers. The struggle of the von Trapps as penniless political refugees isn’t ignored, but for the most part their story is told light-heartedly.

Pay attention, as well, to the music, especially in Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika. Grothe, a popular composer in Germany (he remained in Germany throughout the war, a reluctant Party member) composed a creditable Gershwin-like score for this sequel, particularly in the underscoring of a quiet scene between Georg and Maria gazing out at the Brooklyn Bridge while worrying about their family’s future (21:22). In German and English.

Second Rhapsody by George Gershwin: Wayne Marshall, Piano; John Mauceri, Conductor, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

Premiered at Symphony Hall, Boston, on 29 January 1932, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Serge Koussevitzky, Conductor and George Gershwin, Piano.

Gershwin Second Rhapsody
George Gershwin
NBC-Radio Studios (with pickup orchestra?)

In November 1930, George and Ira Gershwin arrived in Hollywood to write the score for their first movie, Delicious. Besides the songs, George was asked to compose an instrumental piece to underscore a sequence where the film’s immigrant heroine wanders through a somewhat menacing Manhattan. In the end, only six minutes of what was originally entitled “Rhapsody In Rivets” was used but George, never wanting good work to go to waste, believed that his score deserved an additional life as his next work for the concert hall. Upon his return to New York, while also working on the score for Of Thee I Sing (which was to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932) he completed the Second Rhapsody and prepared it for its Boston debut under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky (Leonard Bernstein’s mentor).

Gershwin Second Rhapsody
Wayne Marshall
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

Wayne Marshall Conductor

Pictured above is Lancashire-born conductor/organist/pianist Wayne Marshall, 57—with credits as Chief Conductor of WDR Funkhausorchester; Organist and Associate Artist of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; and as an acclaimed interpreter of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

Gershwin Second Rhapsody
Michael Tilson Thomas
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra

The form most commonly heard today is a re-orchestrated version created fourteen years after Gershwin’s death. Since this version is the only one offered by the publisher, it has been almost impossible for orchestras to perform the piece as Gershwin envisioned it. However, the 1931 recording (above) of a run-through of the music, with Gershwin playing the solos and conducting the orchestra, gives some idea of the original version. Michael Tilson Thomas has been a promulgator of Gershwin’s original 1931 version. He sought out the original manuscript in the library as the basis of his 1985 recording and for his later performances.

Gershwin Second Rhapsody
Ian Buckle
The John Wilson Orchestra

My bonny John Wilson‘s latest CD release, The Best of The John Wilson Orchestra, recycles some of the song hits from his BBC Proms shows—but it also includes his never-heard-before version of Gershwin’s Second (here called “New York”) Rhapsody. A bit heavy-handed.

Porgy and Bess at the English National Opera, Conducted by John Wilson, Fall 2018

In a podcast interview for the English National Opera, this is what my bonny had to say:

“There are very few pieces I can say I’ve been waiting all my life to conduct, and this is one of them. In my, kind of, college years or whenever that was, I got the Simon Rattle LP and I kind of wore out the groove of those records and had to buy ‘em on CD…”

Of course it’s known for the hit tunes that have been extracted from it, but it’s much more than that… And I would even say that the most interesting music in the opera is the ariosos, the small pieces which link everything together and the incidental music… It’s really very ambitious… It’s George Gershwin at his most inventive, and as Gershwin was arguably the greatest tunesmith of the twentieth century, you’re looking at melodic material from the very very top drawer…”

ENO Porgy and Bess

Tunesmith—sheesh. And I miss the goat. Without the goat, there is no Porgy and Bess (2:31:25).

Two “Summertimes” from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, One Conducted by John Wilson, 2018

…The other conducted by John Mauceri in 2006 with the Nashville Symphony & Chorus, in a production based (in part) on the original score markings of composer George Gershwin:

For those who are familiar with the score, the very opening will seem slower. It is clear from Gershwin’s metronome markings and from the articulations in the orchestral parts that he intended the opening to be moderately fast (marked ‘Risoluto e Ben Marcato’ in the composer’s hand), exposing its inner syncopation and then accelerating. ‘Summertime’ is faster than we are accustomed. It is not a sad song, after all, and ‘A Woman is a Sometime Thing’ is slower. In fact, these two ‘lullabies’ by the mother and the father of their nameless child, are at the same metronome marking. In other words, Gershwin wanted to link the daddy and the mommy to each other by the speed of their music, even if their words and styles are quite (humorously) different.” On Porgy & Bess ©John Mauceri

John Wilson Conducts Porgy and Bess

Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review of the English National Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess described my bonny as the “excellent John Wilson, who led a performance that had sweep, shape and vitality, as well as rarer qualities: precision and restraint”. Here’s our John from this past summer rehearsing “Summertime“. Performances of ENO’s Porgy and Bess run to 17 November.

“Changing My Tune” from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim by George & Ira Gershwin, Sung by Betty Grable

Castles were crumbling
And daydreams were tumbling
December was battling with June
But on this bright afternoon
Guess I’ll be changing my tune

We can thank composer/arranger Kay Swift, George Gershwin’s secret lover, for making sure this song found its perfect setting in this 1947 20th Century Fox musical after his untimely death ten years earlier.

betty-grable.jpeg

John, if you were going to choose one song from the film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim for your Gershwin in Hollywood album, what made you choose that boring Dick Haymes-led duet “For You, for Me, for Evermore” rather than the much more melodic and clever “Changing My Tune”?