"Porgy and Bess"
MUSIC: Gershwin/Robert Russell Bennett: opening of Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn [EMI CDC 7 47021 2, Track 1] [under the following]
Hello and welcome to another hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. This hour will be devoted to George Gershwin’s music for Porgy and Bess, starting with Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture, continuing with Igor Alexandrovich Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on Themes from “Porgy and Bess” for two violins and piano, and concluding with songs from the opera as played by the Barcelona Clarinet Quartet and beautifully sung by Maureen McGovern, William Warfield, and Leontyne Price.
MUSIC: fades out
Porgy and Bess originated first as a novel called Porgy by DuBose Heyward and his wife Dorothy. Next it became a play, and in 1935 it was first performed as what George Gershwin thought of as “an American folk opera." The libretto was by DuBose Heyward, and the lyrics were by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. That first performance featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers, which was a daring artistic choice at the time.
The novel, the play, and the opera all portray life in fictitious Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.
Although Porgy and Bess was not a big success during Gershwin’s short lifetime, he continued to believe in it. “I think the music is so marvelous,” he said. “I really can’t believe I wrote it.”
The work was not widely accepted in the United States as a legitimate opera until 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera production of Gershwin’s complete score was an artistic triumph. Nine years later, New York’s Metropolitan Opera gave their first performance of the work. This production was also broadcast live as part of the Met’s ongoing Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts. Porgy and Bess is now considered part of the standard operatic repertoire and is regularly performed internationally.
Nevertheless, the opera has been controversial. Some critics from the start have considered it a racist portrayal of African-Americans created by white Americans.
But many composers, singers, and musicians, as well as music-lovers -- white and black -- have been attracted to Gershwin’s gorgeous melodies. Perhaps the most famous orchestral use of these tunes is the arrangement by Robert Russell Bennett which he called Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. On this EMI compact disc from 1981, it is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn.
MUSIC: Gershwin/Robert Russell Bennett: opening of Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn [EMI CDC 7 47021 2, Track 1] [17:15]
George Gershwin’s music to his opera Porgy and Bess as arranged in a symphonic picture by Robert Russell Bennett.
Next on this Compact Discoveries hour devoted to Porgy and Bess, we turn to a contemporary Russian Composer named Igor Alexandrovich Frolov, who was born in Moscow in 1937 into a very musical family. His father was a violin teacher and conductor who also held first chair in the violin section of the State Radio Symphony Orchestra. His mother was an accompanist at the Moscow Conservatory. Igor Frolov himself entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1955, where he completed his musical education in the class of David Oistrakh ten years later.
Frolov has won a number of violin competitions and performed widely in Western and Eastern Europe, always returning to Moscow and his work as a professor at the Conservatory.
Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s "Porgy and Bess" for violin and piano dates from 1991. In this 2008 compact disc from Naxos it is performed by violinists Nicolas Koeckert and Rudolf Joachim Koeckert with pianist Kristina Miller.
MUSIC: Gershwin/Frolov: Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Op. 19 performed by violinists Nicolas Koeckert and Rudolf Joachim Koeckert with pianist Kristina Miller [Naxos 8.570583, Track 14] [14:12]
Igor Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s "Porgy and Bess." Violinists Nicolas Koeckert and Rudolf Joachim Koeckert were accompanied by pianist Kristina Miller.
You are listening to an hour of Porgy and Bess music on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.
[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing]
The song Summertime is the best-known selection from Porgy and Bess. Let’s listen to it now in this interpretation by Maureen McGovern from her 1988 CBS compact disc called “Naughty Baby.” From the same album, we’ll also listen to My Man’s Gone Now.
MUSIC: Gershwin: Summertime, sung by Maureen McGovern. [CBS MK 44995, Track 17] [2:51]
MUSIC: Gershwin: My Man’s Gone Now, sung by Maureen McGovern. [CBS MK 44995, Track 13] [2:02]
My Man’s Gone Now, preceded by Summertime, both sung by Maureen McGovern. Both songs are from George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, which we’re featuring on this hour of Compact Discoveries.
Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, the drug dealer.
Another of the opera’s most famous songs, It Ain’t Necessarily So, has undergone musical transformations for just about any combination of musical instruments you can imagine. Here it is first as played by the Clarinet Quartet of Barcelona, then as sung by John Bubbles from “Great Scenes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” on a High Performance/BMG CD.
MUSIC: Gershwin: It Ain’t Necessarily So, played by the Clarinet Quartet of Barcelona. [ARS Harmonica AH 034, Track 11] [3:13]
MUSIC: Gershwin: It Ain’t Necessarily So, sung by John Bubbles. [BMG 09026-63312-2, Track 7] [2:56]
George and Ira Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So from Porgy and Bess, first in an arrangement as performed by the Barcelona Clarinet Quartet, then as sung by John Bubbles from “Great Scenes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” on the High Performance/BMG Classics label.
I’m devoting this hour of Compact Discoveries to Porgy and Bess and, in fact, I’ll spend the rest of it with this same CD. We’ll listen to William Warfield and Leontyne Price singing I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin, Bess You Is My Woman Now, and I Loves You, Porgy. The RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus is conducted by Skitch Henderson.
MUSIC: Gershwin: I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’, sung by William Warfield. [BMG 09026-63312-2, Track 5] [2:52]
MUSIC: Gershwin: Bess, You is My Woman, sung by William Warfield and Leontyne Price. [BMG 09026-63312-2, Track 6] [5:04]
MUSIC: Gershwin: I Loves You, Porgy, sung by Leontyne Price and William Warfield. [BMG 09026-63312-2, Track 9] [2:22]
Three songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. William Warfield and Leontyne Price were the soloists in I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin, Bess You Is My Woman Now, and I Loves You, Porgy.
You have been listening to Porgy and Bess on Compact Discoveries.
If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 207. And I’m Fred Flaxman, thanking you for listening!
ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry.” And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.
Total Program Timing: 59:00