Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2015 by Fred Flaxman


Program 242
"Kern Without Words"

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, performed by Paul Weston and His  Orchestra [Sony AK 47861,Track 1]  [under the following]

Hello and welcome to “Kern Without Words” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m Fred Flaxman.

The 20th Century American composers Jerome Kern and George Gershwin had a great deal in common. They were both contemporaries, Kern being born in 1885; Gershwin in 1898. Of course Kern lived a great deal longer than Gershwin. Almost everyone did. Gershwin died in 1937 at the age of only 38. Kern died in 1945 at the age of 60. They both lived in New York at the same time. They both wrote Broadway musicals. They were both Jewish. They both started out as piano players for Tin Pan Alley’s music publishers. They both tried Hollywood. They were both highly successful.

MUSIC:
Fades out

But Gershwin was very interested in writing longer-form works like Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, Concerto in F, and his opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin  learned how to orchestrate his own music and was as successful in the concert hall as he was in the Broadway theater. Kern never learned to orchestrate, so his music was all orchestrated by others.

He didn’t show much interest in writing music for the concert hall,  but he did oversee the arrangement by Charles Miller and Emil Gerstenberger of music from his greatest musical hit, Show Boat. It was called Scenario for Orchestra: Themes from Show Boat, and it premiered in 1941 by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodziński. There was a recording made and you can hear it on YouTube. I searched for a modern CD of this piece for this program, but, unfortunately, couldn’t find any. What I heard on YouTube was very well worth a new state-of-the-art recording, and I hope someone will make it.

In any case, a year later, in 1942, Kern premiered his only other symphonic work — a 10-minute piece which was not based on any of his songs. It was called Mark Twain: A Portrait for Orchestra, and there is a modern CD of that work performed by the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel.

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: Mark Twain: A Portrait for Orchestra, performed by The Cincinatti Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel [The Gift of Music CCL CDG1138, Track 13] [9:56]

Jerome Kern’s Mark Twain: A Portrait for Orchestra. The Cincinatti Pops Orchestra was conducted by Erich Kunzel.  That was from a Gift of Music compact disc from 2005 called “Beautiful Dreamer: Music of America’s Gilded Age.”

Since Kern considered himself a song-writer, not a symphonist, his Mark Twain: A Portrait for Orchestra is the one and only example of a purely symphonic work from him, not based on any of his songs, almost all of which were written for Broadway and Hollywood musicals. And, as I said earlier, he did not orchestrate anything that he wrote. Nor did he write any of the lyrics. But he sure wrote lots of beautiful tunes!

So the first place to look for “Kern Without Words” is logically enough, the overtures to his huge output of musical shows. He wrote more than a hundred of them! But only one is well-known today, with periodic revivals and widespread amateur productions: Show Boat.

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: Overture to "Show Boat," from the 1966 production of the Music Theater of Lincoln Center, orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett [RCA Victor / BMG Classics 09026-61182-2, Track 1]  [4:46]

The overture to Show Boat by Jerome Kern from the 1966 production of the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. It was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett.

You are listening to an hour devoted to “Kern Without Words” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

As I mentioned earlier, Jerome Kern, unlike Gershwin, wasn’t interested in writing for concert performance and he only knew how to write for the piano. But I’d like to imagine for the rest of this hour that this was not the case. What might a piece for piano and two violins sound like, for example, if it were written by Kern? Perhaps it would sound like this…

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern / Igor Alexandrovich Frolov: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes / Dym, performed by violinists Nicolas Koeckert and Rudolf Joachim Koeckert and pianist Kristina Miller-Koeckert [Naxos 8.570583, Track 5]  [6:29]

Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, with a little help from the contemporary Russian composer, Igor Alexandrovich Frolov. Frolov calls his arrangement Dym.  The violinists were Nicolas Koeckert and Rudolf Joachim Koeckert. The pianist was Kristina Miller-Koeckert. This was from a Naxos compact disc.

Frolov took the first eight bars of the Kern theme, developed it, and composed a middle section and piano accompaniment. He had the lyrical solo violin episodes alternate with the passionate violin duet. I especially like the way the work concludes, disappearing into nothingness, like a puff of smoke that vanishes into the air.

If Jerome Kern had written a five-movement string quartet based on some of his best songs, maybe it would have sounded something like this…

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: All the Things You Are, The Way You Look Tonight, Bill, The Song is You, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, performed by the Alexander String Quartet [Foghorn Classics CD2008, Track 8]  [3:59]

Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, The Way You Look Tonight, Bill, The Song is You, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, performed by the Alexander String Quartet. This was from a Foghorn Classics compact disc released in 2012.

You are listening to “Kern Without Words” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

I wish Kern had written a piano concerto, but the fact is: he did not.  I wonder what it would have sounded like? Perhaps the first two movements would have sounded  something like this?

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, arranged and conducted by Paul Weston [Sony Music Special Products AK 47861, Track 1]  [2:55]

MUSIC:
Jerome Kern: All the Things You Are, arranged and conducted by Paul Weston [Sony Music Special Products AK 47861, Track 8]  [3:25]

Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are preceded by Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, both arranged and conducted by Paul Weston. This was originally released on CBS Records as an LP, then reissued many years later as a compact disc by Sony Music Special Products.

And that concludes this hour devoted to “Kern Without Words.” If you missed part of the program or would like to hear it again, you can stream it on demand at compactdiscoveries.com. This is program number 242. And this is your guide to Compact Discoveries, Fred Flaxman, thanking you for listening.

MUSIC: short excerpt from Jerome Kern: All the Things You Are, performed by the Alexander String Quartet [Foghorn Classics CD2008, Track 8]

ANNOUNCER
(Tana Flaxman): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, Art and Eva Stevens, and ArkivMusic dot com, the online store for classical music CDs, DVDs, downloads, and over 10,000 on-demand reissued titles. That’s A-r-k-i-v Music dot com.

Program Ends at 58:00