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George and Ira Gershwin
Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about the song that George Gershwin was working on at the time of his unfortunate and early death. I mentioned the bittersweetness of the lyrics which his brother, Ira, wrote for that song, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Broken-hearted after his brother’s death, Ira finished his love song lyric in a way which also made for an understated farewell to his deceased brother. George Gershwin’s public were then — and are now — deeply moved by the excellence of the composer’s music and by its being in many ways a living emblem of the American dream. The Gershwins were like so many of our best songwriters of the first half of the 20th century, first-generation Americans, born to immigrant parents who came from abroad hoping to build a better life for themselves and their children. And it doesn’t get any better than to have your son grow up to be counted among the greatest American composers of the century. Gershwin is gone, but his music surely is here to stay.
I originally planned to devote my first discussion of George Gershwin to one of his masterworks in the jazz-influenced classical vein, either Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris. Both of these were performed at Carnegie Hall early in the composer’s career, when he was still a young man and was devoting his talents to writing for Broadway in musical theater. But when Tony decided on “summer” as the Word of the Week shortly after we launched Word & Song last year I couldn’t resist doing Gershwin’s lovely and wistful, “Summertime,” from his opera, “Porgy and Bess.” That song soon became a jazz standard, and rightly so.
And here I am now, for a third time, bringing you “a Gershwin tune” instead of one of the composer’s major works. But then, I find it impossible to think of any Gershwin song as a “mere” tune or a minor piece, when every note he composed was golden. What breadth and variety George Gershwin gave us in the musical output of his brief 39 years.
But I can at least mention An American in Paris today, because our song this week comes in the form of a clip from the film of the same name — a tribute to the music of George Gershwin, set to a script by Alan Jay Lerner, choreographed by Gene Kelly, and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Our song is the perfectly delightful, “ ’S Wonderful,” in a clever number by Gene Kelly, who performed it with French singer, Georges Guétary. The film won six academy awards, including the award for Best Motion Picture and earned Kelly a special Academy Award for his tremendous contribution to film art. It holds a place among the great motion pictures chosen for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
I must warn you that today’s selection requires our patented Esolen DIFFERENT UNIVERSE ALERT
Here is a love song, sung by two men — with each other but definitely not to each other — about being in love but definitely not with each other — and neither knows that the other is singing about being in love with the very same young lady that he is singing about being in love with. The look on the face of Oscar Levant as the clip begins signals the comic irony about to unfold on the silver screen. I’ll leave it to you to guess which fellow gets the girl. All that remains for me to say about this song and this production number is that ’s wonderful!
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Word & Song is an online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. We publish six essays each week, on words, classic hymn, poems, films, and popular songs, as well a weekly podcast, alternately Poetry Aloud or Anthony Esolen Speaks. To support this project, please join us as a free or paid subscriber.