The Gershwin songs that inspired FinnissyPosted: September 12, 2016
Those who have seen my last blog post will know that on Tuesday, September 27th 2016, beginning at 18:00, at the Performance Space, College Building, City University, I will be playing all of Michael Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin, as well as his Piano Concertos 4 and 6. The twenty-three pieces in question (plus a few early versions) are all derived from different Gershwin songs, generally from the musical comedies and revues for which he wrote some or all of the music, and also for various films.
Whilst Gershwin’s original melodies (and some derivative of other aspects of the harmony, figuration, vocal styles of particular performers) are clearly present and generally recognisable (certainly in comparison to the much more oblique Verdi Transcriptions), albeit heavily mediated, nonetheless not all of the originals are amongst Gershwin’s most famous songs, and some are relatively, though undeservedly obscure. Finnissy avoided setting any of the songs which Gershwin had himself transcribed for piano, or which had been transcribed by Percy Grainger. Here are the two sets of arrangements with the origins of each song:
MICHAEL FINNISSY, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-1988)
- How long has this been going on? (from the musical comedy Rosalie (1928))
- Things are looking up (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
- A foggy day in London town (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
- Love is here to stay (from the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938))
- They can’t take that away from me (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
- Shall we dance? (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
- They’re writing songs of love, but not for me (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
- Fidgety feet (from the musical comedy Oh, Kay! (1926))
- Embraceable you (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
- Waiting for the sun to come out (from the musical comedy The Sweetheart Shop (1920), book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, most music by Hugo Felix)
- Innocent ingénue baby (from the musical comedy Our Nell (1922))
- Blah, blah, blah (from the film Delicious (1931))
- Boy wanted (from the musical comedy A Dangerous Maid (1921))
MICHAEL FINNISSY, More Gershwin (1989-1990)
- Limehouse Nights (from the revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl (1919))
- Wait a bit, Susie (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
- I’d Rather Charleston (for 1926 London production of musical comedy Lady, be Good! (1924))
- Isn’t it Wonderful! (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
- Nobody but You (from the musical comedy La, la Lucille (1919))
- Swanee (from Demi Tasse Revue, part of Capitol Revue (1919), show produced and choreographed by Ned Wayburn)
- Dixie Rose (song from 1921)
- Someone Believes in You (from the musical comedy Sweet Little Devil (1924))
- Nashville Nightingale (from the revue Nifties of 1923, produced by Charles B. Dillingham)
There was also a further arrangement composed in 1998, called Please pay some attention to me, derived from a very little-known song, ‘Pay Some Attention to Me’ (1937) which George and Ira Gershwin had originally written for the film A Damsel in Distress, but abandoned it incomplete. Finnissy obtained the manuscript for this from the late composer Richard Rodney Bennett, and first made a version for soprano and piano duet which was performed at Steyning Music Club, then transformed this into a solo piano work in which Gershwin-derived material is alternated with a type of imaginary dodecaphonic music, as an evocation of the tennis games which Gershwin played with Schoenberg at the former’s Hollywood mansion during the last year of his life.
I thought I would post links to recordings of each of the songs in the two sets as a point of reference, in the same order. Whilst most of the Finnissy works were essentially composed as a free response to the scores (including all of the second set), a few were also inspired by particular performances, including Judy Garland’s ‘But not for me’ and some of the Fred Astaire classics. The particular choices posted here are naturally a little restricted by online availability.
Sarah Vaughan singing ‘How long has this been going on?’ in a 1957 recording with Hal Mooney and his orchestra.
‘Things are looking up’ as sung by Fred Astaire to Joan Fontaine in the sequence in A Damsel in Distress (1937).
‘A foggy day in London Town’ sung by Fred Astaire in the same film.
Kenny Baker singing ‘Love is here to stay’ in The Goldwyn Follies (1938).
Fred Astaire singing ‘They can’t take that away from me’ to Ginger Rogers, from the film Shall We Dance (1937).
More Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the title track ‘Shall We Dance?’ from the film.
The timeless performance by Judy Garland of ‘But not for me’, from Girl Crazy (1943).
‘Fidgety Feet’ as played by the Savoy Ophreans, recorded in 1927.
Billie Holiday singing ‘Embraceable You’, recorded in 1944.
Lambert Murphy singing ‘Waiting for the sun to come out’ (1920 recording) (click on the above to go to the site to play it)
A more recent performance of ‘Innocent ingenue baby’ (the only version I could find online)
The full film Delicious (1931) – ‘Blah blah blah’ is at around 1h 16’50”.
And Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Boy Wanted’.
Gershwin’s own piano-roll of ‘Limehouse Nights’, made in 1920.
‘Wait a bit, Susie’, played by the Savoy Havana Band in 1924.
Fred and Adele Astaire singing ‘I’d rather Charleston’, with Gershwin at the piano, recorded in London in 1926.
Steven Blier and Judy Kaye singing ‘Isn’t It Wonderful?’ (requires log-in to Spotify).
Gershwin’s 1919 piano roll of ‘Nobody but you’.
Al Jolson’s 1920 recording of ‘Swanee’.
Rick Rogers sings ‘Dixie Rose’.
I was unable to find a linkable performance of ‘Someone believes in you’, but the track can be bought as an MP3 here as part of the first recording of Sweet Little Devil.
‘Nashville Nightingale’, recorded in 1927 by the Piccadilly Revels Dance Band.
And Lena Jansson singing ‘Pay some attention to me’ (needs Spotify log-in).