School of Music Theatre & Dance to open Gershwin Initiative through new partnership

By Max Radwin, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published September 20, 2013

“Love is Here to Stay” — and so is the rest of George and Ira Gershwin’s musical legacy.

The University now has access to the papers, compositional drafts and original scores of famous Broadway and Hollywood musical composers George and Ira Gershwin, thanks to a new partnership between their estates and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Access to those materials will assist future musicians — student and faculty alike — trying to work with the scores of George Gershwin and the accompanying lyrics of his brother, Ira.

“For the first time, musicians are going to get the musical scores in a performable way that reflects, as close as we can understand, the vision of the composer and the lyricist,” said Mark Clague, associate professor of musicology and the director of research at MT&D. “Today, if you wanted to do that with current materials, you’d have to spend hours and hours marking the scores, cleaning it up, wasting rehearsal time.”

The Gershwin Initiative — which will result in new courses, scholarly symposia and future student performances of the brothers’ music — will create the first-ever critical edition of their entire collection of work.

“We have critical editions of the works of Shakespeare and we have the music of Beethoven,” said Clague. “But this will be the first time ever the music of George and Ira Gershwin is given this kind of rigorous scholarly treatment that all the great music of the European tradition has gotten. It’s American culture on a new platform.”

The critical edition will be made up of around seven series and between 35 and 45 volumes. Students and faculty will have access to the Gershwins’ compositions, with commentary and detailed analysis of scores and numbers.

“To really understand what George wanted,” Clague said, “you have to go back to those little scraps of paper that he wrote on when he was putting something together.”

George Gershwin, who was a notoriously fast if not erratic composer, died at age 38, before he could make a lot of those edits to his own works. In many cases, other musical styles like jazz, which Gershwin never experienced firsthand, were posthumously injected into his music.

Yet, on the whole, changes to the Gershwins’ drafts and scores will be marginal, Clague said. “It’s not like we’re going to discover a piece most likely, though of course I hope to … There’s a couple missing measures, and there’s a couple measures that George actually tried to cut out of the piece that someone else put back in.”

Clague also said there will be an electronic mirror of the Gershwin collection installed in Ann Arbor’s Library of Congress.

Last Sunday SMTD put together a panel, moderated by Clague, for those excited about the Gershwin Initiative announcement. A concert featuring Broadway star Audra McDonald, hosted by the University Musical Society, continued the celebration following the panel.

Concerning the potential the acquisition brings to music scholarship within the University, Clague said, “There’s going to be a fresh excitement around this music in the concert hall and on stage that audiences are really going to respond to.”