Home > Uncategorized > Summertime, and peggin’ genre is easy

Summertime, and peggin’ genre is easy

Tied in with the CBC Radio Two Program Tonic, a selection of three different interpretations of “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. One of them, of course, features an opera singer (in this case, Leontyne Price). The other two are by musicians typically associated with other genres: Ella Fitzgerald and Janis Joplin, respectively representing jazz and rock/blues… generalities that I proffer with some hesitation.

It may seem a bit odd initially to consider that musicians from diverse genres would perform a piece from an opera. But then, “Summertime” is so ubiquitous that it can practically stand on its own. With the song’s origins in African American musical styles, it makes sense that jazz, rock, and blues musicians (or at least those typically labeled as such) would perform the song, as well as opera singers.

Much else informs the overall style of Porgy and Bess. For more details about Gershwin’s eclectic musical development, Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise provides a rich overview within the span of six pages (143-150). Interestingly, the preface of Ross’ book describes a 1928 meeting between Gershwin and Second Viennese School composer Alban Berg. Upon hearing Berg’s Lyric Suite, Gershwin worried about the worthiness of his own compositions. After hearing the American perform some of his own works on piano, the Austrian reassured him by saying, “Mr. Gershwin, music is music.” In a way, Gershwin repaid Berg by incorporating some of his musical ideas (most especially from his 1925 opera Wozzeck) into Porgy and Bess, which premiered the same year Berg passed on. Gershwin followed a few years later.

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