Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist

Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist

Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist

Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist

Synopsis

To the perennial question "which comes first, the music or the words?" Ira Gershwin always responded, "the contract." The jest reveals both Ira's consummate professionalism and the self-effacing wit with which he ducked the spotlight whenever possible. Yet the ingeniously inventive melodies George Gershwin composed for such classic songs as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "Love is Here to Stay" live on in no small part because of the equally unforgettable lyrics of Ira Gershwin, lines crafted with a precision that earned him the sobriquet "The Jeweller" among his Broadway peers. In Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, the older and less flamboyant of the Gershwin brothers at last steps out of the shadows to claim his due as one of American songwriting's most important and enduring innovators. Philip Furia traces the development of Ira Gershwin's lyrical art from his early love of light verse and Gilbert and Sullivan, through his apprentice work in Tin Pan Alley, to his emergence as a prominent writer for the Broadway musical theater in the 1920s. Furia illuminates his work in satirical operettas such as Of Thee I Sing and Strike Up the Band, the smart "little" revues of the 1930s, and his contributions to the opera Porgy and Bess. After describing the Gershwin brothers' brief but brilliant work in Hollywood before George's sudden death--work that produced such classics as "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"--Furia follows Ira's career through such triumphs as Lady in the Dark with Kurt Weill, Cover Girl with Jerome Kern, and A Star is Born, with Harold Arlen. Along the way, Furia provides much insight into the art of the lyricist and he captures the magic of a golden era when not only the Gershwins, but Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Gertrude Lawrence, Fred Astaire, and other luminaries made the lights of Broadway and the Hollywood screen shine brighter than ever before. From his first major success, the now-classic "The Man I Love" (1924) to his last great hit, "The Man That Got Away" (1954), Ira Gershwin wrote the words to some of America's most loved standards. In Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, Philip Furia illuminates the craft behind this remarkable achievement to reveal how Gershwin took the everyday speech of ordinary Americans and made it sing.

Excerpt

This book developed quite naturally from The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: a History of America's Great Lyricists (Oxford, 1990). in that book I surveyed the lyricists of what has been called the "golden age" of American songwriting -- Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, and many others -- concentrating on the poetic qualities of their greatest songs, the "standards" that seem as fresh today as when they were first popular. Even as I worked on that book, I realized that another approach to this great era would be to focus on a single lyricist, taking all of his songs from classic standards to the least known gems, and trace the growth of his art against the historical background of developments in the American musical theater, Hollywood musicals, and the commercial song industry then known as Tin Pan Alley.

As I considered such an approach, the lyricist who so obviously came to mind was Ira Gershwin. Unlike Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, who wrote both words and music for their songs, Ira Gershwin was exclusively devoted to the art of the lyricist. That art, as I try to show in this book, is a poetic art, but unlike poetry in that words must be intimately wedded to music. That intricate connection makes it impossible to discuss the art of the lyricist apart from that of the composer, particularly in the songs that Ira Gershwin wrote with his brother George. the Gershwin brothers not only worked but lived side by side, and, while songs usually started with George's musical ideas, it is evident that they were written in a give-and-take of accent and rhythm, phrase and cadence, syllable and note. Over the years, their collaboration grew as intertwined as the brothers' lives and produced a body of work in which words and music coalesce into a seamless artistic whole. George Gershwin has long had and continues to receive his rightful acclaim for his contribution to that work; this book, I hope, will add to the recognition that is equally his brother's due.

Although we most often associate him with George Gershwin's music, Ira Gershwin also collaborated with virtually every other great . . .

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