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Composed: 1935

About this Piece

George Gershwin got his start at age 15 as a “song-plugger,” demonstrating popular tunes on the piano for Tin Pan Alley publishers. Soon he began composing his own songs and piano pieces; by the time he was 20, he had written his first Broadway show. At the time of his untimely death at age 39, he was almost certainly the best-known American composer of the day. Said an admiring Arnold Schoenberg: “I grieve over the deplorable loss to music, for there is no doubt that he was a great composer.” 

As successful as he was, Gershwin had doubts about his abilities. His opera Porgy and Bess, for example, caused him no end of emotional trials and tribulations. It took him over a decade to complete, and not just because he was busy: he also wanted it to be his magnum opus, the one work for which he would be remembered. Although, it was not a success in his lifetime, it now ranks among his greatest works. Of the tunes from that opera, none is more universally known, sung, recorded, and performed than “Summertime”—a masterful standard that opens the opera with more than a touch of irony, the hopeful lyrics of DuBose Heyward set to Gershwin’s mournful minor-keyed tune.

— Dave Kopplin