Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Love Is Here to Stay

 
George and Ira Gershwin

In February of 1937, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented an all-George Gershwin program, the highlight of which was to be the composer’s Piano Concerto in F with the piano solos to be played by the man himself.

At one point during rehearsals, Gershwin was at the podium and began to visibly sway. He waved it off as just a dizzy spell but the following night during the performance he simply missed several bars of the composition. The orchestra plowed through and hardly anyone in the audience noticed – that is, except close friend and fellow musician Oscar Levant. The ever sarcastic Levant went backstage after the concert and asked George if his presence in the audience made him nervous.

By April, Gershwin was experiencing severe headaches, severe personality changes, and increasing clumsiness. He could be working at the piano at nine in the morning and be completely unable to play by five in the afternoon. Physical examinations showed nothing unusual and he sought psychiatric help, especially after two psychotic episodes, the first of which happened when he was a passenger in a car and tried to shove the driver out of the moving vehicle and the second where he took a gift of chocolates and began to smear them over his body like a lotion. He had no recollection of either incident.

On July 9, Gershwin lapsed into a coma. He was finally diagnosed with a right frontal lobe brain tumor. In the primitive state of medicine in those days, the diagnosis came too late and the surgery carried out a few days later was ineffective. On July 11, George Gershwin passed away at the tender age of 38.

During the final months of his life George and his older brother and lyricist Ira we’re hired to write the music for the movie, The Goldwyn Follies. With George’s death, it was up to Ira to fulfill the contract with one last song. With the help of Levant and composer Vernon Duke (April in Paris), the trio recreated a melody George had been working on and his final work was submitted to the studio where it languished in the orchestral background of the picture.

Ira was bitterly disappointed. He poured his heart and soul into the lyrics. After they had written 500 songs together, he had but one last chance to tell the world what his brother meant to him. And the song was barely used.

It’s very clear our love is here to stay
Not for a year, but ever and a day

In 1951, Gene Kelly took the song and sang it to the lithe and lovely Leslie Caron along the banks of the Seine and turned it into an enduring American Standard.

The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go

All things pass away, but certain things can even transcend death…

But, oh my dear, our love is here to stay
Together we’re going a long, long way

Two kids from the streets of Brooklyn, the sons of Russian immigrants, they had conquered the world together. From Broadway to London’s West End to the glittering world of Hollywood and the stages of the great concert halls – they would even win a Pulitzer together.

In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble
They’re only made of clay

After George’s passing, Ira wouldn’t pick up the pen for another three years. He would write with other great tunesmiths such as Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and Harold Arlen but he would never be as prolific or as successful as he had been with his little brother.

But our love is here to stay…

One of the great love songs of the 20th century – not from a man to a woman – but from one brother to another.

Published in History
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 39 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. James Lileks Contributor

    That was the song we chose for our wedding.

    The Concerto in F, like the Second Rhapsody, should be better known. The first Rhapsody is essential for understanding American 20th culture at its boisterous height. The Concerto, banged out a year later (!), is less episodic, and has a killer Adagio that makes the others look like old men lounging in the autumn shade. He orchestrated the whole thing as well, so it’s the first look into the world he heard in his head.

    He was the most American composer of them all, and as such I expect he will be gradually deplatformed for cultural appropriation. 

    • #1
    • October 23, 2020, at 10:06 PM PDT
    • 37 likes
  2. Clavius Thatcher

    Great history, and my personal connection is that Oscar Levant’s daughter was, for a time, my father’s girlfriend, when they were youths in their 50s.

    • #2
    • October 23, 2020, at 10:32 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Jules PA Member

    Great story telling (you too Lileks!).

    • #3
    • October 23, 2020, at 10:59 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. James Lileks Contributor

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Great history, and my personal connection is that Oscar Levant’s daughter was, for a time, my father’s girlfriend, when they were youths in their 50s.

    Holy Crow! Did he tell any stories? I always felt bad for Levant – a big, big talent, but no genius, and he knew it. Celebrated for glib quips, knowing it was just froth. Lauded for his piano performances of his friend’s works, knowing he lacked the ability to create them. Feeling pride at landing big movie roles, then watching the roles dry up. Thinking he’d be remembered as a personality more than an artist, but also suspecting that that might carry his artistry over into the future. Suspecting he wasn’t as good as he thought, knowing he was as good as he thought, angry that he was more of a personality than an artist, grateful that he was a personality. No matter what, showing up and doing the work, being Oscar. But not the other famous Oscar. The other quippy sardonic cultured guy with the Oscar name. 

    • #4
    • October 24, 2020, at 12:02 AM PDT
    • 16 likes
  5. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill: The radio and the telephone
    And the movies that we know
    May just be passing fancies and in time may go

    And now the radio and the movies, even the library and the newsstand, are being subsumed by the telephone. Television is following them.

    Great post, EJ.

    • #5
    • October 24, 2020, at 3:41 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    But not the other famous Oscar. The other quippy sardonic cultured guy with the Oscar name. 

    Are you sure his name wasn’t Ernest?

    • #6
    • October 24, 2020, at 3:53 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Thanks for this EJ. Gershwin framed the American picture of his day with unforgetable music. I am amazed at what he was able to accomplish, a millenial talent.

    • #7
    • October 24, 2020, at 5:22 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    Thanks for this EJ. Gershwin framed the American picture of his day with unforgetable music. I am amazed at what he was able to accomplish, a millenial talent.

    I did not know this sad end.

    • #8
    • October 24, 2020, at 5:56 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    That was the song we chose for our wedding.

    The Concerto in F, like the Second Rhapsody, should be better known. The first Rhapsody is essential for understanding American 20th culture at its boisterous height. The Concerto, banged out a year later (!), is less episodic, and has a killer Adagio that makes the others look like old men lounging in the autumn shade. He orchestrated the whole thing as well, so it’s the first look into the world he heard in his head.

    He was the most American composer of them all, and as such I expect he will be gradually deplatformed for cultural appropriation.

    I find it easy to identify a piece as having been written by Gershwin, even if I’ve never heard it before. And I swear I hear echoes of the first Rhapsody in the the Concerto. 

    Honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t been cancelled for Porgy and Bess.

    Gershwin may be the “most American composer,” but I think Copland is a close second.

    • #9
    • October 24, 2020, at 6:11 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  10. Doctor Robert Member

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    That was the song we chose for our wedding.

    The Concerto in F, like the Second Rhapsody, should be better known. The first Rhapsody is essential for understanding American 20th culture at its boisterous height. The Concerto, banged out a year later (!), is less episodic, and has a killer Adagio that makes the others look like old men lounging in the autumn shade. He orchestrated the whole thing as well, so it’s the first look into the world he heard in his head.

    He was the most American composer of them all, and as such I expect he will be gradually deplatformed for cultural appropriation.

    I find it easy to identify a piece as having been written by Gershwin, even if I’ve never heard it before. And I swear I hear echoes of the first Rhapsody in the the Concerto.

    Honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t been cancelled for Porgy and Bess.

    Gershwin may be the “most American composer,” but I think Copland is a close second.

    Everything you say is true.

    Porgy and Bess is a masterpiece, we saw it at the Met in late January. I hope the Met will open again someday.

    • #10
    • October 24, 2020, at 7:22 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You can play “what if” until the cows come home, but I like to think that, had he lived, the rise of rock’n’roll would have been Gershwin’s liberation from pop music and he would have spent the remainder of his days creating great music for the concert hall.

    Speaking of great, Ira had one really great moment left in him. With Harold Arlen he wrote the songs for the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, including one of the greatest torch songs ever penned, “The Man That Got Away.”

    George hated Hollywood, or at least the process of Hollywood, and he wanted to return to New York. He didn’t like the way his songs were presented on film and he lacked the creative control to change that. Sam Goldwyn broke him. During that final film he demanded that Gershwin audition his score to the studio executives like some he was some unknown. Then Goldwyn asked him why he didn’t write hit songs like Irving Berlin.

    Ira and his wife remained in Los Angeles and were neighbors to Rosemary Clooney. Much to the chagrin of his wife and neighbors, Ira loved music and insisted on playing it – very loudly. When Rosie’s daughter-in-law, Debbie Boone, was on tour in Japan she purchased a Walkman, then unavailable in the United States. She gifted it to Ira. He was so in love with it he immediately bought stock in Sony.

    @jameslileks For my wife and I the choice was Cole Porter and his last pop hit, “True Love,” made famous by Princess Grace and some big eared crooner from the northwest.

    • #11
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  12. Franz Drumlin Member

    I once had discussion with a fellow baby boomer and likewise a big fan of the late, great Frank Zappa. “He is our generation’s George Gershwin,” he declared, alluding to Zappa’s ability to toggle between the worlds of rock and classical music. “Yes,” I replied, “but if only Zappa had the talent and courage to melt people’s hearts with a song like Someone to Watch Over Me.” Like Schubert and Mozart, Gershwin left us far too early. But we still have the music . . . 

    • #12
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:26 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Maybe that’s why Shall We Dance has always been my favorite Astaire/Rogers film – the Gershwins did the music for it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shall_We_Dance_(1937_film)

    • #13
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    @jameslileks For my wife and I the choice was Cole Porter and his last pop hit, “True Love,” made famous by Princess Grace and some big eared crooner from the northwest.

    For our wedding it was this:

    This might be a good member-feed thread – what did you dance to at your wedding?

     

     

    • #14
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    @jameslileks For my wife and I the choice was Cole Porter and his last pop hit, “True Love,” made famous by Princess Grace and some big eared crooner from the northwest.

    For our wedding it was this:

    This might be a good member-feed thread – what did you dance to at your wedding?

    Well, pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er!

     

     

    • #15
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:43 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Brian Watt Member
    Brian WattJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Great history, and my personal connection is that Oscar Levant’s daughter was, for a time, my father’s girlfriend, when they were youths in their 50s.

    Holy Crow! Did he tell any stories? I always felt bad for Levant – a big, big talent, but no genius, and he knew it. Celebrated for glib quips, knowing it was just froth. Lauded for his piano performances of his friend’s works, knowing he lacked the ability to create them. Feeling pride at landing big movie roles, then watching the roles dry up. Thinking he’d be remembered as a personality more than an artist, but also suspecting that that might carry his artistry over into the future. Suspecting he wasn’t as good as he thought, knowing he was as good as he thought, angry that he was more of a personality than an artist, grateful that he was a personality. No matter what, showing up and doing the work, being Oscar. But not the other famous Oscar. The other quippy sardonic cultured guy with the Oscar name.

    If Levant ever claimed he wasn’t a genius, he probably did so out of humility. He was a voracious reader, probably blessed with a photographic memory and was a regular on the radio quiz show Information Please where his breadth of knowledge of literature, science, history, philosophy and many other subjects certainly impressed listeners and went well-beyond music. He was a child prodigy at the piano whose technique as an adult other great composers and pianists marveled at including Stravinsky, Artur Rubenstein, and Vladimir Horowitz. And as phenomenal of a pianist as George Gershwin was, after listening to both Gershwin’s and Levant’s renditions of the composer’s own Rhapsody in Blue, I prefer Levant’s. I am somewhat familiar with the piece having listened to my mother play it throughout my young life.

    Like many genius-level personalities (the mathematician John Nash, the chess grandmaster Bobby Fisher) Levant was plagued by his own demons, like tridecaphobia. Of course, this irrational fear and his more rational fear of stage fright, he tried to suppress by a combination of drugs to get him up and bring him crashing down after a performance. Oh, that we could have such non-geniuses in our midst today. They would make living through this era in history so much more tolerable.

    Thanks, E.J. for the great post. 

    • #16
    • October 24, 2020, at 9:05 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The stage play of An American in Paris is, of course, much darker than the movie. I believe there’s a federal law that all reworked classics must be darker, grittier and infinitely more depressing than the original.

    But there is a line in the play where Adam turns to Jerry and says, “Who do I look like to you? Oscar Levant?” Inevitably there is only one guy in the audience that gets the joke and laughs at it. (Yes, Cleveland, that was me.)

    Levant was everything @brianwatt mentions above. He was also the torchbearer for George’s work in the years following his death. He played himself in an awful bio pic of Gershwin made at Warner’s in 1945.

    • #17
    • October 24, 2020, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  18. EB Thatcher

    Four years ago, I toured the Wrigley mansion in Phoenix. Wrigley had Steinway and Aeolian build him a custom player piano. Ira Gershwin was a personal friend. During a visit he played Rhapsody in Blue on the piano to “record ” it on the paper scroll for the Wrigley’s. The docents played it for us and I recorded the last 30 seconds on my phone. So here you are, Rhapsody in Blue played by Ira Gershwin.

    Oooops! Apparently the type of file I have, m4a, is not allowed to be uploaded.

     

    • #18
    • October 24, 2020, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Doctor Robert Member

    EB (View Comment):

    Four years ago, I toured the Wrigley mansion in Phoenix. Wrigley had Steinway and Aeolian build him a custom player piano. Ira Gershwin was a personal friend. During a visit he played Rhapsody in Blue on the piano to “record ” it on the paper scroll for the Wrigley’s. The docents played it for us and I recorded the last 30 seconds on my phone. So here you are, Rhapsody in Blue played by Ira Gershwin.

    Oooops! Apparently the type of file I have, m4a, is not allowed to be uploaded.

     

    There is a piano roll of George Gershwin doing Rhapsody in Blue as a piano solo. Around 1980, Columbia filled in the accompaniment holes and Michael Tilson Thomas recorded it with a jazz band. It is surprisingly fast, I wonder if there is a process error.

    • #19
    • October 24, 2020, at 9:53 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    EB (View Comment):

    Four years ago, I toured the Wrigley mansion in Phoenix. Wrigley had Steinway and Aeolian build him a custom player piano. Ira Gershwin was a personal friend. During a visit he played Rhapsody in Blue on the piano to “record ” it on the paper scroll for the Wrigley’s. The docents played it for us and I recorded the last 30 seconds on my phone. So here you are, Rhapsody in Blue played by Ira Gershwin.

    Oooops! Apparently the type of file I have, m4a, is not allowed to be uploaded.

     

    There is a piano roll of George Gershwin doing Rhapsody in Blue as a piano solo. Around 1980, Columbia filled in the accompaniment holes and Michael Tilson Thomas recorded it with a jazz band. It is surprisingly fast, I wonder if there is a process error.

    Every musician is going to have his own take. Sometimes a conductor is more properly thought of as a referee. 

    • #20
    • October 24, 2020, at 10:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doctor Robert: It is surprisingly fast, I wonder if there is a process error.

    Or it is a mechanical limitation. That’s the way it was in the early days of mechanical reproduction of music. Many artists cut versions of “Old Man River” from Showboat as an uptempo fox trot, not because it was artistically correct but the limitations of a 10” 78rpm recording didn’t lend itself to the proper singing of it as a slow lament. Same with piano rolls. Eventually you’re just going to run out of paper.

    • #21
    • October 24, 2020, at 10:51 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  22. Jim Beck Member

    Afternoon Doctor Robert,

    The early versions of Rhapsody in Blue, I have heard are fast, even the ones where George is on the piano. It may be the the concert versions are played slow as a choice. Compare the speed of this early version.

    • #22
    • October 24, 2020, at 10:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Clavius Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Great history, and my personal connection is that Oscar Levant’s daughter was, for a time, my father’s girlfriend, when they were youths in their 50s.

    Holy Crow! Did he tell any stories? I always felt bad for Levant – a big, big talent, but no genius, and he knew it. Celebrated for glib quips, knowing it was just froth. Lauded for his piano performances of his friend’s works, knowing he lacked the ability to create them. Feeling pride at landing big movie roles, then watching the roles dry up. Thinking he’d be remembered as a personality more than an artist, but also suspecting that that might carry his artistry over into the future. Suspecting he wasn’t as good as he thought, knowing he was as good as he thought, angry that he was more of a personality than an artist, grateful that he was a personality. No matter what, showing up and doing the work, being Oscar. But not the other famous Oscar. The other quippy sardonic cultured guy with the Oscar name.

    Unfortunately, I never met him. Amanda was quite nice.

    • #23
    • October 24, 2020, at 11:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Mark Camp Member

    Little personal asides are being allowed in this thread, so…

    When I read this beautiful story to Kate just now, she reminded me of the following.

    At our first son’s wedding reception, someone managed to find Kate somewhere and tell her, “Gigi is looking for you! She’s about to sing a song and she wants you to hear it.”*

    That song was Our Love is Here to Stay.

    *Gigi was my mom, and in my unbiased view one of the great classical and jazz lyric sopranos of her time. She gave up skyrocketing careers in both art forms to raise a passel of us kids. She remained a popular performer in the Philadelphia area till advanced age.

    • #24
    • October 24, 2020, at 1:56 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  25. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    With Harold Arlen he wrote the songs for the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, including one of the greatest torch songs ever penned, “The Man That Got Away.”

    Every time since I first saw the Wizard of Oz, Judy breaks my heart. Good choice.

    • #25
    • October 24, 2020, at 5:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. James Lileks Contributor

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    There is a piano roll of George Gershwin doing Rhapsody in Blue as a piano solo. Around 1980, Columbia filled in the accompaniment holes and Michael Tilson Thomas recorded it with a jazz band. It is surprisingly fast, I wonder if there is a process error.

    No, he played it fast. Most of the versions clock in around 15:50 – 16-30; even accounting for a quick glissando in the opening – no change for a clarinet player to dirty it up – his piano version is about 14:30. Given the work that went into restoring those piano rolls, I trust the speed is accurate.

    The rolls can be heard here. They’re remarkable. The original rolls were recorded on a piano player that captured dynamics, which is wild considering the time. A company developed software for translating the holes in the paper into computer code, and outputted the code through a Disklavier. The man comes to life with startling immediacy. 

    • #26
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:07 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  27. Mark Camp Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    The original rolls were recorded on a piano player that captured dynamics, which is wild considering the time.

    Amen! I have always wondered how loudness was encoded, let alone accurately.

    Since the attack and hold info was encoded in the start and end of a hole, and the centerpoint of the hole was needed to encode the choice of key to strike, there is only one dimension left to capture dynamics, I think: the width of the hole.

    Was that it? Otherwise, a separate track for dynamics would be needed for each key.

    • #27
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:16 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Arahant Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    The rolls can be heard here.

    Where, @jameslileks? Did you forget the link?

     

    • #28
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:16 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. Arahant Member

    • #29
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Arahant Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Otherwise, a separate track for dynamics would be needed for each key.

    Aren’t dynamics controlled by the pedals?

    • #30
    • October 24, 2020, at 8:23 PM PDT
    • 2 likes