GERSHWIN FOR TWO PIANOS LINER NOTES
George Gershwin (1898-1937) is undoubtedly the most successful and most
beloved American composer. His musical genius is recognized and celebrated
throughout the world. His songs and concert works have rightfully earned a
place in the standard popular and symphonic repertoires. During his lifetime,
Gershwin’s music was admired and lauded by great European composers such
as Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Alban Berg, and Sergei Rachmaninoff,
among many others. American critics, on the other hand, were slow to
appreciate Gershwin’s genius. One such critic, Richard D. Saunders, wrote:
“Little if any of Gershwin’s music is likely to outlive its composer, for it is
superficial and popular in an almost exact parallel to that of [Sigismond]
Thalberg, who was equally popular in his day.” [cited in Pollock, pp. 353-4.]
American critics preferred the dry, academic, atonal, non-melodic,
unemotional, audience-unfriendly experimental music of the day. The great
European masters praised Gershwin for his tremendous gift of melody,
originality, emotional richness, and his success in creating a purely American
school of composition based on the native musical traditions of African-
Americans. (Antonín Dvořák had famously predicted in 1893 that “a noble
school of American music would be founded upon Negro melodies.”)

This recording presents a handsome selection of Gershwin’s major concert
works, originally intended for piano and orchestra, but here transcribed for
two pianos. The unique timbre created by the union of two pianos has
attracted composers since the development of the piano. Bach wrote works for
two keyboards, as did many of the great European composers, from Mozart
and Beethoven to Ravel and Rachmaninoff. In addition to works composed for
two pianos, there is also a very large literature of two-piano music transcribed
from orchestral music. Prior to the advent of sound recording, a two-piano
transcription was frequently the only way great orchestral classics could be
heard outside the concert hall. From necessity has developed a rich art form
that has earned a cherished place in music literature. Gershwin in particular
has become associated with the piano duo thanks to his 1924 Broadway
musical comedy
Lady, Be Good! which prominently featured the two-piano
team of Victor Arden and Phil Ohman in the pit, either with or in lieu of an
orchestra. The sparkling and imaginative arrangements of Arden and Ohman
gave Gershwin’s Broadway shows a uniquely distinctive musical quality that
became a hallmark of his music.

Rhapsody in Blue - 1924

Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s first attempt at a work for piano and orchestra,
was an instant popular success. The
Rhapsody was commissioned by
innovative dance band leader Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) to be performed in
New York at a special concert advertised as “An Experiment in Modern Music,”
held on the afternoon of 12 February 1924 at Aeolian Hall. It is astonishing to
realize that Gershwin began composing his masterpiece in December 1923 and
completed it in just a few weeks by 7 January 1924. The work was orchestrated
by Whiteman’s chief arranger, composer/pianist Ferde Grofé (1892-1972).
The premiere was attended by the foremost musical luminaries of the day:  
Ernest Bloch, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Walter Damrosch, Leopold Stokowski,
Jascha Heifetz, and Leopold Godowsky, all of whom became the young
Gershwin’s greatest admirers and promoters. The debut was such an
enormous success that Whiteman programmed it for a repeat performance at
Carnegie Hall two months later. Whiteman subsequently performed
Rhapsody in Blue at nearly all of his concerts and even adopted its beautiful
Andantino moderato melody as his personal radio theme song.

In 1925, publisher T. B. Harms issued a two-piano version of the work, but in
many instances the second piano reduction of the orchestra part is
unsatisfactory from a pianistic standpoint. In this two-piano arrangement of
the
Rhapsody, Frederick Hodges plays the original solo piano part, while
Richard Dowling performs his own modified version of the orchestra’s part.

Concerto in F - 1925

Following the success of Rhapsody in Blue, Walter Damrosch (1862-1950),
the conductor of the New York Symphony, commissioned Gershwin to
compose a concerto for piano and orchestra. Gershwin gave the first
performance of the
Concerto in F with the New York Symphony under the
baton of Damrosch on 3 December 1925 at Carnegie Hall. The concerto was
reserved for the concert’s finale and received thunderous applause. Gershwin
performed the concerto at concerts across the United States for the remainder
of his life. The concerto received its European premiere at the Paris Opera on
29 May 1928. Russian-born pianist Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) performed
the piano part with Vladimir Golschmann conducting. Tiomkin described the
work as “an actual transcription of American life, manners and thought. It is
the most splendid expression of youthful vitality and optimism.” [cited in
Pollock, p. 354.] Echoing Tiomkin’s words, an Italian critic writing in the
Gazzetta di Venezia after a performance in 1932 at the Venice International
Festival of Contemporary Music praised the concerto and celebrated the fact
that it was “in harmony with the spiritual attitude of the people it represents.”
[cited in Pollock, p. 355.] In this two-piano arrangement of the concerto,
Richard Dowling plays the original solo piano part, while Frederick Hodges
performs his own enhanced version of the orchestra’s part.

Variations on I Got Rhythm - 1934
Arranged for two pianos by Frederick Hodges and Richard Dowling

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of
Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin
launched an extensive nationwide road tour in 1934. Featuring the composer
at the piano with Leo Reisman and His Orchestra, the program included a new
work composed especially for the tour, the
Variations on “I Got Rhythm” for
piano and orchestra. Gershwin composed the
Variations while in Florida in
December 1933, completing the orchestration in New York in January 1934, a
week before the premiere on 13 January at Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Gershwin’s variations take his popular song
I Got Rhythm, composed for Ethel
Merman to sing in Gershwin’s Broadway musical comedy
Girl Crazy in 1930,
and present it in a variety of styles, moods, and musical colors. The published
edition of the composition, while allegedly scored for two pianos, really only
presents the piano solo part alongside a second piano part constructed
unsatisfactorily and quite unpianistically out of orchestra cues. As with the
Concerto in F, Frederick Hodges has significantly reworked the orchestration
into a genuine second piano part that complements and supports Richard
Dowling’s solo part.  Additionally, Hodges and Dowling have expanded the
work with the inclusion of an additional ragtime-inspired variation, an excerpt
taken from Gershwin’s own solo piano version of
I Got Rhythm published in a
sheet music folio called
George Gershwin’s Song Book (1932), modified here
for two pianos.

Porgy and Bess Fantasy for Two Pianos - 1951
by Percy Grainger

Gershwin’s magnum opus, his 1935 opera
Porgy and Bess, is among the best-
known of all American operas. Gershwin was flattered when Otto Kahn, the
Metropolitan Opera’s board chairman, offered to mount
Porgy and Bess at the
Met, but Gershwin opted instead to sign with the Theatre Guild, producers of
the play
Porgy, on which the opera is based. The opera opened at the Alvin
Theatre on Broadway 10 October 1935 and was given 124 performances in its
initial run. Some writers have tended to judge its initial success in comparison
to Broadway musical comedies of the time, where 124 performances might be
considered a lackluster showing. But with a cast of 82 and an orchestra of 45,
this was no Broadway show. As Miles Kreuger points out, 124 performances
was little short of miraculous when compared with other operas in the
European tradition where initial runs might amount to only seven or eight
performances.

The hauntingly beautiful and moving melodies found in
Porgy and Bess have
inspired many great composers to create arrangements, transcriptions, and
medleys of all descriptions, yet one of the very finest and most creative
arrangements was composed in 1951 by Australian-American pianist and
composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961). The tour-de-force
Porgy and Bess
Fantasy for Two Pianos was premiered by Grainger and W. Norman Grayson
at New York’s Town Hall on 21 April 1951. Years later, Grayson, who had
performed a two-piano concert with Grainger in 1950, reminisced about the
creation of the
Fantasy:

As we considered the program for our next Town Hall appearance, Mr.
Grainger wrote to say that he was working on ‘a two-piano (pot-pourri)’ of
Porgy and Bess and asked if I would consider using it. Would I!! I jumped at
the opportunity. This was indeed the highlight of my continuing relationship
with him. Burnett Cross recorded everything. Mr. Grainger would study the
recordings at home and frequently make changes, which he would mail to me
sometimes more than one in a day. I was quite thrilled as I reread this
correspondence to read ‘thank you for the suggestion you made in the last
letter.’ Apparently he planned to use some thoughts I had after a rehearsal.
These Steinway Hall sessions were a never to be forgotten experience, for I
literally saw [the Fantasia on]
Porgy and Bess grow before my eyes. It was
genuinely exciting to hear the subtle change as alterations were made,
sometimes on the spot. Mr. Grainger indeed had a superb understanding of
writing for two pianos. Henry Cowell once told me that he felt no one
understood this genre as Percy did. Eventually Dr. Albert Sirmay of Chappell &
Co., owners of the
Porgy copyright, came to Steinway Hall to hear the piece
prior to agreeing to publish it. Mr. Grainger wrote me, ‘Dr. Sirmay was
enchanted with the records of our practice performance in Steinway's
basement and is delighted we will play this in Town Hall.’ The actual
performance was, of course, a world premiere. Dr. Sirmay attended, and
Porgy
was published exactly as we played it that day. [W. Norman Grayson.
"Grainger on Stage" in:  A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger. Ed.
Thomas P. Lewis. Pro-Am Music Resources, White Plains, NY, 1991. p. 27]

Grainger’s
Fantasy is strikingly faithful to Gershwin’s original published
piano-vocal score of the opera but with enriched augmentations that more
fully replicate Gershwin’s orchestration while still maintaining a judicious
balance of the best sonic qualities generated by a two-piano ensemble.
Grainger’s
Fantasy is far more than just a medley of the great arias of
Gershwin’s opera. Instead, it is an encapsulation of the entire opera in
miniature form, including the beloved arias and a generous presentation of
the incidental music, recitative, and leitmotifs.

Liner notes, copyright 2013 by Frederick Hodges.
CD recording, copyright 2013 by Frederick Hodges & Richard Dowling.

Arrangements of second piano parts of
Concerto in F and Variations on “I Got
Rhythm”
, copyright Frederick Hodges. Arrangement of second piano part of
Rhapsody in Blue, copyright Richard Dowling.

Dedication:  The artists wish to dedicate this recording to their friends Penny
and Michael Schwarz, with sincere appreciation and gratitude for their love
and support.

Acknowledgements:  For the production of the liner notes, Frederick Hodges
is greatly indebted to the wisdom, kindness, generosity, brilliance, and
encyclopedia knowledge of historian Miles Kreuger. He would also like to
express his gratitude to Mr. Kreuger for making available the original souvenir
program for
Porgy and Bess. Howard Pollack’s comprehensive biography
George Gershwin:  His Life and Work (2006) was of enormous help, as was
information contained in Joseph Horowitz’s fascinating study,
“On My Way”
The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and
Bess
(2013).
GEORGE GERSHWIN FOR TWO PIANOS
Richard Dowling & Frederick Hodges, duo pianists
Rivermont Records BSW-2227
Copyright ©2016 Richard Dowling. All Rights Reserved.