Gershwin played his music, even pieces in progress, at parties, so much so that George S. Kaufmann complained that by the time the curtain went up on a Gershwin opening night, people thought they were at a revival. Out of this constant replaying (and reworking) of his material came two great works: the George Gershwin Songbook (1932) for voice and piano and these variations on Gershwin's favorite of his own songs.
There are all sorts of variations, from Mozart's simple, straight-ahead set on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (actually, a French folk song adapted for the nursery rhyme) to the monumental, symphonic structures of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Gershwin's work falls somewhere between and comes off as a virtuoso pianist's bonbon. It avoids the profound for the ingeniously epigrammatic. Each variant strikes you as a wonderful surprise – from a "Chinese flute" variation to a soft-shoe to a farrago where "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing" to a "mirrored" variation to an all-out finale – and each is recognizably "I Got Rhythm." Gershwin packs a good deal of music into a short space.
Copyright © 1996 by Steven Schwartz. All Rights Reserved.