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George Gershwin

Variations on "I Got Rhythm" (1934)

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.

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