Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gershwin′s “Clara” in Pittsburgh

Richard Crawford
A capacity audience of some 500 musicologists provided the final musical illustration of Richard Crawford′s plenary address to the American Musicological Society, “Mr. Gershwin′s Catfish Row Spirituals.” Reading from a handout that gave the 17-bar refrain, and forewarned by what Crawford called a “tenor alert” for the wacky voice-leading at the cadence, the membership gave a credible—by the second time through, a moving—rendition of Gershwin′s newly composed spiritual:
Clara, Clara, don′t you be downhearted,
Clara, don′t you be sad an′ lonesome.
Jesus is walkin′ on de water, rise up an′ follow Him home.
Oh Lawd, oh my Jesus, rise up an′ follow Him home.
(We will post the video as soon as it becomes available.)

The chorus from Porgy and Bess is a lament for Clara and Jake and others who have been lost in the hurricane that closed act II.

Crawford′s lecture focused on the implications of Gershwin′s decision, early on, to compose his own folk music to a folk tale for what he called his folk opera. “When I first began work on the music, I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folk songs”—instead of preexistent oral and written sources. Seven spirituals resulted:    
“Gone, Gone, Gone, Gone” (act I, scene 2)
“Oh, We′re Leavin' for the Promised Lan′ ” (I, 2)
“It Take a Long Pull to Get There” (II, 1)
“Oh, de Lawd Shake de Heavens” (II, 4)
“Oh, Dere's Somebody Knockin' at the Do′ ” (II, 4)
“Clara” (III, 1)
“Oh Lawd, I'm on my Way” (III, 3)
The event was the first President's Endowed Plenary Lecture, concluding the first day of the Society's annual meeting.
All told, some 1,600 participated in the annual meeting: students, professors, free-lancers, foreign guests, exhibitors, and performers. Among these last was 80+ Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who led the even more venerable Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (est. 1895) in a youthful, lush reading of Scheherazade that made one grateful for Old Warhorses in general. There were hot topics old and new (“public musicology,” for one): I learned the terms Alt-Ac (or #altac, the alternative academic movement) and JAMSy (in the highfalutin style of the Society's journal). All this, and more, to come.

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