Skip Navigation
NPR News
American composer George Gershwin in 1925. (Getty Images)

A Languid Look Back To Gershwin's 'Summertime'

Oct 23, 2008

See this

George Gershwin composes "Porgy and Bess" thumbnail George Gershwin in the 1930s. George Gershwin, circa 1930. George Gershwin in the 1930s. George Gershwin

Hear this

This text will be replaced
Launch in player

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

"Summertime" might be the opening word in George Gershwin's iconic song, but as Rob Kapilow points out to Performance Today host Fred Child, that's not where the music really starts. The eight instrumental measures that open the song, Kapilow says, set up an evocative transition into the languid world of Catfish Row.

A single note pushes us into Gershwin's South Carolina setting.

"Then the clarinet floats in from the heavens," Kapilow says, "bringing in the other two notes we need to establish: not just Catfish Row, but the character of Clara, rocking her baby, because 'Summertime' is actually a lullaby."

One of the keys to the song's greatness, Kapilow maintains, is its simplicity. From two gently swaying notes, Gershwin adds rich harmony.

"It's like black-and-white being filled into Technicolor, right as the voice comes in," Kapilow says. "An exquisite cross-fade: one note, a rocking theme, slow it down, and then harmony. That languid slowness of summer is also in the fantastic rhythm in the first word, 'summertime,' where the last syllable gets stretched on that beautiful high note. Somehow, we're in this incredibly languid world within two notes."

To hear the previous feature, click here.

For a full archive of What Makes It Great, click here.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.