1924 was one of the most demanding years of George Gershwin’s career. In addition to the wildly successful premiere of the Rhapsody in Blue that led to numerous additional performances of the work throughout the year, he wrote the music for three hit musicals, all of which opened during that year. Given this context, a manuscript notebook in the Gershwin Collection at the Library of Congress dating from March and April 1924 is particularly intriguing. Because this notebook contains the earliest known sketch of “The Man I Love” (one of Gershwin’s best-loved popular songs), it has been acknowledged in passing by Gershwin scholars. “The Man I Love,” however, is only one of nine short pieces in the notebook and is the only entry written in what is now defined as Gershwin’s compositional style.
This article briefly addresses the entire contents of this “March–April 1924 notebook,” exploring the possibilities of what Gershwin’s purposes in writing these undeveloped works might have been. Were they unused stage music, ideas for the set of piano preludes he was writing off and on during this era, or were they exercises focused on correcting weaknesses in compositional technique uncovered while writing the Rhapsody in Blue? Whatever their purpose, the pieces in this notebook provide clues as to what Gershwin’s creative priorities may have been, as well as further insights into how Gershwin honed his musical craft.
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