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Musical Leftovers

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Ever since I was little, one of the joys of Thanksgiving has been the leftovers in the days that follow. Who doesn’t like a Cajun turkey sandwich with some stuffing and mashed potatoes on the side? Some leftovers even get better with age, as the flavors become richer.

Over this past Thanksgiving, I started thinking about all of the music that composers cut in the editing process. These musical leftovers receive all kinds of fates. Some serve as the impetus for future projects, ripening into fully-fledged projects. Others are relegated to dusty sketchbooks, only ever seen by researchers tracing the genesis of a specific project.

The Music Division is filled with musical leftovers. In the Leonard Bernstein Collection, the melody to a song cut from West Side Story (1957), “Mix,” takes on new life in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (1965). Many of Igor Stravinsky’s publisher proofs within the Stravinsky / Craft Collection contain annotations by Stravinsky with his corrections, conducting markings, and other changes.

Sketch to “Man I Love,” Box 12, Folder 24, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

We find one of the best examples of musical leftovers, however, with the song “The Man I Love,” first written in the spring of 1924 by George and Ira Gershwin. The song was cut from no less than three different musicals before finding success as a standalone number in 1928. Sketches for the song first appear in one of George’s notebooks, with just some melodic ideas and no lyrics. George had originally conceived the melody as the introductory verse of another song. Yet he must have seen potential in the tune, because he thereafter shaped it into a song of its own. Indeed, although no lyrics are yet included, we see the song begin to take shape in George’s mind in more harmonically fleshed-out manuscript holographs for the 1924 show, Lady Be Good.

“The Man I Love” appeared in the November 1924 trial runs for Lady Be Good in Philadelphia, but it seemed out of place and ineffective in advancing the show’s pace, which already ran a bit long. The Gershwin brothers withdrew the song, and it never reappeared in the show’s later Broadway run.

George and Ira tried to find a new home for the song on several occasions. First, they considered it for the 1927 version of Strike Up the Band. The show closed after its Philadelphia tryout, and for the 1930 Broadway debut, the song was again removed. They tried yet again with Flo Ziegfield’s 1928 production of Rosalie, with the biggest musical star at the time, Marilyn Miller, set to perform. But Miller lost interest in the song, and it never found its way into the production.

Orchestrated version for Strike Up the Band, Box 132, Folder 9, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

Why couldn’t the song find success in any of these shows? Gershwin himself conceded that that the song was not a larger-than-life production number, and that it didn’t lend itself to action or on-stage movement.[1] The intimate portrait of a woman yearning for her dream man—with lyrics such as “He’ll build a little home just meant for two”—doesn’t quite match the comedic tone in each respective show.

Despite these setbacks, the song grew into popularity in its own right. Lady Edwina Mountbatten, an acquaintance of George, knew and liked the song. She even asked George for an autographed copy while visiting New York.[2] She in turn brought it to the Berkeley Square Orchestra in England, a dance orchestra that began to perform the piece with increasing regularity. The song caught on across the country, and made its way back to American performers. Most importantly, in 1928, publisher Max Dreyfus made an agreement with George and Ira to promote the song. George and Ira agreed to a cut in their sheet-music royalties from three cents to two cents each. Within six months, several performers had recorded the song, and over 100,000 copies of sheet music had sold.[3]

Today, “The Man I Love” has become one of George and Ira Gershwin’s most well-known and beloved songs. And now, over ninety years after its conception, the song has finally made its way into a Broadway show: the 2015 Broadway adaptation of the 1951 film, An American in Paris. And in lieu of the song’s success, we shouldn’t forget its beginnings as a few measures of musical leftovers, for leftovers can become more fulfilling then the original meal.

Materials for “The Man I Love” can be found in the George and Ira Gershwin Collection in the Performing Arts Reading Room, where countless more musical leftovers are awaiting discovery.

[1] Charles Schwartz, Gershwin: His Life and Music (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1973), 100.

[2] Ibid., 101.

[3] Ibid., 101.

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