October 8, 2009

George Gershwin left some songs unfinished.

And now — authorized by the Gershwin estate — Brian Wilson is going to finish them.
Todd Gershwin said a collection of several dozen song fragments, ranging from "a few bars to some almost finished songs and everything in between" had been sitting virtually untouched for more than seven decades. He and other trustees began reaching out in the last year or two to find contemporary artists who might be interested in completing those musical bits and pieces.

[Brian] Wilson, who says "Rhapsody in Blue" is his earliest musical memory, said the pieces he's working with are very likely to remain as instrumentals, and that they could easily wind up as three-minute pop songs. But he's also holding open the possibility of expanding them to more substantive pieces.

Wilson said many of them aren't easy to evaluate.

"I can't decipher the verse from the chorus from the bridge," he said, "so I'm going to try to insert some new music into them. I might even write some music for an introduction."

25 comments:

LarsPorsena said...

Good grief, Brain Wilson has had a chemical lobotomy. It's been all down hill for him since "Pet Sounds".
What could the Gershwin estate been thinking?

Ann Althouse said...

"What could the Gershwin estate been thinking?"

Money?

Jason (the commenter) said...

LarsPorsena: What could the Gershwin estate been thinking?

They're thinking about their copyrights running out.

prairie wind said...

They need the songwriter who wrote the song about throwing our hands up over healthcare reform. That was catchy.

Ron said...

You say potato,
I say I wish they all could be California Girls.

rhhardin said...

I'm looking for a decent finish for Bach's triple fugue contrapunctus 14.

You'd think the estate could fund that before another Sleigh Ride.

Lockestep said...

The same thing is happening with a lot of the unfinished works of Woodie Guthrie. He had a massive archive of unpublished/unfinished lyrics. Among the artists who have written music and released songs from the material are Wilco, Billy Bragg, and Jonatha Brooke. I have the Wilco/Bragg CD Mermaid Avenue and it is really quite decent.

From Inwood said...

They didn't do too well with a movie in '47 which featured some completion of unfinished George G. stuff. Listen to, if you can, "For You, For Me, Forever More". Borrring.

There's a reason that great composes put stuff aside. It needs work.

On the other hand, Vernon Duke & Ira G. did OK polishing/finishing up the Gershwin Goldwyn Follies songs in '37

Henry said...

Who will finish Brian Wilson's unfinished songs? Jewel?

Scott said...

This could be as exciting as when Barry Manilow wrote music to a pile of Johnny Mercer's unpublished lyrics.

(Mommy, please make it stop! [banging head on desk])

traditionalguy said...

It will be a Rhapsody in Gold that mixes Gershwin piano music and Beach Boys rock and roll music. Now if Bob Dylan will write the words, they will have something for the ages.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Notice Bob Dylan wasn't asked....

Scott said...

@traditionalguy: God no. Please.

blake said...

They should've asked Rufus Wainwright. At least he writes in the style.

But I guess they're hoping to boost Gershwin's cachet with...uh...Beach Boys fans?

bearbee said...

Mozart Requiem Mass in D minor completed by other composers.

Scott said...

@blake: Or his father Loudon Wainright III, whose 1920s-era-souding big band music in the Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator" was perfectly delightful.

LarsPorsena said...

"Who will finish Brian Wilson's unfinished songs? Jewel?"

Thread winner!!!

William said...

Gershwin has the most cachet of any of the American songbook composers. Dying young is always a good career move for those in the creative arts. They don't outlive their moment. There's something expectant and yearning about his music that has something to do with his early death. (Dylan would have been a greater legend if he had died in that motorcycle accident in the sixties. Jim Morrison didn't make a Christmas album.)....Maybe because Gershwin's brother wrote the lyrics, there's a cohesion to the lyrics and rhythms that has rarely been matched: see Fascinating Rhythm and Biding My Time. Good Vibrations is in that class. But there was also the match between the melodies and the lyrics such as Embraceable You and Watch Over Me. I don't know if Brian Wilson ever wrote anything in that class.....It's an interesting idea. Why not open up the archive and let everyone have a crack at it?

blake said...

Scott,

As much of a LW3 booster as I am (I quote him all the time here at Althouse), I don't think he wrote any of the music for "The Aviator", though he did perform one number.

His songwriting is particularly idiosyncratic folk-rock, too. Which isn't to say he couldn't do it, but Rufus writes a lot of songs that are strongly in that tradition.

Drew W said...

Lady, Be Good Vibrations!

Surfer Girl Crazy

Fun, Fun, Funny Face

There are no doubt many more out there, but I’m late for lunch. I say give crazy ol’ Brian Wilson a crack at them. By the zillionth overdub he probably still won’t realize that he’s gone too far, but the end result might just be worth listening to. (You’d think the job would fall to some hotshot theater composer like Jason Robert Brown or Adam Guettel.) And as has been already suggested here, there’s the possibility that Gershwin’s unfinished works weren’t exactly masterpieces in the first place.

Alex said...

I think Paul McCartney would have been a better pick to finish off the fragments, but he's probably too busy.

Scott said...

@blake:

Ah. Yeah you're right. The score to The Aviator was written by Howard Shore.

But I think Loudon is hotter than Rufus. Especially in a tux! :)

John Stodder said...

Brian Wilson is the perfect choice, actually, assuming he still has the energy to compose. The same strains of French harmony and American jazz that inspired Gershwin were transmitted to Brian Wilson via Gershwin music itself, but also the 50s harmony groups like the Swingle Singers and Four Freshmen.

It might suck. And if it does, what have we lost? Nothing.

Carey said...

Obviously the negative comments about Brian Wilson are from people that do not know his recent projects. Brian IS the greatest American composer of all time and his latest works (Smile, That Lucky Old Son) are great works of art. Yes, Brian had drug and mental issues but thats in the past and he is back on top of his game. He is the best choice for this Gershin project and that is why he was asked. Give Brian a chance, listen to his great music, and there is much better music that just the hits, and you will have a great treat in store for you.

blake said...

Carey, I admire your enthusiasm for Mr. Wilson's work.

But, honestly, I have heard it, and it bores me.

Taste aside, I'd think you'd want some composer who had written something Gershwin-ny, and was steeped in a similar tradition.

That's why I mentioned Wainwright the younger, but Howard Shore is not a bad idea, or many of the movie composers around. Maybe Brian Setzer or Harry Connick, Jr.?