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“We are profoundly grateful for this generous invitation from the Gershwin estates. It allows us to conduct rigorous scholarship that will offer the world a greater appreciation of George and Ira Gershwin’s genius, and open the gates for a deeper look at their legacy. Our school is ideally suited to this project: It is a center of internationally recognized American musicology and theoretical studies, and an arbiter of excellence in the fields of classical music, jazz, opera, dance and musical theatre—all of which figure strongly in the Gershwins’ music.”

—Christopher Kendall
Former Dean (2005-2015) of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance

The University of Michigan Gershwin Initiative will be an ongoing scholarly examination of the Gershwins’ music, in which U-M scholars in collaboration with peers from across the nation and globe will document and analyze—note-by-note and word-by-word—the treasure trove of works featuring music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin—including Porgy and Bess, often considered America’s greatest opera—as well as the celebrated instrumental works by George Gershwin. The basis for the Gershwin Initiative is a new and complete critical edition to be published in book and electronic forms through European American Music and Schott International. Each volume will contain an introductory essay concentrating on the genesis of the compositions included, as well as critical commentary that explains any editorial decisions made to present the Gershwins’ work. This commentary invites artists to engage more authoritatively with the music as interpreters. The second part of the Initiative will include a variety of courses and musical performances designed to bring the Gershwins’ art to students at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and, indeed, across campus.

Remarkably, the Gershwins’ works have never received the benefit of scholarly editing, partially due to George Gershwin’s premature and tragic death from a brain tumor at age 38. While readily accessible in print and recordings, the scores and parts to many Gershwin works circulate in substandard editions—often hard-to-read photocopies of handwritten scores—that contain notational errors and confusing inconsistencies. Even such notable scores as Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue circulate in problematic editions that diminish performances by wasting rehearsal time, at best, and, at worst, causing performance errors.

This substantial and historically significant partnership between the Gershwin families and U-M was initiated by Todd Gershwin, a U-M alumnus who is the grandnephew of George and Ira Gershwin and the son of Marc George Gershwin. The project will be overseen by Mark Clague, U-M associate professor of musicology and director of research, who will serve as editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition.

This long-overdue scholarship elevates the Gershwins’ work into the pantheon of America’s greatest composers, on library shelves and music stands alongside the music of Stephen Foster and Charles Ives and such canonic European masters as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

The Gershwin Initiative has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.