AN EXTRAORDINARY PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION COPY: INSCRIBED BY GERSHWIN TO HIS LOVER AND COLLABORATOR IN THIS PIECE, KAY SWIFT, IN THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION PORGY AND BESS, SIGNED LIMITED FIRST EDITION, ALSO SIGNED BY GEORGE AND IRA GERSHWIN AND DUBOSE HEYWARD
GERSHWIN, George. Porgy and Bess. An Opera in Three Acts. By George Gershwin. Libretto by DuBose Heyward. Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Production Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. New York: Random House, 1935. Folio, original full red morocco, raised bands, black leather label on front cover, top edge gilt. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $48,500.
Deluxe limited edition of the piano-vocal score of Porgy and Bess, number 103 of only 250 copies signed by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and director Rouben Mamoulian, additionally inscribed by Gershwin to his lover Kay Swift, who was intimately involved in the composition of the piece: “For Kay —/ Best —/ George / Nov. 1 1935.” According to Ohl, “best,” their code word for “love,” allowed them to be discreet.
This deluxe edition of the piano-vocal score (according to Fuld, no orchestral score has ever been published) was published in 1935, the year of Porgy and Bess premiere, almost simultaneously with the first edition, and is boldly signed on the limitation page (at the rear) by George and Ira Gershwin and the other principal creators of Porgy and Bess: librettist DuBose Heyward and director Rouben Mamoulian. Fuld, 539. The recipient, Kay Swift, met Gershwin in 1925. A highly educated beauty of prominent social position, she was not yet known as a songwriter (her first big hit would be in 1929, with "Can't We Be Friends"). "If one measures by the dedication of his Song-Book to her, his generous gifts of paintings, manuscripts, and other keepsakes that betokened affection, plus the many hours he spent with her, Gershwin obviously had a special place in his heart for Kay Swift… With Kay, Gershwin probably came as close to settling down with one woman as he ever did" (Schwarz, 190).
Swift was extensively involved with the composition of Porgy and Bess, almost from the beginning: Swift was Gershwin's guest at the premiere of the play version (by Heyward's wife). When composing the opera—much of which occurred at a cottage on Swift's country estate—Swift was often (in her words) Gershwin's "soundboard" for new ideas. "'He'd call me and tell me to rush over to play the orchestra part of a song. He couldn't sing. Neither could Ira. But we'd all sing Ira's or DuBose Heyward's lyrics, sounding like a chorus of crows… Each day, as the work grew, a few of us—Bill Daly, his close friend and favorite conductor, and myself, Ira, of course, and DuBose Heyward, who wrote the libretto as well as some of the lyrics, were probably present much of the time. It was thrilling to hear the themes develop, the recitatives build into such an inevitable part of the score that they flowed as naturally as spoken words would. The whole sparkled with a fantastic quality of imagination… She also had an even more direct part in the opera's development. In addition to listening, singing, and playing the work in progress, Swift sometimes notated portions of pieces for Gershwin, evidently to expedite his later work on the compositions. He believed she wrote faster and more neatly than she could." Extensive portions of the original manuscript (now in the Gershwin collection at the Library of Congress) are in Swift's hand, demonstrating "her role as an assistant to the composer and signify the trust he must have placed in her and her notational and musical abilities" (Ohl, 95-96).
During actual production, Swift attended most rehearsals and was present at many of the casting decisions. After the preview run in Boston, it was clear that the four-hour opera was too long, so "Gershwin, Mamoulian, composer Alexander Steinert, and Kay Swift walked the Boston Common in the early hours of the morning deciding which portions to cut"; one month later, at the premiere in New York, "Swift was seated between George and Ira". Later Swift would deliver lectures throughout the country as part of the promotion of Porgy and Bess. "Ira recalled that she had memorized the entire 559-page score and would be illustrating songs from it at the piano" (Ohl, 97-98). "After her yeoman's effort during Porgy and Bess, he presented her with a leather-bound autographed score [the present copy] that reads simply, 'To[sic] Kay. Best. George.' 'Best,' their code word for 'love,' allowed them to be discreet" (Ohl, 115).
Interior fine, spine somewhat toned, light rubbing to spine ends. A near-fine copy with an extraordinary association.