Lot 62
  • 62

Gershwin, George

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Gershwin, George
  • Autograph manuscript of 'A Woman is a Sometime Thing' from the opera "Porgy and Bess", Act One, Scene One
  • paper
the first draft of the complete song in three verses, titled by Gershwin "Sometime thing" above the music, written in pencil for voice (treble clef) and piano on four systems, each of three-staves per page, the melodies and harmonies of the lullaby essentially complete, but without other the characters' interjections marking the ends of verses or the closing ensemble, the rhythms and the words diverging somewhat from the final version (beginning "listen to your daddy warn you"), comprising thirty-three bars of music in all, with a few alterations to the music and more to the words, marked by the composer on the second page "2nd verse"

3 pages, folio (33.5 x 25.5cm), a bifolio of 12-stave paper by Harms (No.2), Gershwin's signature clipped from a cheque and attached to the first page with a paper-clip, probably by Ira Gershwin, in an wrapper inscribed by Ira ("For Mr A. Smallens"), no time or place [probably New York, early 1934]


by descent from Alexander Smallens (1889-1972), conductor of the first performances of Porgy and Bess in Boston and New York, and the first recordings; given to him by Ira Gershwin, the composer's brother and lyricist


H. Alpert, The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess (1990), pages 87-89 (for a photograph inscribed by Gershwin to Heyward with a quotation from this song, see page 119); H. Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work (2006), pp.575-585; L. Starr, George Gershwin (2011), p.136 & 180 n.19; For a comparable sketch from Porgy and Bess, see E. Jablonsky & L. Stewart, The Gershwin Years (1973), p.215. For Porgy and Bess at The Library of Congress, see: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.music/eadmus.mu010014


Condition is described in the main body of the cataloguing, where appropriate
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

PORGY AND BESS IS THE GREATEST OF ALL AMERICAN OPERAS AND GERSHWIN'S MASTERPIECE, TO WHICH HE DEVOTED TWO YEARS OF HIS LIFE. We have no record of an autograph manuscript of a song from Porgy and Bess appearing at auction for thirty years. A manuscript of Porgy's "Where's Bess, Oh, Where's my Bess" in the final scene was sold at Christie's on 20 May 1988, lot 58. A brief sketch (eight bars) for the "Storm music" in Act 2 was sold in these rooms on 20 June 2000, lot 186.

This manuscript would appear to contain the first full draft of "A Woman is a Sometime Thing", without any mention of the fisherman Jake, who performs the song, and it is notated in the treble clef. The final version of this music is in the published vocal score, figures 56 to 61 (see next lot); it is mostly similar, but here the dotted rhythms are lacking. Jake's "bemused commentary on romance" (Crawford) is one of the best-known numbers in the opera, appearing in the opening scene (following Clara's famous lullaby, "Summertime"). The third verse subsequently reappears, sung by Porgy and Bess, during the "crap-game" on Catfish Row (see figures 96 to 98), which Howard Pollack judges "a forewarning of their own ill-fated relationship". The George and Ira Gershwin Collection at the Library of Congress contains the complete autograph vocal score of this scene, dated "1934, May 23", so this draft must predate that, and in fact Gershwin had reported making good progress on this first scene by 8 March. There does not seem to be any other preliminary sketch or draft for this number in Porgy and Bess, and it would appear to be one of the more significant such manuscripts: most sketches for the opera are only one or two pages long.

Gershwin collaborated closely with DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy (1925) and a successful stage play based on it; Heyward had been inspired by the lives of the Gullah community in his native South Carolina.  He had sent Gershwin the text for Act 1, scene 1 in November 1933; so this draft could date from any time after that.  In June and July 1934 Gershwin stayed in a cottage on Folly Island, near Charleston, to mingle with the Gullah community himself, composing a good deal of the opera there. On one occasion he played "A Woman is a Sometime Thing" to a young widow called Mrs Joseph Waring, saying "This one is great. No-one, not even DuBose has heard it before. You can remember later I told you it would be a classic".  It is one of the five numbers which Jascha Heifetz arranged for violin and piano.

Porgy and Bess is a substantial work, up to four hours long, replete with arias, duets and ensembles, and furnished with the sophisticated orchestral textures that set Gershwin apart from contemporary American song-writers.  He claimed to have had Bizet's Carmen and Wagner's Die Meistersinger in mind, although the dramatic and musical structures most obviously reflect the influence of Puccini (see Pollack). Gershwin's musical language is infused with the melodies and harmonies of blues and jazz, which had attracted him throughout his life, and which he brought to a magnificent culmination.  These traits are seen in the frequent use of flattened melodic sevenths, such as at "your daddy" and "a-traveling" in the first line here, and most strikingly in the Act 2 duet 'Bess you is my woman now'. Gershwin wanted the work performed by an all-black cast, which meant that it could not be staged at the Metropolitan Opera House, which had hoped for an opera from the famous composer.  These considerations have continued to affect the fortunes of Porgy and Bess ever since.

Sotheby's is pleased to acknowledge the help and advice of Wayne Shirley, the editor of the forthcoming critical edition of Porgy and Bess, in preparing the catalogue description for this lot.