- Gershwin, George
- Autograph manuscript of 'A Woman is a Sometime Thing' from the opera "Porgy and Bess", Act One, Scene One
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]
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.