IRA GERSHWIN by Philip Furia


The Art of the Lyricist
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 Furia, who has already attempted a general survey of the great American lyricists (Poets of Tin Pan Alley, 1990), turns his attention to the works of a giant of the field. There have been numerous biographies of Ira's brother, George, but the shy, quiet older sibling has been given short shrift by music and theater historians. Ira was a retiring, private man, a slow-working perfectionist who was nicknamed ``the Jeweller'' by his more mercurial brother; that, and his uneventful private life, have undoubtedly contributed to his neglect by all but a few scholars of the American popular song. Furia's (English/Univ. of Minnesota) book attempts to combine academic analysis of Ira's writing with an all-too-cursory recounting of his life. Granted, compared to the sexual shenanigans, relentless self-promotion, and sudden, tragic death of George, Ira's calm waters look like an unlikely place to go trolling for a good story. But as Furia points out in his introductory chapter, Ira Gershwin was not only one of our most prolific songwriters, working with almost every major American composer of theater musicKurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and, of course, his brotherbut one of the key figures in the field, a man who ``took the American vernacular and made it sing.'' Regrettably, Furia's focus is almost entirely on the lyrics, and his analyses, while interesting, will probably prove too technical for the casual reader and insufficiently rigorous for the professional. One yearns for more insight into this charming and clever man who chose to hide his own light under his brother's not inconsiderable bushel. Ira was a master at breathing new life into old formulas with an urbane wit; Furia, unfortunately, is unable to do the same.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-508299-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1995


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