George Gershwin: Lullaby for String Quartet
Composed in 1919 when George Gershwin was still a student, Lullaby for String Quartet was one of the young composer’s first ‘serious’ works. As with many of Gershwin’s works, Lullaby was conceived at the piano and fully harmonised before Gershwin arranged it for string quartet. The piece saw its first outing at private parties that included friends of the composer, it was in these small concerts that Lullaby became popular. It wasn’t actually until 1967 that Lullaby received its first public performance, which was at the Library of Congress, performed by the acclaimed Juilliard String Quartet.
The main melody in Lullaby was also used in Gershwin’s opera Blue Monday. The quartet is in one movement and shows Gershwin’s jazz inspirations that become much more obvious in future pieces such as An American in Paris (1928) and Porgy and Bess (1935).
As the title suggests, Lullaby begins with a soft tutti opening before the top violin plays some harmonics. Gershwin’s use of repetition throughout adds to the genre of it being a lullaby and providing comfort. There is a lot of unison playing which sees the ensemble flow together and phrase as one unit. The tranquil melody carries throughout, even through the developmental central section. Gershwin’s use of syncopated rhythms creates a bluesy atmosphere at times, especially when the bassline begins to use pizzicato.
The violin and cello take short solos in the middle of the piece, but the overall textures of the piece create waves of richness throughout. The opening section of the piece returns and although the music is marked with a louder dynamic and ‘con fuoco’, the drama and intensity is still capped. All four voices play a sequence of harmonics before ending Lullaby with gentle pizzicatos.
Ⓒ Alex Burns