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Was George Gershwin's world hit "Summertime" really based on a Ukrainian lullaby?

Could an American composer really have written his biggest hit based on a Ukrainian lullaby? And if so, how did he learn about it? We offer to study this topic thoroughly.

What is the relationship between George Gershwin's hit song "Summertime" and the Ukrainian lullaby "Oh sleep walks near the windows"?

"Summertime." и "Oh, there's sleep at the window." - the titles of these two world-famous works are often seen side by side. The point is that their opening lines are very similar to each other. Too similar. But is the world George Gershwin's hit was based on Ukrainian lullaby? Today we will try to figure it out, and also give some curious facts that you may not have known before.

The story and success of "Summertime"

Cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime."
Cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime."

"Summertime." - one of the most famous and frequently recorded works not only in the career of the George Gershwinbut also in history as a whole. It was born in the distant 1935 - the American composer wrote it especially for his opera. "Porgy and Bess.". At first, the opera was not a success, and neither was the composition itself. Fame fell on Gershwin's brainchild only decades later, after the musician's death. And "Summertime" contributed to a great extent to this!

https://youtu.be/ixdJLXDT_QM

Subsequently, the song became a colossal success among listeners. Not surprisingly, many artists started recording their interpretations. There are over 60 thousands versions of this work! And this is only officially, i.e. in reality these figures are much higher. Summertime" recordings are popular among collectors, and the most valuable version is considered to be the one recorded on the "Summertime" album. Elloy Fitzgerald и by Louis Armstrong.

https://youtu.be/lnXLVTi_m_M

Thanks to such hype around the song, "Summertime" performed by different artists periodically topped the US charts again and again Billboard. But what is the reason for such a frenzy around an old work that did not initially claim to be a hit? The fact is that years after the first opera. "Porgy and Bess." a lot of people have started comparing "Summertime." with the Ukrainian lullaby "Oy goes sleep under the windows". As a result, all these comparisons gave rise to many legends and even grew into a real cult.

What do you have in common with "Oh, there's a dream at the window"?

Art Month and Girl
"The Month and the Girl."

"Oh, there's sleep at the window." - a famous Ukrainian lullaby, which, thanks to a hit song. George Gershwin is well known all over the world. It doesn't take a special musical ear to notice that the opening phrases and melody of these pieces are very similar!

But this raises a very logical question: could the American composer really have written his biggest hit based on a Ukrainian lullaby? And if so, how did he find out about it? We propose to study this topic thoroughly.

Could George Gershwin have been inspired by a Ukrainian lullaby

The great composer George Gershwin
The great composer George Gershwin

In theory. George Gershwin may indeed have been inspired by a Ukrainian lullaby. But no more than that. If you listen carefully to both works, it becomes obvious that apart from the opening lines, they have absolutely nothing in common.

It is generally believed that the inspiration for "Summertime" came from the song "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." - a so-called traditional spirituals hymn. Spirituals - is the spiritual music of African-American Protestants. Subsequently, it had a great influence on jazz. And such borrowing seems more reasonable and possible than plagiarising a Ukrainian lullaby.

However, Gershwin may actually have borrowed a small fragment from the "Oh, there's sleep at the window.". If one delves into his family tree, one finds that his ancestors were immigrants from Russia. This confirms the fact that the future composer could have learnt the Ukrainian lullaby in early childhood. Or from his parents, to whom it was certainly sung in their childhood.

Also, if you listen to a Jewish lullaby. "Pipi-pipipee" and compare it to the Ukrainian one, you can find a lot of similarities. This multiplies the chance that George Gershwin could actually hear the melody that would eventually form the basis of the "Summertime.".

One last thing

Composer George Gershwin
Composer George Gershwin

Let's summarise. Did you hear George Gershwin a melody from a Ukrainian lullaby, which ended up being repeated in his hit song "Summertime."? Most likely, yes. Could he have borrowed it? It is quite possible that some fragments simply popped up in the composer's memory when writing his own work. Nevertheless, it can't be called plagiarism. And in general - the works are completely different, so it is pointless to try to compare them. Nevertheless, "Summertime" was, is and will be one of the most popular compositions, whose age is close to a century.

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