Composers Datebook®

Gershwin's last film score

George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) — Damsel in Distress Suite (An American in London) (Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.) Philips 434 274

Composer's Datebook - November 19, 2021


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November 19, 2021


In the summer of 1936, the songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin settled their affairs in New York, put their furniture in storage, and flew off to Hollywood to fulfill a contract with the RKO Studios. The Gershwins were to supply music for a series of new movies, some starring an old friend of theirs, dancer Fred Astaire.

In those days the big movie studios moved quickly, and so did the Gershwins. The first film in the contracted series, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the romantic leads, was entitled “Shall We Dance” and was completed, scored and released in less than a year.

On today’s date in 1937, RKO Studios released their second Gershwin collaboration, “Damsel in Distress.” This starred Astaire and Joan Fontaine, and included two songs that would become Gershwin classics: “A Foggy Day in London Town” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

The release of “Damsel in Distress,” however, must have been a bittersweet event for the friends and family of George Gershwin: it proved to be the last major project Gershwin had completed before his untimely death on July 11 that same year following surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) — Damsel in Distress Suite (An American in London) (Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.) Philips 434 274

On This Day


  • 1859 - Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, in Gatchina, near St. Petersburg (see Julian date: Nov. 7);


  • 1630 - German composer Johann Hermann Schein, age 44, in Leipzig;

  • 1828 - Austrian composer Franz Schubert, age 31, in Vienna;

  • 1825 - Bohemian composer Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorisek (or Worzischek), age 34, in Vienna;

  • 1998 - American composer Earl Kim, age 78, in Cambridge, Mass.;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 26 ("Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig") performed on the 24th Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1739 - Rameau: opera "Dardanus," in Paris;

  • 1875 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3, in Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 7);

  • 1923 - In Budapest, for the 50th Anniversary of the union of the cities Buda and Pest (on opposite sides of the Danube), a gala concert premieres Ernst von Dohnányi's "Festive Overture," Zoltán Kódaly's "Psalmus Hungaricus," and Béla Bartók's "Dance Suite";

  • 1953 - Elliott Carter: Sonata for flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord, in New York City;

  • 1984 - Christopher Rouse: “Gorgon” for orchestra, by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, David Zinman, cond;

  • 1994 - John Adams: "John's Book of Alleged Dances" for string quartet and foot-controlled sampler, at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, by the Kronos Quartet;

  • 2000 - Philip Glass: Double Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, at Lincoln Center in New York, by the American Composers Orchestra;

  • 2004 - Henry Brant: "Wind, Water, Clouds and Fire," for six spatial arranged performing groups and choirs including the Present Music Ensemble,the Bucks American Indian Drumming and Singing Group, and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony, at the Cathredral of St. John the Evagelist in Milwaukee, Wisc.


  • 1863 - The U.S. Marine Corps Band accompanies President Lincoln to Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery on the occasion of his famous Gettysburg Address;

  • 1937 - The RKO film "Damsel in Distress" is released, with music by George Gershwin; This film includes the classic Gershwin songs "A Foggy Day," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It";

  • 1957 - Leonard Bernstein named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, the first American-born and American-trained conductor to assume the post of a major American orchestra;