"The Buzzard Song"
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by DuBose Heyward
In Act II Scene 1 of Porgy and Bess, Alan Archdale, the only sympathetic white character in the opera, tells Serena, Clara and Porgy he is bailing their friend Peter (the honey man) out of jail. Peter's theme is then played briefly as Porgy and the others thank Archdale for his help.
This happy moment ends when a buzzard flies overhead. To the people of Catfish Row that is a portent. The orchestra responds with high-pitched trills backed by an angry clash of C-sharp and G major chords. Then Porgy sings “The Buzzard Song.”
It is his most despairing and dramatic aria. The melody is a series of slow descents and the accompaniment is a dervish-like swirling six-note figure that leads into strident, dissonant chords. At “Two is strong where one is feeble”the music becomes lyrical and particularly touching. Heyward's words, which express the desire of a poor and crippled man for a the chance to love and be loved, is spare and powerful. There are no rhymes.
Midway, we get an orchestral interlude with instruments imitating a buzzard's cry. Those bird calls were presaged in Act I in “They Pass By Singin',” where Porgy has described the lonely life of a cripple. He now addresses the shadowy bird—angrily at first and then with pride (“Porgy who you used to feed on don' live here no mo'”). At the conclusion, when the chorus joins him, the orchestra plays a theme that will become part of the hurricane music, to be heard later in Act II.
There are many fine recordings of this music. In getting to know Porgy and Bess it's always a good idea to turn to the Houston Grand opera recording from the 1970s. A recording by Todd Duncan, the original Porgy, is available on amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/Buzzard-Song/dp/B000V6ODJ2/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1355686679&s=dmusic&sr=1-16.