Gershwin's Crap Game Fugue
This music first appears in Act 1, Scene 1 of Porgy and Bess.
The contrapuntal “Crown cockeyed drunk” music that appears shortly before the Crap Game Fugue is a canon—a musical device that Gershwin was very proud of having mastered. As for the fugue, it makes use of techniques that were taught to Gershwin by musical theorist Joseph Schillinger. Composer Vernon Duke, discussing Schillinger with Gershwin in 1935, argued against the teacher's mathematization of music. Gershwin, on the other hand, was delighted with the exercises Schillinger assigned him for homework. He liked the fact that the system gave order to techniques he had previously used only by instinct. After playing the fugue for Duke, Gershwin exclaimed: “Get this—Gershwin writing fugues! What will the boys say now?”
Toward the end of the opera's first scene, an argument between Robbins and Crown develops when Robbins wins a roll of the dice and sweeps up his earnings. Then, as four and sometimes five onlookers express their thoughts (each with a different melody line), the fight between Robbins and Crown begins. The orchestral accompaniment is the Crap Game Fugue.
At the moment Robbins is killed the music stops, except for a series of low, thudding E-flat dominant seventh chords over an A-natural bass, followed by a dramatic, eerie, disorienting, low F-sharp. Life has stopped—and then, suddenly, it begins again as the fugue returns.
The fugue is heard once more in Act 3, Scene 1 when Crown is killed by Porgy. With Porgy's exultant cry of “Bess, you got a man now, you got Porgy!” the orchestra plays the first six notes of Crown's leitmotiv one last time and then gives a maestoso reading of Porgy's theme.
Gershwin created an orchestral suit from Porgy and Bess, which was played by orchestras a few times in 1936 after the opera ended its run. It was then forgotten. By the time Ira rediscovered it in 1958—in his closet—there was already a well-known piece by Robert Russell Bennett called Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. So Ira called his brother's suite Catfish Row. The Crap Game Fugue can be heard in its entirety as part three of Gershwin's suite.