The extent of Gershwin's early musical studies cannot now be known, though it was more encompassing than the myth of untutored genius will allow. And at all stages of his career he had what nothing can teach -- a Schubertian gift for fluent, characteristic, and immediately compelling melody. Indeed, from his earliest days he carried with him what he called his tune book in which he jotted down the abundant ideas which came to him spontaneously. Even as his career began to open out, he continued to study with, among others, Edward Kilenyi, a well-respected private teacher who imparted the rudiments of harmony and orchestration. About this time, one of the "tunes" was worked into a piano piece, and it was as an exercise for Kilenyi, around 1919, that Gershwin scored it for string quartet as his Lullaby. Private copies soon circulated among friends and it was often performed at musical gatherings, to the young Gershwin's great satisfaction.
After a "tuning up" gesture, the slowly swinging blues melody is strutted in a skillfully varied exposition leading to a plaintively muted, hesitant moment which gives way to a rush of the warmest, most caressing lyricism before the initial blues returns to fade exquisitely.
In 1920 Gershwin was signed by George White to provide music for his annual Scandals. The first evening of George White's Scandals of 1922 featured Blue Monday, a one-act opera by Gershwin, which was largely undone by a melodramatically ludicrous book, though the score prefigures Porgy and Bess in its sureness of touch merging opera with the jazzy, popular lingua franca of the day to yield drama and character animated by demotic tang. The easy, gently swaying blues of the Lullaby's opening became an aria for Vi, the generic jealous woman -- "Has one of you seen my Joe" -- in which she rhapsodizes her possessive affection for her smalltime gambler boyfriend. For a moment, its potent melodic appeal renders her credible.
Lullaby was published only in 1968, while its premiere recording by the Juilliard String Quartet in 1974 began its path to enduring popularity.