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George Gershwin

George Gershwin

American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) was eminently successful in popular music, as well as in the classical field with several concert works and an opera that have become standards in the contemporary repertory.

George Gershwin played a prominent role in one of the most colorful eras of American popular music: the so-called age of Tin Pan Alley—roughly 1890-1930—when popular music became big business. In Tin Pan Alley (28th Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue in New York City) numerous music publishing houses poured forth popular songs each year. The musical theater and the private parlor rang with the sounds of ragtime, romantic ballads, and comedy songs. Talented composers such as Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern, among dozens of lesser figures, fed this lucrative music-making machine and flourished.

George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in New York City on Sept. 26, 1898, the son of Rose and Morris Gershovitz, immigrants from Russia. After settling in New York's Lower East Side, his father changed the family name to Gershvin; when George entered the professional world of music, he altered the name to Gershwin.

When George was 12, the moderately well-off family purchased a piano; he soon showed a marked inclination for improvising melodies and was given piano lessons. Later he studied the theory of music and harmony. Though Gershwin was not interested in formal education and never finished high school, he continued to study music. Even after his success in musical comedy, he studied with composer Henry Cowell and with music theorist Joseph Schillinger.

Music Business

When Gershwin was 15, he went to work for a large publisher of popular music as a try-out pianist (or "song plugger"). He began writing his own songs about this time (mostly with lyricist Irving Caesar), none of which his employer was interested in publishing. Finally, in 1916, his first song appeared: "When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em."

Gershwin also began to get a few songs set into current musical shows, a common practice of the day. By 1918 he had shown enough promise to be hired by Harms, Inc., as a songwriter at a weekly salary. Gershwin scored his first big success in 1919 with the song "Swanee" (words by Irving Caesar), introduced by Al Jolson in Sinbad. In the same year he composed his first complete score, for the successful musical La, La, Lucille.

Musicals of the 1920s

During the 1920s Gershwin established himself as one of the musical theater's most talented and successful composers. He wrote five scores for successive editions of George White's Scandals (1920-1924) and began a series of shows with his brother, Ira, as lyricist, which included Lady Be Good (1924), Primrose (1924), Tell Me More (1925), Tip Toes (1925), Oh Kay (1926), Funny Face (1927), Rosalie (1928), Treasure Girl (1928), Show Girl (1929), and Strike Up the Band (1929).

Concert Works

In 1924 the prominent bandleader Paul Whiteman asked Gershwin to write an original "jazz" work for a concert. The result, Rhapsody in Blue for piano and jazz band, was Gershwin's debut in the concert hall as pianist and composer, his first attempt at writing an extended piece, and the first time jazz rhythms and blues-oriented melodies were used successfully within a classical framework.

Reviewing the premiere, Olin Downes wrote that the "composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk…." These aims were demonstrated again in the Piano Concerto in F (1925), commissioned by Walter Damrosch for his New York Symphony; Three Preludes for piano (1926); and An American in Paris (1928), premiered by Damrosch and the New York Philharmonic. After Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin himself scored all his orchestral works.

In the 1930s Gershwin composed four more musicals with Ira: Girl Crazy (1930); Of Thee I Sing (1931), which was the first musical awarded a Pulitzer Prize; Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933); and Pardon My English (1933). He also wrote film scores, including Damsel in Distress and Shall We Dance. He spent 2 years on his last major work, the opera Porgy and Bess (1935), based on a novel by DuBose Heyward about a ghetto in Charleston, S. C. The composer died of a brain tumor in Beverly Hills, Calif., on July 11, 1937.

Gershwin's best songs have proved to be some of the most durable of his era, and his classical works give his career a dimension shared by none of his Tin Pan Alley companions. His fondness for African American music is responsible in part for the rhythmic vitality and blues-tinged lyricism of all his works. His best scores, especially those utilizing Ira Gershwin's trenchant and sympathetic verses, are as fresh, vigorous, and unconventional as any written for the American musical theater. Moreover, Gershwin's music has a peculiar American stamp recognized the world over.

Further Reading

David Ewen, George Gershwin: His Journey to Greatness (rev. ed. 1970), is the most detailed and accurate of the biographies. Isaac Goldberg, George Gershwin: A Study in American Music (1931; new enlarged ed. by Edith Garson, 1958), the earliest biography, was written with Gershwin's cooperation and is of special interest. See also Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart, The Gershwin Years (1958). □

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Gershwin, George

Gershwin, George [ Gershwin, Jacob] (b Brooklyn, NY, 1898; d Hollywood, Calif., 1937). Amer. composer and pianist. Son of Russ. Jewish migrants who went to USA c.1893 (family name Gershovitz). Pf. lessons 1913 from Charles Hambitzer; later studied theory and harmony with Rubin Goldmark and Edward Kilenyi for whom he wrote a str. qt. (1919). In 1914 left school to work as pianist and ‘song plugger’ for Remick, a publisher of popular mus. Wrote his first song in 1916 and his first Broadway musical, La La Lucille, in 1919. For the next 14 years a Gershwin musical was a feature of NY theatrical life. His first outstanding ‘hit’ was the song Swanee (1919), which became assoc. with Al Jolson. In 1924 he enjoyed success in a new genre, that of applying jazz idioms to concert works, when his Rhapsody in Blue for pf. and orch. had its f.p. From then until the end of his life he produced larger-scale works alongside the songs (many with words by his elder brother Ira (Israel)) he wrote for musicals and, after 1931, films. The Pf. Conc. of 1925 was followed by An American in Paris, a second Rhapsody, the Cuban Overture, and in 1935 by the opera Porgy and Bess which is still the only opera by an Amer. composer to become est. in the repertory.

Gershwin's melodic gift was phenomenal. His songs contain the essence of NY in the 1920s and have deservedly become classics of their kind, part of the 20th-cent. folk-song tradition in the sense that they are popular mus. which has been spread by oral tradition (for many must have sung a Gershwin song without having any idea who wrote it). His larger-scale works, melodically remarkable as might be expected, suffer from his haphazard mus. education and lack of grounding in counterpoint, theory, etc. (Rhapsody in Blue was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé, but Gershwin himself scored the later works.) He went for lessons to Henry Cowell and Joseph Schillinger, and there can be little doubt that had he lived longer he would have progressed to considerable symphonic achievement. As it is, his mixture of the primitive and the sophisticated gives his mus. individuality and an appeal which shows no sign of diminishing. Prin. works:OPERAS: Blue Monday (1-act; item in George White's Scandals 1922 but withdrawn after 1 perf.; retitled 135th Street and revived Miami 1970); Porgy and Bess (1934–5).ORCH.: Rhapsody in Blue (pf. and orch.) (1924); pf. conc. in F major (1925); An American in Paris (1928); Second Rhapsody (pf. and orch.) (1931); Cuban Overture (1932); ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations (pf. and orch.) (1934).MUSICALS: The Passing Show of 1916; La La Lucille (1919); George White's Scandals (1920–4); A Dangerous Maid (1921); Sweet Little Devil (1924); Primrose (1924); Lady, Be Good! (1924); Song of the Flame (1925); Tell Me More (1925); Tip Toes (1925); Oh, Kay! (1926, lyrics by P. G. Wodehouse); Strike up the Band (1927, 2nd vers. 1930); Funny Face (1927); Rosalie (1928); Treasure Girl (1928); Show Girl (1929); Girl Crazy (1930); Of Thee I Sing (1931, lyrics by George F. Kaufman); Pardon my English (1933); Let 'em eat Cake (1933).FILMS: Delicious (1931); Shall We Dance?; A Damsel in Distress (1937); The Goldwyn Follies (1938); The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1946); Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).PIANO: 3 Preludes (1926) (transcr. for vn. and pf. by Heifetz).SONGS: Among the best of hundreds of songs are Swanee; The Man I Love; Embraceable You; I Got Rhythm; Fascinating Rhythm; 'S Wonderful; Lady Be Good; and Love Walked In. The popular Summertime is from Porgy and Bess.

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"Gershwin, George." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Gershwin, George." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gershwin-george

Gershwin, George

George Gershwin (gŭrsh´wĬn), 1898–1937, American composer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Jacob Gershwin. Gershwin wrote some of the most original and popular musical works produced in the United States. Although he studied harmony with Rubin Goldmark (see under Goldmark, Karl), he received most of his musical training in Tin Pan Alley, playing the piano for a publisher of popular music. He first achieved wide success with his song "Swanee." In addition to a great number of songs, he wrote the scores for several musicals, including George White's Scandals (1920), Lady, Be Good! (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1930), and George S. Kaufman's Of Thee I Sing (1931; Pulitzer Prize).

In many compositions Gershwin combined traditional musical forms with jazz and folk themes and rhythms. They include Rhapsody in Blue (1924), a symphonic jazz composition for jazz band, piano, and orchestra; the Piano Concerto in F (1925); An American in Paris (1928), a tone poem incorporating elements of jazz as well as realistic sound effects; Porgy and Bess (1935; from the book by Dubose Heyward), a folk opera about African-American life, which includes the famous song "Summertime" ; and Three Preludes (1936), for the piano. Gershwin also composed music for Hollywood films.

His brother, Ira Gershwin, 1896–1983, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote beautifully crafted lyrics for many Gershwin songs. The "rhymed conversation" that he wrote to his brother's music includes the words for "But Not for Me," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I've Got a Crush on You," and "'S Wonderful." After George Gershwin's death, Ira collaborated with such composers as Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

Bibliography

See biographies by I. Goldberg (new ed. 1958), D. Ewen (rev. ed. 1970), E. Jablonski (1987), W. G. Hyland (2003), and H. Pollack (2006); C. Schwartz, Gershwin: His Life and Music (1973); R. Kimball and A. Simon, The Gershwins (1973); I. Gershwin, Lyrics on Several Occasions (1959, repr. 1997); E. Jablonski and L. D. Steward, The Gershwin Years (rev. ed. 1973); R. Kimball, ed., The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (1993); P. Furia, Ira Gershwin, The Art of the Lyricist (1995).

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"Gershwin, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Gershwin, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gershwin-george

Gershwin, George

Gershwin, George (1898–1937) US popular composer, b. Jacob Gershovitz. His brother Ira Gershwin (1896–1983) mostly wrote the lyrics. George composed musicals, such as Lady Be Good (1924), a jazz opera Porgy and Bess (1935), and some orchestral works, such as Rhapsody in Blue (1924).

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"Gershwin, George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Gershwin, George." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gershwin-george