George Gershwin

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George Gershwin
Jacob Gershvin
Birthday
BirthplaceBrooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died
Occupation
Musical composer, pianist

Gershwin, George

(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, KarlGoldmark, Karl,
1830–1915, Hungarian composer. His concert overture Sakuntala (1865), his symphony A Rustic Wedding (1870), and an opera, The Queen of Sheba (1875), were very popular.
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), 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 WeillWeill, Kurt
, 1900–1950, German-American composer, b. Dessau, studied with Humperdinck and Busoni in Berlin. He first became known with the production of two short satirical surrealist operas, Der Protagonist (1926) and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren
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, Jerome KernKern, Jerome
, 1885–1945, American composer of musicals, b. New York City. After studying in New Jersey and New York he studied composition in Germany and England. His first success was the operetta The Red Petticoat (1912).
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, and Harold ArlenArlen, Harold
, 1905–86, American jazz and popular composer, b. Buffalo, N.Y., as Hyman Arluck. From the age of seven Arlen sang in the synagogue where his father was cantor, at 15 he left school to play jazz piano, and at 16 he left home.
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.

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).

Gershwin, George

 

Born Sept. 26, 1898, in New York; died July 11, 1937, in Beverly Hills, Calif. American composer and pianist.

Gershwin was born into a Jewish family (Gershovich) that had emigrated from Russia. He did not receive a systematic music education, but he took music lessons with C. Hambitzer (piano) and R. Goldmark (harmony). He acquired fame as the composer of jazz songs for the variety stage, operettas, and revues. Later he also turned to instrumental genres and opera.

Gershwin is the most prominent representative of so-called symphonic jazz. His style combines the tradition of improvisational jazz, elements of Afro-American musical folklore, including blues and spirituals, and the characteristic features of the light genre (the so-called Broadway variety stage) with the classical forms of European music—operatic, symphonic, and concert music. In spite of diverse influences, Gershwin’s music is distinguished by its striking originality. His creative work is imbued with satirical features, sharp humor, and the grotesque (for example, the musicals on political themes Strike up the Band and Of Thee I Sing and the symphonic suite An American in Paris).

Among Gershwin’s best works are Rhapsody in Blue for piano and jazz orchestra (1924) and the opera Porgy and Bess, which was on a theme from the lives of the Negro poor and was the first American national opera (1935). The work is distinguished by the vividness and contrasts of its musical character and by its intense dynamics. Developing the tradition of the ballad opera, Gershwin combined musical conversational dialogues with arias, ensembles, and choruses. The tragic principle is interwoven in the opera with the comic genre—spirituals and lyrical blues alternate with grotesque ragtimes. Porgy and Bess has been successfully performed in theaters in many cities in the world. It has been staged in the USSR since 1945. (The first production was presented by the Ensemble of Soviet Opera.)

REFERENCES

Grigor’ev, L., and Ia. Platek. Dzhordzh Gershvin. Moscow, 1956.
Konen, F. Puti amerikanskoi myzyki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.

V. IU. DEL’SON

Gershwin, George

(1898–1937) composer; born in New York City. From a Russian-Jewish immigrant family, he began playing both popular and classical piano in childhood and soon was writing tunes. He left school in 1913 to pursue music, becoming a Tin Pan Alley song plugger and composer. His first hit song, "Swanee," dates from 1919; the same year saw his first Broadway musical, La, La, Lucille. During the next 18 years, he produced an astonishing amount of music including—in collaboration with his lyricist brother, Ira Gershwin—a celebrated series of musicals such as Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1929), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Of Thee I Sing (1931). For the stage and otherwise, he composed some of the most sophisticated American popular songs, among them "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Beyond his immense achievements in popular music, however, he also pursued an ambitious goal of uniting commercial and classical genres (at one point even seeking to study under Ravel); the result was his historic jazz-oriented concert works such as Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), as well as the "folk opera" Porgy and Bess (1935). Despite his premature death, he left a body of work whose sheer melody and inventiveness guarantee its appeal to music-lovers of all persuasions.