George Gershwin

George Gershwin, born September 26, 1898 and died July 11, 1937 was an American composer/pianist. Gershwin’s compositions were both popular and classic, and his most well-known melodies are well-known. His most well-known works include the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. He also wrote the opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin was born in Brooklyn to a Ukrainian father and Russian mother. He studied composition with Henry Cowell and Rubin Goldmark, and piano under Charles Hambitzer. His career began as a song-plugger. He soon started writing Broadway theatre pieces with Buddy DeSylva and his brother Ira Gershwin. In an effort to learn from Nadia Boulanger in Paris, he moved there to begin to write An American in Paris. He returned to New York City and wrote Porgy and Bess together with Ira and DuBose Heyward. Porgy and Bess was initially a commercial failure. It is now one of the most important American operas in the Twentieth century. Gershwin made his way to Hollywood, where he composed many film scores. He died in 1937 of a brain tumour. Gershwin’s music has been featured in many films and television shows. Many of his compositions were also recorded as jazz standards in many variations. Numerous musicians and singers have recorded Gershwin songs. George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershvin in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1898. His parents were Odessa (Ukraine) Jews. After emigrating from Russia in the 1890s, his father Morris (Moishe) Gershowitz changed his name to Gershvin. Rosa Bruskin, Gershwin’s mother, had already emigrated to the United States from Russia. Gershvin met her in New York, and the couple were married on July 21, 1895. After he became a professional pianist, George changed the spelling to “Gershwin” and other family members followed his lead. George Gershwin was second in a family of four, with Arthur (1900-1981), Ira (1996-1983), Frances (1906-1999) and Arthur (1900-1981). At the age of 10, he first became interested in music when he was captivated by what he saw at Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin recital. He was captivated by the sound and the style of his friend’s playing. His parents bought him a piano to teach his older brother Ira. But, much to the delight of his parents and Ira’s relief it was George who actually played it. Frances Gershwin, his younger sister, was the first to make a living from her musical talent. She married young and became a mother and a housewife. For another creative outlet, she settled on painting. George Gershwin was also a hobby of hers. After trying several piano teachers for two year, Gershwin was finally introduced to Charles Hambitzer through Jack Miller, the pianist of the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra. He was Gershwin’s mentor until Hambitzer died in 1918. Hambitzer introduced Gershwin to European classical music, taught him the basics of piano technique and encouraged him to go to orchestra concerts. After such concerts, Gershwin would try to recreate the music he heard at home by playing the piano. Later, he studied with Rubin Goldmark, a classical composer, and Henry Cowell (avant-garde composer-theorist). Gershwin left school at 15 and found his first job as a “song-plugger” for Jerome H. Remick and Company. This publishing company was located in New York City’s Tin Pan Alley. He earned $15 per week. “When you want ’em, you can’t get ’em, when you’ve got ’em, don’t want ’em” was his first song. It was published in 1916, when Gershwin was just 17 years old. It earned Gershwin $5. He was only 17 years old when he published the novelty rag “Rialto Ripples” in 1917. In 1919, he had his first national hit with “Swanee”, written by Irving Caesar. Al Jolson was a well-known broadway singer who saw George sing “Swanee” and decided to perform it on one of his shows. Gershwin began recording and arranging music for Standard Music Rolls and Aeolian Company in New York in 1916. He produced many rolls, some hundreds, under his own name and assumed names. Gershwin was also known by pseudonyms Bert Wynn and Fred Murtha. He also recorded rolls with his own compositions for Duo-Art, Welte-Mignon and Welte-Mignon reproducing pianists. Gershwin also recorded piano rolls. He was accompanied by Louise Dresser and Nora Bayes on the piano. Buddy DeSylva, a lyricist, was a frequent collaborator of Gershwin in the 1920s. They created Blue Monday, an experimental jazz opera set in Harlem that was widely considered to be a precursor to the groundbreaking Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin created a stage musical comedy Lady Be Good in 1924. It included future standards like “Fascinating Rhythm”, and “Oh, Lady Be Good!” Oh, Kay! followed. (1926); Funny Face (277); Strike Up the Band (1927, 1930); Gershwin gave the song with a modified title and permission to UCLA to be used in a football fight song called “Strike Up the Band for UCLA”. Show Girl (1929); Girl Crazy ( 1930), which introduced “I Got Rhythm”, and “Strike Up the Band for UCLA”, the first musical comedy to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for Drama). Gershwin’s first major classical piece, Rhapsody in Blue, was composed for piano and orchestra in 1924. Ferde Grofe orchestrated it and Paul Whiteman’s New York concert band premiered it. It was his most beloved work. Gershwin spent a brief time in Paris, where he applied for composition lessons with Nadia Boulanger, a well-known instructor. He was afraid that his jazz-influenced style would be destroyed by rigorous classical studies. Gershwin also wrote An American in Paris while he was there. Although it received mixed reviews at Carnegie Hall’s first performance on December 13, 1928, this work quickly became a standard part of European and American repertoire. Gershwin became tired of the Parisian music scene and returned to the United States. Fox Film Corporation contracted Gershwin to score the soundtrack for the 1929 movie Delicious. The final film featured only two pieces, the five-minute “Dream Sequence”, and the six minute “Manhattan Rhapsody”. Gershwin was furious when Fox Film Corporation rejected the remainder of the score. It would be seven years until he returned to Hollywood. Porgy and Bess (1935) was Gershwin’s most ambitious composition. It was called a “folk operetta” by Gershwin, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest American operas of all time. It was considered another American masterpiece by the composer of “Rhapsody in Blue” — even though critics were unable to properly evaluate it. It was opera or was it a Broadway musical? Robert Kimball, theater historian, says that it crossed all the boundaries. It wasn’t a musical piece per se and it wasn’t a drama per su — it received response from both drama and music critics. The work was always considered outside the normal definition. “[20] Based upon the novel Porgy, the action takes places in the fictional all-black neighborhood Catfish Row in Charleston. Except for a few minor speaking roles, all characters are black. The music blends elements from popular music with a strong influence from Black music. It also uses techniques typical to opera such as recitative and through-composition, and extensive systems of leitmotifs. Porgy and Bess features some of Gershwin’s most complex music, including a fugue and a passacaglia. It also includes the use of atonality and polytonality as well as a tone row. The “set numbers”, such as “Summertime”, I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” and “It ain’t Necessarily So”, are among the most sophisticated and innovative of Gershwin’s output. Gershwin worked with Eva Jessye as musical director for the performances. She was a distinguished musical alumnae from Western University in Kansas. She had founded her own New York choir and performed extensively with them. It was performed for the first time in 1935. However, it was not a success at the box office. Gershwin relocated to Hollywood, California after the failed film Porgy and Bess. RKO Pictures commissioned Gershwin to compose the music for Shall We Dance in 1936, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gershwin’s extended score that would combine ballet and jazz in a new way is over an hour long. Gershwin spent several months writing and orchestrating it. Gershwin started to experience blinding headaches in 1937. He also felt the recurring sensation of smelling burnt rubber. His brain tumor was diagnosed as glioblastoma multifocal. Glioblastoma multifocale was questioned. Gershwin’s tumor was described by the surgeon as a right temporal-lobe cyst with an mural nodule. This is consistent with a pilocytic, which is a very low-grade brain tumor. Gershwin experienced an olfactory hallucination in 1934. It is unlikely that a glioblastoma multifocale would produce symptoms for that long before causing death. Pilocytic tumors can cause symptoms that last for up to twenty years before being diagnosed. It is possible that Gershwin’s chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, which he called “composer’s stomach”, were caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. If this is true, Gershwin wasn’t “a notorious hypochondriac”, as Edward Jablonski, his biographer, suggested. Jablonski wrote in a letter to Edward Jablonski that Gershwin “was a notorious hypochondriac” and that his complaints “were not taken seriously”. Gershwin gave a concert of his music in January 1937 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, under the direction French maestro Pierre Monteux. During his final performances, Gershwin experienced “musical blackouts”. Gershwin fell while working on The Goldwyn Follies’ score in Hollywood in June and was taken to hospital. After surgery to remove the tumor, he died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on July 11, at 38. John O’Hara commented: “George Gershwin was killed on July 11, 1937. But I don’t have the obligation to believe it.” He was buried at Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson (New York). On September 8, 1937, a memorial concert was held in Hollywood Bowl. Otto Klemperer orchestrated his own orchestration for the second of Gershwin’s Three Piano Preludes. Gershwin was nominated for his Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1937 Oscars for “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, a song he wrote with his brother Ira in 1937’s Shall We Dance. Gershwin passed away two months after the film was released. The nomination was posthumous. Gershwin was involved in a ten year affair with Kay Swift, a composer. He often consulted her about his music but they never got married. Katharine Weber (Kay Swift’s granddaughter) suggested that they never got married as George’s mother Rose wasn’t happy that Kay Swift was not Jewish. Kay Swift was named after her. Swift was able to arrange some of Gershwin’s music and transcribe some of his recordings. He also collaborated with Ira on many projects. George Gershwin’s mausoleum at Westchester Hills Cemetery Gershwin was intestate. His mother received his property. From licensing Gershwin’s works, the Gershwin estate continues collecting significant royalties. Because the 1923 deadline was just before Gershwin began to create his most famous works, the estate supported Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Copyrights on Gershwin’s solo work ended in 2007 in the European Union. This was based on his life plus 70 years of rule in force in Europe. The Guardian calculated that George Gershwin was among the most wealthy composers of all time in 2005 using estimates of earned earnings over a lifetime. Wikipedia

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