George Gershwin

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Biography

George Jacob Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), as well as the contemporary opera Porgy and Bess (1935).

Gershwin's compositions have been adapted for use in many films and for television, and several became jazz standards recorded and covered in many variations. Many celebrated singers and musicians have performed his songs.

Ancestry

Gershwin was of Russian Jewish and Ukrainian Jewish ancestry. His grandfather, Jakov Gershowitz, had served for 25 years as a mechanic for the Imperial Russian Army to earn the right of free travel and residence as a Jew, finally retiring near St. Petersburg. His teenage son, Moishe Gershowitz, worked as a leather cutter for women's shoes. Moishe Gershowitz met and fell in love with Roza Bruskina, the teenage daughter of a furrier in Vilnius. She and her family moved to New York due to increasing anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia, changing her first name to Rose. Moishe, faced with compulsory military service if he remained in Russia, moved to America as soon as he could afford to. Once in New York, he changed his first name to Morris. Gershowitz lived with a maternal uncle in Brooklyn, working as a foreman in a women's shoe factory. He married Rose on July 21, 1895, and Gershowitz soon Americanized his name to Gershwine. Their first child, Ira, was born on December 6, 1896, after which the family moved into a second-floor apartment on Brooklyn's Snediker Avenue.

Early Life

On September 26, 1898, George was born as second son to Morris and Rose Bruskin Gershwine in their second-floor apartment on Brooklyn's Snediker Avenue. His birth certificate identifies him as Jacob Gershwine, with the surname pronounced 'Gersh-vin' in the Russian and Yiddish immigrant community. He had just one given name, contrary to the American practice of giving children both a first and middle name. He was named after his grandfather, a one time Russian army mechanic. He soon became known as George, and changed the spelling of his surname to 'Gershwin' about the time he became a professional musician; other family members followed suit. After Ira and George, another boy, Arthur (1900–1981), and a girl, Frances (1906–1999), were born into the family.

The family lived in many different residences, as their father changed dwellings with each new enterprise in which he became involved. Mostly, they grew up around the Yiddish Theater District. George and Ira frequented the local Yiddish theaters, with George occasionally appearing onstage as an extra.

George lived a usual childhood existence for children of New York tenements: running around with his boyhood friends, roller skating and misbehaving in the streets. Remarkably, until 1908, he cared nothing for music, when, as a ten-year-old he was intrigued upon hearing his friend Maxie Rosenzweig's violin recital. The sound, and the way his friend played, captured him. At around the same time, George's parents had bought a piano for lessons for his older brother Ira, but to his parents' surprise (and Ira's relief), it was George who spent more time playing it.

Although his younger sister Frances was the first in the family to make a living through her musical talents, she married young and devoted herself to being a mother and housewife, thus surrendering any serious time to musical endeavors. Having given up her performing career, she settled upon painting as a creative outlet, which had also been a hobby George briefly pursued. Arthur Gershwin followed in the paths of George and Ira, also becoming a composer of songs, musicals, and short piano works.

With a degree of frustration, George tried various piano teachers before finally being introduced to Charles Hambitzer by Jack Miller (circa. 1913), the pianist in the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra. Until his death in 1918, Hambitzer remained Gershwin's musical mentor and taught him conventional piano technique, introduced him to music of the European classical tradition, and encouraged him to attend orchestral concerts. Following such concerts, young Gershwin would essentially try to play, on the piano at home, the music he had heard from recall, and without sheet music. As a matter of course, Gershwin later studied with the classical composer Rubin Goldmark and avant-garde composer-theorist Henry Cowell, thus formalizing his classical music training.

Tin Pan Alley and Broadway: 1913–1923

In 1913, Gershwin left school at the age of 15 and found his first job as a "song plugger." His employer was Jerome H. Remick and Company, a Detroit-based publishing firm with a branch office on New York City's Tin Pan Alley, and he earned $15 a week.

His first published song When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em was in 1916, when Gershwin was only 17 years old. It earned him 50 cents.

In 1916, Gershwin started working for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls in New York, recording and arranging. He produced dozens, if not hundreds, of rolls under his own and assumed names (pseudonyms attributed to Gershwin include Fred Murtha and Bert Wynn). He also recorded rolls of his own compositions for the Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon reproducing pianos. As well as recording piano rolls, Gershwin made a brief foray into vaudeville, accompanying both Nora Bayes and Louise Dresser on the piano. His 1917 novelty ragtime, Rialto Ripples, was a commercial success.

In 1919 he scored his first big national hit with his song, Swanee, with words by Irving Caesar. Al Jolson, a famous Broadway singer of the day, heard Gershwin perform Swanee at a party and decided to sing it in one of his shows.

In the late 1910s, Gershwin met songwriter and music director William Daly. The two collaborated on the Broadway musicals Piccadilly to Broadway (1920) and For Goodness' Sake (1922), and jointly composed the score for Our Nell (1923). This was the beginning of a long friendship. Daly was a frequent arranger, orchestrator and conductor of Gershwin's music, and Gershwin periodically turned to him for musical advice.

Musical, Europe and Classical Music: 1924–1928

In 1924, Gershwin composed his first major classical work, Rhapsody in Blue, for orchestra and piano. It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé and premiered by Paul Whiteman's Concert Band, in New York. It subsequently went on to be his most popular work, and established Gershwin's signature style and genius in blending vastly different musical styles in revolutionary ways.

Since the early 1920s, Gershwin frequently worked with the lyricist Buddy DeSylva. Together they created the experimental one-act jazz opera Blue Monday, set in Harlem. It is widely regarded as a forerunner to the groundbreaking Porgy and Bess. In 1924, George and Ira Gershwin collaborated on a stage musical comedy Lady Be Good, which included such future standards as Fascinating Rhythm and Oh, Lady Be Good!. They followed this with Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), and Strike Up the Band (1927 and 1930). Gershwin allowed the song, with a modified title, to be used by UCLA as a football fight song, Strike Up The Band for UCLA.

In the mid-1920s, Gershwin stayed in Paris for a short period of time, during which he applied to study composition with the noted Nadia Boulanger, who, along with several other prospective tutors such as Maurice Ravel, rejected him. They were afraid that rigorous classical study would ruin his jazz-influenced style. Maurice Ravel's rejection letter to Gershwin told him, "Why become a second-rate Ravel when you're already a first-rate Gershwin?" While there, Gershwin wrote An American in Paris. This work received mixed reviews upon its first performance at Carnegie Hall on December 13, 1928, but it quickly became part of the standard repertoire in Europe and the United States. Growing tired of the Parisian musical scene, Gershwin returned to the United States.

New York: 1929–1935

In 1929, Gershwin was contracted by Fox Film Corporation to compose the score for the movie Delicious. Only two pieces were used in the final film, the five-minute Dream Sequence and the six-minute Manhattan Rhapsody, which in expanded form was later published as the Second Rhapsody. Gershwin became infuriated when the rest of the score was rejected by Fox Film Corporation, and it would be seven years before he worked in Hollywood again.

In 1929, the Gershwin brothers created Show Girl, Girl Crazy (performed in 1930, and introduced Embraceable You, debuted by Ginger Rogers) and I Got Rhythm; and Of Thee I Sing in 1931, which was the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; the winners were George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, and Ira Gershwin.

Gershwin's first opera, Blue Monday, is a short one-act opera, which was not a financial success and has received only limited performances.

His most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess, first performed in 1935, based on the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, which he called a "folk opera," and is now widely regarded as one of the most important American operas of the twentieth century. "From the very beginning, it was considered another American classic by the composer of Rhapsody in Blue— even if critics couldn't quite figure out how to evaluate it. Was it opera, or was it simply an ambitious Broadway musical? 'It crossed the barriers,' per theater historian Robert Kimball. 'It wasn't a musical work per se, and it wasn't a drama per se – it elicited response from both music and drama critics. But the work has sort of always been outside category.'"

The action takes place in the fictional, African-American neighborhood of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. With the exception of several minor speaking roles, all of the characters are African-American. The music combines elements of popular music of the day, with a strong influence of African-American music of the period, with techniques typical of opera, such as recitative, through-composition and an extensive system of leitmotifs. Porgy and Bess contains some of Gershwin's most sophisticated music, including a fugue, a passacaglia, the use of atonality, polytonality and polyrhythm, and a tone row. Even the "set numbers" (of which Summertime, I Got Plenty o' Nuttin' and It Ain't Necessarily So are well-known examples) are some of the most refined and ingenious of Gershwin's compositions. For the performances, Gershwin collaborated with Eva Jessye, whom he picked as the musical director. The work was first performed in 1935; it was a box-office failure in the middle of the Great Depression.

Last Years: 1936–1937

After the commercial failure of Porgy and Bess, Gershwin moved to Hollywood, California. In 1936, he was commissioned by RKO Pictures to write the music for the film Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gershwin's extended score, which would marry ballet with jazz in a new way, runs over an hour in length. It took Gershwin several months to compose and orchestrate.

Gershwin had a ten-year affair with composer Kay Swift, whom he frequently consulted about his music. The two never married, although she eventually divorced her husband James Warburg in order to commit to the relationship. Swift's granddaughter, Katharine Weber, has suggested that the pair were not married because George's mother Rose was "unhappy that Kay Swift wasn't Jewish." Oh, Kay was named for her. After Gershwin's death, Swift arranged some of his music, transcribed several of his recordings, and collaborated with his brother Ira on several projects.

Illness and Death

Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he smelled burning rubber. On February 11, 1937, he performed his Piano Concerto in F in a special concert of his music with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of French maestro Pierre Monteux. Gershwin, normally a superb pianist in his own compositions, suffered coordination problems and blackouts during the performance. He was at the time working on other Hollywood film projects while living with Ira and his wife Leonore in their rented house in Beverly Hills. Leonore Gershwin began to be disturbed by George's mood swings and his seeming inability to eat without spilling food at the dinner table. She suspected mental illness and insisted he be moved out of their house to lyricist Yip Harburg's empty quarters nearby, where he was placed in the care of his valet, Paul Mueller. The headaches and olfactory hallucinations continued.

On June 23, 1937 after an incident in which Gershwin tried to push Mueller out of the car in which they were riding, he was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for observation. Tests showed no physical cause and he was released on the 26th with a diagnosis of "likely hysteria." His troubles with coordination and mental acuity worsened, though.

On the night of July 9, 1937 Gershwin collapsed in Harburg's house, where he had been working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies. He was rushed back to Cedars of Lebanon, and fell into a coma. Only then did his doctors think that he was suffering from a brain tumor. Leonore called George's close friend Emil Mosbacher and explained the dire need to find a neurosurgeon. Mosbacher immediately called pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing in Boston, who, retired for several years by then, recommended Dr. Walter Dandy, who was on a boat fishing in Chesapeake Bay with the governor of Maryland. Mosbacher then called the White House and had a Coast Guard cutter sent to find the governor's yacht and bring Dandy quickly to shore. Mosbacher then chartered a plane and flew Dandy to Newark Airport, where he was to catch a plane to Los Angeles; however, by that time, Gershwin's condition was critical and the need for surgery immediate. In the early hours of July 11th doctors at Cedars removed a large brain tumor, believed to have been a glioblastoma, but Gershwin died on the morning of July 11, 1937, at the age of 38. The fact that he had suddenly collapsed and become comatose after he stood up on July 9, has been interpreted as brain herniation with Duret hemorrhages.

Gershwin's friends and fans were shocked and devastated. John O'Hara remarked: "George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to." He was interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. A memorial concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 1937, at which Otto Klemperer conducted his own orchestration of the second of Gershwin's Three Preludes.

Recent Additions

[EuroArts 2053098] GERSHWIN: Seiji Ozawa - A Gershwin Night

[EuroArts 2053098] GERSHWIN: Seiji Ozawa - A Gershwin Night

Summertime on home made french horn (trompa feita em casa)

Summertime on home made french horn (trompa feita em casa)

"Rhapsody in Blue" ~ Performed by Richard Dowling ~ Part 1 of 2

TONY MADRUGA (10yo) G. GERSHWIN SUMMERTIME

TONY MADRUGA (10yo) G. GERSHWIN SUMMERTIME

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, Part 1/2

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, Part 1/2

Note: This page includes sections of revised and reformatted content from Wikipedia.org.