Born: September 26th, 1898
Died: July 11th, 1937
Country of origin: United States of America
Rhapsody in Blue
Conductor: James Gaffigan
May 26th, 2013 | De Doelen - Rotterdam - Netherlands
An American In Paris
Conductor: Marc Taddei
May 26th, 2013 | Wellington Town Hall - Wellington - New Zealand
George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York, the second of four children from a close-knit Russian Jewish immigrant family. At the age of 16, the young George quit school and began his musical career as a song-plugger on New York's Tin Pan Alley. He was soon writing his own songs and his first published work "When You Want ‘Em, You Can't Get ‘Em," demonstrated innovative new songwriting techniques and earned him all of five dollars. Soon after, however, he met a young lyricist named Irving Ceaser and together they would compose a long list of popular songs including "Swanee," which scored Gershwin his first big national hit.
"Swanee" would be followed in short order by a series of nearly forty-five more songs; among them "Somebody Loves Me" and "Stairway to Paradise," as well as the twenty-five-minute opera, "Blue Monday." Composed in five days, "Blue Monday," though a work of Gershwin juvenilia, offered hints of great musical development to come.
Gershwin's first collaboration with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, produced the Broadway hit "Lady Be Good" which included such standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love." It was the beginning of a partnership that would continue for the rest of the composer's life and would elevate the musical comedy to an American art form. Musicals including "Oh Kay!" and "Funny Face", starring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele, were created increasingly alongside more serious symphonic works as Gershwin aimed to make his mark in the concert world.
Gershwin's jazz-influenced Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra premiered in New York's Aeolian Hall at a concert entitled "An Experiment in Music" when the composer was still in his twenties. It would prove to be his most popular symphonic work. Among those in attendance at the premiere were Jascha Heifitz, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, Serge Rachmaninov, and Igor Stravinsky. Gershwin followed this success with his Piano Concerto in F and the now legendary tone poem An American in Paris which he wrote during an extended stay in Paris. French music, in particular the composers Debussy and Ravel, would prove to have a lasting influence on Gershwin's classical music. Critics were often at a loss as to where to place Gershwin's classical music in the standard repertoire and some simply dismissed him, but the music always found favor with the general public. He was very soon widely acclaimed in the concert world as piano virtuoso, conductor and composer.
Back on Broadway, George and Ira Gershwin continued to experiment with novel ideas and their hit show Of Thee I Sing dealt pointedly with social issues of the time, becoming the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize. This feat was soon followed by the premiere of Gershwin's folk opera and most ambitious work to date Porgy and Bess which had only moderate success. Now recognized as one of the seminal works of American opera, it includes such timeless favorites as "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Loves You, Porgy," and "Summertime."
Shortly after the premiere of Porgy and Bess, Gershwin moved to Hollywood to score a series of successful films but while there became ill. At the time of his premature death at the age of 38, Gershwin had plans to return to New York and was contemplating work on a new symphony, opera, and ballet. These compositions were not to be. Today he remains one of America's, indeed one of the world's, most beloved composers.