Personalities | George Gershwin | Modern Era | Classical

American composer

As a teenager, Gershwin played the latest hit songs to potential customers in a sheet-music store, and by the age of 21 (with his ‘Swanee’, made popular by Al Jolson) he had become a successful songwriter himself. After a visit to Europe, when he heard the latest musical shows and operettas that London, Berlin and elsewhere had to offer, he began writing musicals (Oh, Kay!, Funny Face and others), but also sought a formal musical education, studying briefly with numerous teachers. Alongside his musicals and popular songs, he began to write concert works, beginning with Rhapsody in Blue (1924). An American in Paris (1927) is a still more successful example of this, but Gershwin’s ambition now was to combine his command of large-scale forms and his mastery of musical theatre in a genuinely American opera. This he achieved, two years before his early death, with Porgy and Bess (1935), but his popular songs have proved no less enduring.

Recommended Recording:
Rhapsody in Blue, Leonard Bernstein, Los Angeles PO (Deutsche Grammophon)

Sounds Familiar

Rhapsody in Blue
Written very rapidly (Gershwin did not have time to orchestrate it himself) in 1924 for a concert of ‘symphonic syncopation’ at New York’s Aeolian Hall attended by Rachmaninov, Rhapsody in Blue takes jazz and other popular styles and develops them symphonically. No other work of its kind has achieved such lasting popularity.

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