Singer, composer George Gershwin once said “True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.” In today’s society there are not many composers looked up to. Now everyone wants to learn about new rappers or legends in sports. To others, like pianist they look up to people like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or new hip pianist like Alicia Keys. To some people George Gershwin is considered one of the few great pianists. When he emerged as a new composer he was unlike any other, this man was unique in all sorts of ways. He was unique for his sense of style and jazziness. Today, his music is rarely played, but when you hear it you just may know a song of his.
On September 26, 1898, in Brooklyn New York, Morris and Rose Gershvin were surprised with a baby boy named Jacob “George” Gershwin (Gersh-vin). Rose and Morris were both Russian- Jewish immigrants that were from the middle class. Rose and Morris had their name changed from Gershowitz then to Gershwin because the immigrant official changed it upon their arrival. George was the second child out of four. At the very young age of eleven Morris and Rose bought a piano for George’s brother Ira. To their surprise George was the child that could play by ear. 1 On the piano he played a piece that was quite popular.
At the age of thirteen, George’s parents began to pay for piano lessons. When George became fifteen he felt that school was unnecessary for him. His first job was at a summer resort making only five dollars a week. He dropped out of school and started to play in nightclubs. Even at the young age of fifteen George was a very talented pianist.
After Gershwin dropped out of school his second career began. George’s career began at a place called Tin Pan Alley. While George worked at the Tin Pan Alley he made fifteen dollars a week. Also, during the year of 1916, George had is first song ever published. The song was entitled “When you want ‘Em you can’t get ‘Em”. Murray Roth composed the lyrics to the song. At first this song was not a big hit, but as it kept being played a few Broadway producers enjoyed the song. This song made him only $5 dollars, while the lyrics composer got a raise of fifteen dollars.
In 1918 Gershwin began working with his brother Ira. In the same year he was hired as a song writer for T.B. Harms. 1919 George Gershwin was hired as the musician for the show La, La Lucille. This show ran a hundred times and in the same year he was hired to write music for Swanee.
In January Gershwin started Rhapsody in Blue. This is one of the most popular of Gershwin’s pieces. The song was unique with the musical content it obtained. There were blue notes2, syncopated rhythms, and onomatopoeic instrumental effects. There was a premier for the song on February 12th at the Aeolian Hall in New York and it was an incomplete piece. The song was ad-libbed and made up as it went along; the orchestra conductor was to wait on a signal from Gershwin to show when to end the piece. This piece is usually recognized as George Gershwin’s piece, yet he did not orchestrate it.
In the musical Girl Crazy Gershwin and Ethel Merman worked together to make one of the best collaborations of that time.
After Girl Crazy, Gershwin devoted himself to writing orchestral pieces. Some of them were Concerto in F, An American in Paris, Manhattan Rhapsody, and Rhapsody in Rivets.
The orchestral piece Concerto in F was Gershwin’s longest piece. In the orchestral piece Concert in F there were three types of movements. The first movement flows by a sonata structure. There was an exposition, development, and recapitulation. It uses themes from The Charleston.3 The second movement is slow and soothing, whereas the third movement had a rondo like theme. When the song was complete it was premiered in Carnegie Hall.
The next year George Gershwin begins to work with his brother Ira. They make beautiful music together. They produced many comedy musicals like Oh Kay! Strike up the Band, Funny Face, Rosalie Treasure Girl, and Of Thee I Sing.
The musical comedy Of Thee I Sing, won a Pulitzer Prize for drama during the Great Depression. Of Thee I Sing, was the first piece to win a Pulitzer Prize. George Gershwin once said “We are living in an age of staccato and not legato.” This quote means that we are living in a speedy life style whereas we are not living in an age or time of being long and drawn out.
After the musical comedy a negotiation between DuBose Heyward took place. This negotiation is over the piece Porgy and Bess. The piece Porgy and Bess is based on the Broadway show by Heyward. This piece was written by Ira Gershwin, George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. This piece was like none of the others because it was written on Folly Island. This was done so Gershwin could write in relaxation. Being alone to write the song helped out in the completion of the piece. The next year in January was when the piece was fully completed. The piece was presented and got an awful review. The New York Post said that it was a “Hybrid, fluctuating constantly between music-drama, musical comedy and operetta.” Gershwin replied saying that the piece was a folk- opera. It took five years after George Gershwin died for the song to be liked by anyone.
After this piece came there were many more, but the last major piece that Gershwin performed was the Cuban Overture, this piece was originally named Rumba. In 1932 Gershwin traveled to Havana for vacation, yet he began to work when he listened to the music there. Gershwin liked the percussion of Cuban music and wrote the piece.
After Gershwin’s last piece Cuban Overture he retired and began a new hobby. Now Gershwin began to paint and when he came back for a while a death came of it.
In 1937, while George Gershwin was working on a piece called The Goldwyn Follies he began to stumble and was having very painful headaches. Most of his friends thought that the cause of his awful headaches was that stress from working was getting to him, unfortunately they were wrong. It seemed that the doctors had misdiagnosed Gershwin. George Gershwin suffered from a brain tumor that was the size of a grapefruit. The tumor had been growing far too long to stop it. On July 9th, 1937 Gershwin went into a coma and when doctors tried to perform surgery two days later he died. Four days after Gershwin’s’ death he was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. George Gershwin died at the young age of thirty- nine years old.
What most do not know about Gershwin is how much of an impact he has made on today’s society. Gershwin has numerous pieces of his in movies and in plays. In the children’s movie Fantasia 2000 the featured song was Rhapsody in Blue. Many movies from this day and age feature some of Gershwin’s’ famous pieces. In the movies: Something’s Gotta Give, Catch Me if you Can, Chocolat, and the most recent movie The Aviator at least a snippet of Gershwin’s music is featured.
The impact that George Gershwin has made on many people’s lives has changed our world and the way we live in it. The piece Someone to Watch over Me was composed by George Gershwin and when people listen to this song to relax them or when people sit down to watch a movie they can listen and see if any music sounds similar to a song they have heard before. When George Gershwin made his music he taught individuality and style and independence. This has made a difference on newer composers. George Gershwin will always be famous even in the thirty-first century. His legend will live on in pianos and in people’s recorders and CD players. Hopefully the impact he has made on today will affect what happens later on.