Today's Memory

Today’s Memory – George Gershwin

26 - George-Gershwin-1898-1937

”Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise”

George Gershwin

September 26, 1898, Brooklyn, New York City – July 11, 1937, Los Angeles, California


George Gershwin was one of the most significant and popular American composers of all time. He wrote primarily for the Broadway musical theatre, but important as well are his orchestral and piano compositions in which he blended, in varying degrees, the techniques and forms of classical music with the stylistic nuances and techniques of popular music and jazz.

Gershwin plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants, he heard jazz performed live from about age six. In his teens he worked as a song plugger (playing piano in Tin Pan Alley to demonstrate sheet music for potential customers), and in 1916 he published his first song. In 1919 his Swanee was performed by Al Jolson and achieved extraordinary success.

George Gershwin Plays „Swanee”

Gershwin’s first complete score was for the show La, La Lucille (1919).

La la Lucille

The bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned from him the hugely successful orchestral work Rhapsody in Blue (1924). It was revolutionary for its incorporation of the jazz idiom (blue notes, syncopated rhythms, onomatopoeic instrumental effects) into a symphonic context.

George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue • New York Philharmonic Conductor Leonard Bernstein (1976)

Gershwin’s first major Broadway success, Lady, Be Good! (1924), was a collaboration with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin.

Lady Be Good  (1924)• Fred and Adele Astaire

They soon established themselves as one of the great teams in Broadway history; their shows included Oh, Kay! (1926), Strike Up the Band (1927), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1930) and the satire Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize. He also scored several successful films.

Krystian Zimerman plays Three Preludes by George Gershwin

His most ambitious work was the folk opera Porgy and Bess (1935), a collaboration with Ira and novelist DuBose Heyward.

Porgy and Bess (1935) • Lincoln Center Production (2002)

Gershwin’s classical compositions include a piano concerto (1925) and the tone poem An American in Paris (1928).

An American In Paris Victor Symphony Orchestra, Conductor Nathaniel Shilkret, 1929

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