29 August 2003

George Gershwin

One of my all time favourite composers is George Gershwin (1898-1937), the American composer whose music shaped the popular culture of the interwar era.



In fact, Gershwin is known for his popular songs, his concert music and for his one opera, "Porgy and Bess." Born in Brooklyn, New York, just before the end of the 19th century, George broke into the big time in 1919 with his song, "Swanee," which singer Al Jolson made famous. From then until his untimely death at 38 from a brain tumour, Gershwin churned out one song after another, many for stage musicals on Broadway which have attained the status of classics. Many, if not most, of these were done in collaboration with his lyricist brother, Ira (1896-1983).

One of the Gershwins' most famous songs, "Our Love is Here to Stay," is one which I find myself singing almost unconsciously while doing things around the house. Consequently Theresa knows it and can sing it through quite easily. (By the time she's reached her three score years and ten, that song will be about 150 years old.)

My favourite Gershwin music, however, is his concert works, of which there are not nearly enough. The best known of these are his "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924), the "Concerto in F" (1925), and "An American in Paris" (1928). These are brilliant works, filled with all the nervous energy of the jazz age. The "Concerto in F," in particular, breathes something of the spirit of a busy urban centre in the post-World War I era, when the automobile was quickening the pace of life.

Lesser known concert works include the "Second Rhapsody" (1932) and the "Cuban Overture" (1932).

George Gershwin died far too young. It is remarkable that his achievements were made in his 20s and 30s when most other people are just getting started.

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