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George Gershwin Essay Research Paper George Gershwin

George Gershwin Essay, Research Paper

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn, New York on 26 September 1898, was born the second of four children of Morris and Rose Gershovitz, Russians who immigrated to New York in 1891. George and his family lived on Manhattan’s lower east side in a poor Jewish community. After settling down in New York, his father changed the family name to Gershvin. It was George who later altered his last name to Gershwin when he entered the professional world of music. Most of his family was not musically talented, but his brother Ira became a wonderful well-known musician.

Most of Gershwin’s early childhood was spent playing sports, which he was good at, and it interested him. It wasn’t until Gershwin was 12 years old when he first felt his calling as a musician. It all started when his family purchased an upright piano and Gershwin quickly learned to play it. Uninterested in his regular academic studies, Gershwin focused primarily on studying the theory of music and harmony. Gershwin never even completed high school. Continuing his musical studies with a composer named Henry Conwell and music theorist Joseph Schillinger, Gershwin’s ability to play and compose music rose


Gershwin left his musical studies at the age of 15 to join music publisher Jerome K. Rimick as a song-plugger and piano player with Tin Pan Alley. During this time, Gershwin continued trying his hand at composition, and in 1916, he published his first song When you want ‘em, you can’t get ‘em, when you got

‘em, you don’t want ‘em. This same year, he also began making piano rolls, many being under a pseudonym.

It wasn’t long before Gershwin left Rimick and found other means of expanding his musical career. In 1917, he began traveling the vaudeville circuit as a pianist. Shortly thereafter, he was hired to write songs for the head of the publishing house T.B. arms, Max Dryfus, and he toured as an accompanist for musician Nora Bayes.

Gershwin began to get a few of his songs set into current musical shows and his popularity began to grow. His first big success came in 1919 when Al Jolson helped him promote Swanee by adding tit to his touring show. This same year, Gershwin also

completed his first Broadway show La, La, Lucille.

During the 1920’s, Gershwin’s popularity grew as he began writing successful musicals for many well-known performers. Gershwin’s music was now taking a new turn. He was writing serious music, which made his musical career take off. Many of the serious works that he was composing became some of his most

famous accomplishments in the musical world. His growing reputation writing serious music brought him a steady income. Gershwin’s interest in serious music had increased so much that he now wanted to write full-length operas, which he had been contemplating for years.

By 1935, Gershwin had successfully written several serious compositions, but it was during this year in particular that his most famous opera, Porgy and Bess, was performed. This opera received mixed reviews and led Gershwin to pursue an interest for films. Gershwin moved to California and wrote several film


In 1937, Gershwin became seriously ill. He began

experiencing headaches, dizzy spells, and blackouts. Several examinations of his illness ended with negative results. His headaches increased in frequency until he went into a coma on July 9th of that year. A diagnosis of a brain tumor was finally

made. Gershwin never came out of the coma, and passed away only two days later on July 11th, 1937 during an operation to remove the tumor.

Gershwin was greatly influenced during his lifetime by several musicians. The strongest influence on his life as a musician came during his youth from his instructor Charles Hambitzer. Hambitzer introduced Gershwin to the music of Debusy

and Ravel, the early works of Arnold Schoenberg, and classical piano. Certain composers such as Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern were also major influences on Gershwin’s musical composition life. Gershwin also gained a lot f his musical inspiration from the sounds of African-American music and Jewish chant.

During the nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties, Gershwin’s presence on the musical scene was like a brilliant, dazzling star streaking through the minds of the American people. His excellence still lives in writing style continues to influence others.

Gershwin was, without a doubt, an innovator. What he has done with rhythm, harmony and melody is much more than merely style. His style is fundamentally different from the mannerism of many other serious composers. The music of other serious composers could be taken into pieces and put back together in a

different way. This could not be done with Gershwin’s music. His melodies were units not products of combination, and therefore, could not be taken into pieces. Gershwin’s harmony, melody, and rhythm was never welded together. One interesting characteristic about most of the piano music played by Gershwin

was that it seemed to include a great deal of improvising. Interesting enough, Gershwin’s musical interest in jazz and blues has created a new style of American music known by all today.

Gershwin wrote many great works of art. A few of his most popular works, which gained a lot of their popularity after his death, would include: When you want ‘em you can’t get ‘em, when you got ‘em, you don’t want ‘em; Swanee; Porgy and Bess; Rhapsody in Blue; and Blue Monday.

In 1916, Gershwin published his first song called When you want ‘em, you can’t get ‘em, when you got ‘em, you don’t want ‘em. The Harry Von Tilzer Music Company bought his song and made it extremely popular. This song was written by Gershwin with the assistance of another composer by the name of Murray


Gershwin’s first real fame came to be in 1919 with his completion of Swanee. Al Jolson heard Swanee and added it to his touring show. Swanee became a tremendously famous hit with the public selling over a million copies during its first year.

Porgy and Bess, completed in 1935, proved to be one of Gershwin’s most famous works. Porgy and Bess was a drama of Black America written in a folk manner for black singers. The opera was first publicly staged on September 30th of that year in Boston, Massachusetts. It gained great popularity regardless of the press’ reviews.

Rhapsody in Blue was completed by Gershwin in 1924. This proved to be a milestone in his career. Gershwin wrote this piece primarily for its production by Paul Whiteman and his jazz band. This piece of music had a classical form in which Gershwin applied the jazz idiom.

Gershwin wrote on his greatest operas in 1922, called Blue Monday. This piece was written for an African-American opera called George White’s Scandals. After only one single performance in New York, it was withdrawn due it seriousness being out of place in it’s context and misunderstood. Blue Monday was later retitled 135th Street. Many years after

Gershwin’s death, Blue Monday was revived at a omprehensive festival during 1970 given to Gershwin in Miami, Florida. Here, Blue Monday’s popularity was made.


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Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, ed. Nicolas Sloninsky, 7th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1984)817-818

The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, ed. Oscar Thompson, 10th ed. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co.)1968-1993

Percy A. Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943)360

David Ewen, George Gershwin: His Journey to Greatness (New Jersey: Printice-Hall Inc., 1970)