Gershwin Essay, Research Paper
The American Standard of Gershwin
George Gershwin is an American icon of the hustling early twentieth century when America was wakening to its potential and power in the arts, industry, business, and many changing faces that defined the American style. Of his 600 plus compositional works, Rhapsody in Blue is the piece that perhaps best captured his creative genius, and is the work that brought on immediate fame and signaled the arrival of a major composer. The unique Gershwin sound is rooted in popular song and dance, the music of the lyrical theater, and spiced with rhythmic borrowings from jazz. Without forgetting his classical upbringings, he creates this Rhapsody with distintive jazz styles, ultimately creating a modern twist of excellence. However, he acclaimed mixed reviews among the critics of his daring piece that combined popular and classical sounds together. Even 100 years after Gershwin was born, the world is still infatuated with his songs that shaped the face of American music.
Gershwin emerged from the streets of New York from a Jewish family that did not rear him in a musical or particularly cultured household unlike the famous Bach family tree, or Mozart’s prodigious childhood. Gerswhin spent his childhood playing street games such a roller skating and caused a great deal of mischief while his parents spent most of their time trudging through different businesses constantly searching success. His parents had a different life in mind for Gershwin that would include many hours studying the books of finance instead of slaving over the piano. At a respectably young age, he became quite the pianist and studied with renown teachers such as Charles Hambitzer who taught him the classical styles of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and Liszt. Gershwin started out as songwriter and wrote the music for Broadway musicals, and then transformed into a composer when an Experiment of Modern Music occurred and brought light to his Rhapsody in Blue.
The premier of Rhapsody in Blue occurred on a snowy afternoon of February 12, 1924 in New York s Aeolian Hall. Paul Whiteman, an orchestra leader, convinced Gershwin to bring his piece to perform as the climax of the Experiment of Modern Music, where 26 separate pieces that would reflect the American spirit. There were people fighting at the doorway to see this major attraction, and Gershwin received an energetic standing ovation after his fifteen minute rhapsody finished. Rhapsody in Blue, a work created for piano and jazz band, became the most frequently performed piece of concert music by an American. Gershwin created this rhapsody with a three week deadline with little alterations on the original piano score, which was then given to Ferde Grofe to score for the orchestra instrementation. Rhapsody in Blue contined the solo piano part, originally played by Gershwin himself, with the accompanying symphonic part, and the solo clarinet, originally played by Ross Gorman and responsible for the noted glissando in the opening of the famous clarinet cadenza. After Whitman s Experiment of Modern Music, Gershwin s rhapsody was endlessly played on the radio and performed live.
The significance of Gershwin s Rhapsody in Blue lies within its jazz-derived techniques. Jazz was a relatively new form of music when Gershwin was in his prime of composing. His melodies are full of flattened thirds and sevenths, known as blue notes. Blue notes are tones injected into music in major keys to give music a provacative, or minor, tinge, originally used in blues singing. When used strategically, blue notes give a song additional dimension, a coloration that may imply the existence of oppposites. Blue notes occurred frequently in folk and religious music and thought to be the source of Afican-American blues and Jewish liturgical music. The rhapsody begins and ends in blue which is reinforced by the continuous use of half-step melodic motifs and colorful chords. These melodic fragments are held together by a variety of Gershwinesquerhythmic devices, such as shifting accents, cross rhythms, and syncopation of the measure.
With all the public popularity and attention from Rhapsody in Blue, there were many uninspiring and harsh criticisms of Gershwin s piece. New York Times and other critics disparaged the piece as a sanitized piece of pseudo-jazz with ornamented tunes that never developed symphonically. They believe the chief weakness of the piece was that it was a collection of four tunes instead of a single derivation that gets developed which is common among classical instrumental works. Others said that Rhapsody in Blue was formless, and contained structural uncertainty. Among other things, many influential blacks protested and even accused Gershwin for stealing jazz rhythms and sounds. Gershwin was still fighting the sterotype of being a songwriter and producing only Broadway quality material for his compositions.
Despite the discouraging critics, there was also a great deal of positive feedback crediting Gershwin to be a genious and master pianist. Everyone, agreeably is stunned by
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