George Gershwin

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George Gershwin, 1937
Photo: Carl van Vechten
George Gershwin signature.svg

George Gershwin [ 'gɜːʃwɪn ] (born September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn , New York City , † July 11, 1937 in Hollywood , Los Angeles ) was an American composer , pianist and conductor . His compositions include both classical and popular music. His best-known works include the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris as well as the opera Porgy and Bess .


George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershovitz (named after his grandfather) in Brooklyn in 1898 to the Russian Jewish immigrants Morris Gershovitz and Rose Gershovitz (née Bruskin). They had immigrated to the USA around 1891. Morris Gershovitz Americanized the family name to Gershvin and later adapted it to Gershwin.

George had two brothers, Ira (1896–1983) and Arthur Gershwin (1900–1981), and a sister, Frances Gershwin (1906–1999).

In 1910 the Gershwins bought a piano for their older son Ira's music lessons, but George soon played it. After two years, Charles Hambitzer became his piano teacher and remained his mentor until his death in 1918. Hambitzer taught George Gershwin conventional piano techniques and had him play the European masterpieces. He encouraged him to attend orchestral concerts, trying at home to reproduce the music he was hearing on the piano. From 1914 Gershwin worked as a "house pianist" at the New York music publisher Jerome H. Remick. It was soon his job to play and sell new songs from his publishing house to band leaders and theater agents. Inspired by this activity, he tried his hand at composing his own songs and dance pieces. In 1916 he began playing piano rolls for electric pianos as a pianist, initially with rags and other works by other composers. In the same year he released When You Want 'Em You Can't Get' Em as the first song. Despite the failure of this composition, some Broadway composers became aware of him and used several of his songs in their musicals in the years to come .

His ragtime Rialto Ripples , also composed in 1916, was a financial success. During these years, Gershwin continued to study piano with the composer Rubin Goldmark and the avant-garde Henry Cowell and harmony , music theory and instrumentation with Edward Kilenyi . His great role models were now the Broadway composers Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern . In 1918 he achieved his first US-wide hit with the song Swanee , which initially led to his recognition as a composer on Broadway . He also interpreted his piano concertos as a pianist. On his trip to Europe in 1928 he met Igor Stravinsky . He had a long love affair with the composer Kay Swift , with whom he also exchanged technical information, and another with the actress Paulette Goddard .

While George Gershwin in Hollywood at the score for the soundtrack of The Goldwyn Follies worked, he collapsed on the wing and died on 11 July 1937 at 10:35 pm on a brain tumor . He was on the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson ( New York buried).

Work and effect

On January 7, 1924, Gershwin began writing the Rhapsody in Blue for two pianos. Ferde Grofé moved in with him for the duration of the composition and created the score for Whiteman's jazz orchestra from the piano version. They worked hand in hand, and on February 4th “Rhapsody” was ready, composed by George Gershwin and orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. The concert by Paul Whiteman's Orchestra in New York's Aeolian Hall on February 24, 1924 was a historic event of immense significance. It went down in history as the "Birth of Rhapsody in Blue".

The crème de la crème of musical and social New York was present at the premiere, including Walter Damrosch as a guest of honor. So it came about that a short time later Gershwin was commissioned by the New York Symphony Society to write an orchestral work. He promised a piano concerto and was guaranteed seven solo appearances in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. He orchestrated the concert himself. The first performance of his Concerto in F took place on December 3, 1925 in Carnegie Hall with the composer at the piano under the direction of Damrosch.

Gershwin composed both pieces for Broadway and classical concerts. From 1931 he also worked as a composer for the sound film. His brother Ira wrote the lyrics for most of George Gershwin's compositions. In 1924, George and Ira co-produced the musical comedy Lady, Be Good . Standards like "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love" made their debut in it. This was followed by “ Oh, Kay! “(1926); " Funny Face " 1927; "Strike Up the Band" (1927 and 1930); Girl Crazy (1930), with the evergreen song " I Got Rhythm "; " Of Thee I Sing " (1931), the first musical comedy with a Pulitzer Prize was awarded. In 1933 " Pardon My English " was released, the only musical of this era that is set in Germany (in Dresden ). George and Ira Gershwin were among the most successful teams on Broadway. Her works have been performed by stars such as Fred Astaire and his sister Adele, Gertrude Lawrence , Red Nichols , Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers .

Before working on the opera Porgy and Bess , Gershwin spent a summer on Folly Island, near Charleston, South Carolina , to become more familiar with African American music. Gershwin has decreed that his main work may only be staged by black singers.

Many of his works also achieved great popularity beyond America. Some of his compositions were used as film music . Others are considered to be jazz standards; they have been interpreted by well-known stars of American and international light music, including Ella Fitzgerald , Louis Armstrong , Frank Sinatra , Judy Garland , Peter Gabriel , Ray Conniff , Percy Faith and Barbra Streisand . They found their way into jazz, for example with interpretations by Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis , and into rock, for example with versions by Janis Joplin (“Summertime”).

Some of the Gershwin songs were transformed into new themes ( bebop heads ) and songs through remodeling and reharmonization during the bebop era . “ Oh, Lady Be Good! Became Thelonious Monk's “ Hackensack ”,“ But Not For Me ”became Tadd Dameron's “ Sid's Delight ”and“ I Got Rhythm ”became Charlie Parker'sAnthropology ”, Thelonius Monk's“ Rhythm-A-Ning ”and Lester Young'sLester Leaps In ”.

Gershwin was the protagonist of symphonic jazz with works in which he combined the African-American and contemporary symphonic culture (and thus also opera) in an unprecedented way and opened up completely new worlds. In 1986 he and his brother Ira received the Grammy Trustees Award for their achievements in music.

Prince called Gershwin's piece Lullaby (1919) one of 55 songs that inspired him musically.


His most famous works in the field of classical music are:

The Gershwin Musicals :

Little known in view of the few works for piano that Gershwin has written, the Gershwin Songbook , also published under the title George Gershwin at the Keyboard , a collection of his most famous songs, arranged by himself for piano solo ( ISBN 0-7692-5968- 5 ). This includes u. a .:

The films for which Gershwin wrote songs especially:

Literature (selection)

- chronological -

  • Antonio Mingotti: Gershwin - A pictorial biography. Kindler, Munich 1958.
  • Wolfram Schwinger : He composed America: George Gershwin - Mensch und Werk. Book publisher: Der Morgen, Berlin, 1965. Druckhaus Aufwärts, Leipzig III / 18/20 A-660/65
  • Robert Kimball, Alfred Simon: The Gershwins. Atheneum, New York 1973.
  • Lawrence D. Stewart, Edward Jablonski: The Gershwin Years - George and Ira. 2nd rev. New York 1973 edition.
  • Alan Kendall: George Gershwin. A biography. Harrap, London 1987, ISBN 0-245-54332-5 .
  • Deena Rosenberg: Fascinating Rhythm - The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. Lime Tree, London 1992, ISBN 0-413-45381-2 .
  • Edward Jablonski: George Gershwin: In the mirror of his time. M&T Verlag AG, Zurich / St. Gallen 1992, ISBN 3-7265-6026-2 .
  • Hanspeter Krellmann: George Gershwin / with personal testimonies and photo documents. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1997, ISBN 3-499-50418-9 .
  • David Ewen: George Gershwin: from success to greatness. Hannibal, St. Andrä-Wördern 1998, ISBN 3-85445-157-1 .
  • Howard Pollack: George Gershwin: his life and work. University of California Press, Berkeley (Calif.) 2007, ISBN 978-0-520-24864-9 .
  • Walter Rimler: George Gershwin: an intimate portrait. University of Illinois Press, Urbana (Ill.) U. a. 2009, ISBN 978-0-252-03444-2 .
  • Larry Starr: George Gershwin . Yale University Press, New Haven et al. a. 2011, ISBN 978-0-300-11184-2 .
  • Richard Crawford: Summertime: George Gershwin's life in music , New York: WW Norton & Company, [2019], [2019], ISBN 978-0-393-05215-2


Web links

Commons : George Gershwin  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files




Individual evidence

  1. ^ Biography George Gershwin. In: September 16, 2016, accessed November 22, 2016 .
  2. ^ Hanspeter Krellmann: George Gershwin. rororo Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1988, ISBN 3 499 504189 , pp. 9-13.
  3. The Broadway League: La, La, Lucille - Broadway Musical - Original | IBDB. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .