Gershwin, George


Gershwin, George

An American in Paris

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George Gershwin – An American in Paris

(b. New York, 26. September 1898 – d. Hollywood, 11. July 1937)

Preface (by James Dalton, Professor of Music Theory, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, 2018)

George Gershwin was the first significant American composer of concert music to be trained primarily in the popular music business of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway.

He had solid training in piano under Charles Hambitzer, but his work as a song-plugger for the Remick company solidified his technique. This was accomplished through hours of playing the publisher’s catalog for clientele, and later as a Broadway rehearsal pianist. While working for Remick he began to compose songs and piano pieces…all while still a teenager.

He rose to prominence as a songwriter by his early twenties. By his tragically early death of a brain tumor at age thirty-eight, he had written hundreds of songs and piano pieces in popular genres, incidental music for plays and films, orchestral pieces, a one-act opera, and the full-length opera, Porgy and Bess.

Despite his consistent success as a popular songwriter, Gershwin was keenly aware of his technical limitations, and he worked hard at addressing them throughout his career. To this end, he studied composition with Edward Kilenyi, Rubin Goldmark, Wallingford Riegger, Henry Cowell, and Joseph Schillinger.

His first concert work was the Lullaby for string quartet (c.1919, but not performed until much later), written while he was a student of Kilenyi. This was followed by the one-act opera, Blue Monday and, in 1924, Rhapsody in Blue. This last brought him fame–but also criticism. Since Broadway composers did not frequently orchestrate their own compositions, that particular aspect of composition was not part of Gershwin’s skill set at the time he composed the Rhapsody. Even though he remedied this deficiency by studying Cecil Forsyth’s Orchestration before the composition of Concerto in F (1925), he was plagued by rumors that others did the orchestration of his major works.

We can trace the genesis of An American in Paris to a European trip Gershwin made in 1926 with his friends Mabel and Robert Schirmer. During this trip he met Maurice Ravel and made many other contacts in the musical life of Paris and other European cities. The relationship with Ravel was mutually beneficial. The French composer made valuable introductions for Gershwin, and Gershwin later returned the favor by helping Ravel to arrange a U.S. tour. …


Read full preface > HERE

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