George Gershwin was an American Pianist and Composer who composed in the Modern period. He is mostly famous for his Broadway productions and orchestral compositions.
George Gershwin was born on September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, America to a family with Russian and Lithuanian heritage. He and his elder brother, Ira, spent time at the Yiddish Theatre District, often appearing as extras for Yiddish Theatre Productions. At the age of ten, Gershwin attended the violin recital of his friend Maxie Rosenzweig; it was a performance that changed young Gershwin’s life forever. Influenced by his friend’s recital, Gershwin started playing Ira’s piano. When Gershwin was twelve years old, his parents arranged for lessons from Charles Hambitzer, who was a pianist for the Beethoven Symphony Opera at that time. After Hambitzer’s death in 1918, Gershwin continued his musical education with American Composer Rubin Goldmark, and avant-garde composer Henry Cowell.
At the age of fifteen, Gershwin started working as a song plugger for a publishing firm known as Jerome H. Remick and Company. As a song plugger, he was expected to preview sheet music for customers on the piano. This position helped Gershwin encounter new musical ideas and it therefore enhanced his creativity. The result of this was that in 1916, Gershwin released his first song which was titled “When You Want Em, You Can’t Get Em. When You’ve Got Em, You Don’t Want Em”. Gershwin went on to release “Rialto Ripples” in 1917 and “Swanee” in 1919, the latter composition would go on to became a major national hit. Around this time, Gershwin met with music director William Daly. The duo would be credited for many of Broadway’s musicals from the early 1920’s, including “For Goodness’ Sake”, “Our Nell”, and “Piccadilly to Broadway”. Gershwin was also credited collaborating with his brother Ira. In 1924, the two brothers directed the stage musical comedy titled “Lady be Good”. They followed their success with “Oh Kay!” in 1926, “Funny Face” in 1927, and “Strike Up the Band” in 1930. Other projects from the brothers included “Show Girl” in 1929, “I Got Rhythm” in 1930, and “Of Thee I Sing” in 1931. “Of Thee I Sing” was so well received that it would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Perhaps Gershwin is best known for his orchestral composition “Rhapsody in Blue”, which he wrote in 1924. The classical composition was known for its jazz influence and adventurous musical texture. Gershwin’s also wrote “An American in Paris” in 1928; a work that would soon become part of the standard repertoire in Europe. A close contender for Gershwin’s most famous work was his 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess”. Today, the opera is considered to be one of the most important American folk operas of all time.
Gershwin also worked for some Hollywood Studios. He is credited with the score for the 1936 movie “Shall We Dance”. Earlier, he also wrote the score for “Delicious”, and even though Fox Film Corporation rejected most of his score, Gershwin was praised for the part of the score that was selected for the movie.
George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937 while he was only thirty eight years old. He died during an unsuccessful attempt to remove a brain tumor during surgery. Gershwin was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for his composition for the film “Shall we Dance”.