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GEORGE GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue

GEORGE GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue

“ Life is a lot like jazz : it ’ s better when you improvise .” – Gershwin
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Born 1898 in Brooklyn , NY ; died 1937 in Los Angeles , CA
• George Gershwin was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants ; he primarily grew up in a tenement in Manhattan ’ s Yiddish Theater District , where he often attended plays and was even an extra on a few occasions .
• When George was 10 years old , his parents bought a piano for his older brother , Ira , although George was the one who ended up playing it most ( much to the relief of Ira !).
• At age 15 , Gershwin left school and had his first job as a “ song plugger ” on Tin Pan Alley . He wrote his first published song when he was 17 — it earned him 50 cents .
• Gershwin traveled to Paris with the hopes of studying with Nadia Boulanger but , to his dismay , was turned down both by Boulanger and Ravel . Ravel wrote in a letter “ why become a second-rate Ravel when you ’ re already a firstrate Gershwin ?”
• George and his brother Ira wrote many works together that not only were huge successes in their lifetime but have also gone on to become classic jazz standards .
• In the 1930s , George wrote his first opera , Porgy and Bess . After the initial commercial failure of Porgy and Bess , George moved to Hollywood where he began writing music for several films .
• Gershwin passed away suddenly at the young age of 38 from a brain tumor .
• His work has had an immeasurable impact on classical , jazz , and popular music .
FUN FACT
Gershwin and Arnold Schoenberg played tennis together weekly while both were living in Hollywood .
ABOUT THE PIECE
• Written in 1924 , Rhapsody in Blue was Gershwin ’ s first major classical work and established Gershwin as a “ serious ” composer . The piece seamlessly blends Western classical music and jazz .
• The piece was written for a concert being organized by band leader Paul Whiteman entitled An Experiment in Modern Music . At first , Gershwin turned down the commission . Later , his brother came across an article stating that Whiteman would be leading his musicians in a concert featuring music by Gershwin , which was a surprise to the composer ! He decided to write the work after all — with only five weeks to compose the piece .
• Paul Whiteman ’ s concert was a much-anticipated event , but it is said the concert went on for a very long time , and the hall was hot and stuffy . People became antsy and started leaving early , until a hush came over the crowd when the opening of Gershwin ’ s Rhapsody in Blue ripped through the air , and the piece ended with rapturous applause .
• The piece lives on as one of the most beloved American compositions ; is continuously performed by orchestras across the world ; and has been featured in the soundtracks of The Watchmen , The Great Gatsby , and Curb Your Enthusiasm .
THE WORLD AT A GLANCE

1924

MUSIC Ma Rainey ’ s See See Rider Blues
LITERATURE W . E . B . Du Bois ’ The Gift of Black Folk
ART Diego Rivera Day of the Dead
10 BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA