George Gershwin


Born: 1898   Died: 1937   Country: USA   Period: 20th Century
In a career tragically cut short in mid-stride by a brain tumor, George Gershwin (1898-1937) proved himself to be not only one of the great songwriters of his extremely rich era, but also a gifted "serious" composer who bridged the worlds of classical and popular music. The latter is all the more striking, given that, of his contemporaries, Gershwin was the most influenced by such styles as jazz and blues.

Gershwin's first
Read more major hit, interpolated into the show Sinbad in 1919, was "Swanee," sung by Al Jolson. Gershwin wrote both complete scores and songs for such variety shoes as George White's Scandals (whose annual editions thus were able to introduce such songs as "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" and "Somebody Loves Me").

After 1924, Gershwin worked primarily with his brother Ira as his lyricist. The two scored a series of Broadway hits in the '20s and early '30s, starting with Lady Be Good (1924), which included the song "Fascinatin' Rhythm." 1924 was also the year Gershwin composed his first classical piece, "Rhapsody in Blue," and he would continue to work in the classical field until his death.

By the '30s, the Gershwins had turned to political topics and satire in response to the onset of the Depression, and their Of Thee I Sing became the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize. In the mid '30s, Gershwin ambitiously worked to meld his show music and classical leanings in the creation of the folk opera Porgy and Bess, with lyrics by Ira and Dubose Heyward. The Gershwins had moved to Hollywood and were engaged in several movie projects at the time of George Gershwin's death. Read less

Work: Porgy and Bess: Summertime


About This Work
Summertime is one of the most popular numbers from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, what the composer called a folk opera and what many consider his finest achievement. He was inspired to compose the work after reading Edwin Dubose Heyward's novel Read more Porgy in 1926. It was not until 1934, however, that Gershwin, his librettist brother Ira, and Heyward collaborated on the effort. Heyward fashioned the libretto and worked with Ira on the lyrics to the songs, though Heyward alone is credited with having written them for Summertime. Sung by the character Clara, this lullaby is presented shortly after the brief overture that opens the opera and is the first vocal number heard. Its theme is absolutely striking in the way it conveys a lazy, blues-imbued serenity. The mood of the song emerges from thick, mesmerizing mists in its brighter second subject, which begins with the words "So, hush little baby...." Some will hear a sensual undercurrent in Summertime, and others will be enchanted simply by the catchy, slow lilt and atmospheric harmonies. Gershwin's highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century. Gershwin, of course, adds his own unique voice to the music and the results are utterly charming. Without doubt, this is one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote.

-- Robert Cummings, All Music Guide Read less

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