Sunday, September 26, 2010

A MAGNIFICENT COMPOSER AND A GENIUS POET




On this day in the year 1888 two remarkable gentlemen were born. One was an incredible composer. One was a magnificent poet. The composer was George Gershwin who died tragically in 1937 of a brain tumor at age forty-nine and the poet was T.S. Elliott author of such great poems as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' and "The Waste Land" Elliott actually denounced his American citizenship. At the age of fifteen, George left school and found his first job as a performer, "song plugger" for Jerome H. Remick and Company, a publishing firm on New York City's Tin Pan Alley, where he earned $15 a week. His first published song was "When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em." It was published in 1916 when Gershwin was only 17 years old and earned him $5. His 1917 novelty rag "Rialto Ripples" was a commercial success, and in 1919 he scored his first big national hit with his song "Swanee" with words by Irving Caesar. In 1916, Gershwin started working for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls in New York, recording and arranging. He produced dozens, if not hundreds, of rolls under his own and assumed names. (Pseudonyms attributed to Gershwin include Fred Murtha and Bert Wynn.) He also recorded rolls of his own compositions for the Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon reproducing pianos. As well as recording piano rolls, Gershwin made a brief foray into vaudeville, accompanying both Nora Bayes and Louise Dresser on the piano. In the early 1920s Gershwin frequently worked with the lyricist Buddy DeSylva. Together they created the experimental one-act jazz opera Blue Monday set in Harlem, which is widely regarded as a forerunner to the groundbreaking Porgy and Bess.In 1924, George and Ira Gershwin collaborated on a musical comedy Lady Be Good, which included such futurstandards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good!!This was followed by Oh, Kay! (1926),[ Funny Face (1927), Strike Up the Band (1927 and 1930),[Show Girl (1929),[1 Girl Crazy (1930),which introduced the standard "I Got Rhythm"; and Of Thee I Sing(1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.In 1924, Gershwin composed his first major classical work, Rhapsody in Blue for orchestra and piano. It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé and premiered by Paul Whiteman's concert band in New York. It proved to be his most popular work.Gershwin stayed in Paris for a short period, where he applied to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, along with several other prospective tutors such as Maurice Ravel, rejected him, however, afraid that rigorous classical study would ruin his jazz-influenced style.While there, Gershwin wrote An American in Paris. This work received mixed reviews upon its first performance at Carnegie Hall on December 13, 1928, but it quickly became part of the standard repertoire in Europe and the United States. Growing tired of the Parisian musical scene, Gershwin returned to the United States. In 1929, Gershwin was contracted by Fox Film Corporation to compose the score for the movie Delicious. Only two pieces were used in the final film, the five-minute "Dream Sequence" and the six-minute "Manhattan Rhapsody". Gershwin became infuriated when the rest of the score was rejected by Fox Film Corporation, and it would be seven years before he worked in Hollywood again. His most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess (1935). Gershwin called it a "folk opera," and it is now widely regarded as the most important American opera of the twentieth century. Based on the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, the action takes place in the fictional all-black neighborhood of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. With the exception of several minor speaking roles, all of the characters are black. The music combines elements of popular music of the day, with a strong influence of Black music, with techniques typical of opera, such as recitative, through-composition and an extensive system of leitmotifs. Porgy and Bess contains some of Gershwin's most sophisticated music, including a fugue, a passacaglia, the use of atonality, polytonality and polyrhythm, and a tone row. Even the "set numbers" (of which "Summertime", "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" are well known examples) are some of the most refined and ingenious of Gershwin's output. .After Porgy and Bess, Gershwin eventually was commissioned by RKO Pictures in 1936 to compose songs and the underscore for Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gershwin's extended score, which would marry ballet with jazz in a new way, runs over an hour in length. It took Gershwin several months to write and orchestrate it.
Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he was smelling burned rubber. Doctors discovered he had developed a type of cystic malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiformet. Although some tried to trace his disease to a blow on the head from a golf ball, the cause of this type of cancer is still unknown. This type of cancer occurs most often in males, accounts for 52% of all brain cancers, and is nearly always fatal.
The diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme has been questi The surgeon's description of Gershwin's tumor as a right temporal lobe cyst with a mural nodule is much more consistent with a pilocytic astrocyt, a very low- grade of brain tumor. Further, Gershwin's initial olfactory hallucination (the unpleasant smell of burning rubber) was in 1934. It is highly unlikely that a glioblastoma multiforme would cause symptoms of that duration prior to causing death. Pilocytic astrocytomas may cause symptoms for twenty or more years prior to diagnosis. Thus, it is possible that Gershwin's prominent chronic gastrointestinal symptoms (which he called his "composer's stomach") were a manifestation of temporal lobe epilepsy caused by his tumor If this is correct, then Gershwin was not "a notorious hypochondriac," as suggested by his biographer . It was in Hollywood
while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that he collapsed. He died on July 11, 1937 at the age of 38 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital following surgery for the tumor. John O'Hara remarked: "George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.] A memorial concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 1937 at which Otto Klemperer conducted his own orchestration of the second of Gershwin's Three Piano Preludes. Gershwin received his sole Oscar nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1937 Oscars, for "They Can't Take That Away from Me" written with his brother Ira for the 1937 film Shall We Dance.[ The nomination was posthumous Gershwin died two moths after the film's release.

My sixty-third birthday was on Friday September 24th and I have applied for Social Security. I am getting older.

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