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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: G (Part 1 – Gershwin, George)

This week, we will take a look at American composer George Gershwin.

George Gershwin was one of the first American composers to use both popular and classical idioms. Years before his most famous compositions were penned, he worked on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger—that is, someone who was hired to play and promote new music in department stores as a form of advertisement before quality recording-on-demand was available. When he was 18, he began writing, arranging, and recording songs for the Aeolian Company, which manufactured player pianos and the piano rolls they used. During this time, he was also writing his own music, and finally had a big hit with “Swanee,” recorded by Al Jolson in 1920.

Just a few years later, at the age of 26, Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue for orchestra and piano, premiered by Paul Whiteman’s band. This piece was well received, and is still one of the most-performed pieces composed by Gershwin. After this, Gershwin spent some time in Paris, hoping to study with both Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel; however, both turned him down. While in Paris though, he composed An American in Paris, which was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1928.

George Gershwin, 1898-1937, three-quarters length portrait, standing, facing right. Photograph, no date.

George Gershwin, 1898-1937, three-quarters length portrait, standing, facing right. Photograph, no date. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b02101

After his return to America, Gershwin began working in the entertainment industry, composing the score for the movie Delicious; but he became frustrated with the system, and didn’t compose again for the movies until years later. Following this, Gershwin wrote two of his most famous staged works: Girl Crazy (1930) and Porgy and Bess (1935). Surprisingly, for us modern listeners, the former was much more popular at the time than the latter, spurring such hits as “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.” Porgy and Bess was considered a commercial failure and, because of this, Gershwin decided to try writing for the movies again.

He composed the music to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Shall We Dance and began working on the score to The Goldwyn Follies. Yet, around this time, Gershwin’s behavior took an odd turn, as he had frequent mood swings, coordination issues, and other strange symptoms. It was not until he collapsed and fell into a coma on July 9, 1937 that doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor. Sadly, his condition was too advanced, and Gershwin passed after surgery on July 11, 1937.

Although Gershwin died at a relatively young age, his precocious composition abilities left us with a treasure trove of classically American music. Keep reading below to see what materials we have by and about George Gershwin in the NLS Music Collection.

Braille

Original piano works

Concerto in F major for piano solo, bar over bar (BRM32359)
Impromptu in Two Keys, bar over bar (BRM35677)
“Melody” from Rhapsody in Blue, arr. for piano solo, bar by bar (BRM06432)
Preludes, for piano, bar over bar (BRM01002)
Prelude I in B-flat major, bar over bar (BRM36425)
Prelude III in G-flat major, bar over bar (BRM22656)
Rhapsody in Blue, arr. for piano solo, bar over bar (BRM07248)
Rhapsody in Blue, arr. for organ (BRM34797)
Rhapsody in Blue, arr. for two pianos, four hands, bar over bar, Piano 1, Piano 2 (BRM32133)
Three Preludes, section by section (BRM10006)

Piano arrangements of other works

An American in Paris: An Orchestral Tone Poem in Miniature, arr. for piano, bar by bar (BRM05571)
“Bess You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess, arr. for piano with chord symbols (BRM29046)
Gershwin Transcriptions for Piano: Song Hits Arranged by the Composer, bar over bar (BRM36099)
Musical Comedies, contains many Gershwin classics, arr. for piano with chord symbols (BRM29231)
“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, arr. for piano solo, bar over bar (BRM22878)
Variations on “I Got Rhythm,” for two pianos, four hands (BRM24129)

Voice and Piano

“Bess You Is My Woman,” duet from Porgy and Bess (BRM36311)
“Embraceable You,” from Girl Crazy, for medium voice and piano (BRM13548)
“I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess (BRM28590)
“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” for voice in G minor and piano (BRM01902)
“Love Walked In,” from Goldwyn Follies (BRM35793)
“Somebody Loves Me,” for voice and piano (BRM08171)
“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess (BRM28250)
“Swanee,” for voice and piano (BRM35272)
Vocal Music Selections, vol. 1 (voice) and vol. 2 (piano) (BRM28697)

Choir

“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, arr. for SAB choir with piano (BRM24212)
Porgy and Bess in Concert, for soloists, SATB choir, and piano (BRM28671)
“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” for male TTBB choir or quartet (BRM04496)

Other

Andante and Finale from Rhapsody in Blue, for any B-flat, E-flat, or bass clef instruments with piano (BRM28712)
Porgy and Bess, libretto (BRM34752)

Large Print

Gershwin, His Life and Music (LPM00501 – text only, no music)
Preludes for Piano (LPM00603)
Musical Comedies: contains many Gershwin classics arranged for piano (LPM00352)
Musical Comedies: contains many Gershwin classics; melody with chord symbols only (LPM00326)

Digital Talking Book

Appreciation

Girl Crazy: This Talking Book is a dramatization including songs by George Gershwin (DBM00282)
Copland, Gershwin, and Piston: A discussion about these three American composers (DBM00025)
The Narrated Life History of John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber (DBM03407)
The World’s 50 Greatest Composers: George Gershwin (DBM01665)
Porgy and Bess: Chat with Ann Thompson (DBM01261)
George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (DBM00891)
Gershwin: His Life and Music (DBM00709)
The Gershwin Years (DBM00614)

Instructional

Summertime (alto sax) by Bill Brown (DBM02731)
I Got Rhythm (piano) by Bill Brown (DBM01750)

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