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George Gershwin (20th Century Composers) Paperback – April 23, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As part of its 20th Century Composers series, Phaidon commissioned noted producer and director of television music programs Rodney Greenberg to write a biography of one of the century's most popular composers--George Gershwin, a man who in a regrettably short life (he died in 1937 at the age of 38) sought to straddle the worlds of popular and symphonic music.

"Music," Gershwin once said, "must reflect the thoughts and aspirations of the people and the time. My people are American. My time is today." Gershwin's life, from his days as a "songplugger" in New York's Tin Pan Alley to fame and fortune with Broadway shows and symphonic composition, followed the evolution of American popular music. But he was as much an influence on his time as he was influenced by it. Charismatic, brilliant, and vastly egotistical, his struggle to be recognized as a serious composer was always at odds with the fame and money such songs as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Lady Be Good" brought him.

While Greenberg's biography is serviceable as an introduction to the composer's life, his analysis of the music is what raises this elegantly short book to the realm of the exceptional. Gershwin's body of work is surprisingly small, considering its lasting influence, and this gives the author the opportunity to discuss at length not only such landmark works as Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess, but also minor pieces like "Lullaby" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Indeed, Greenberg argues that Gershwin's gifts, like those of Cole Porter but also Chopin and Grieg, were best expressed through his shorter compositions, and while he never stopped working to achieve a significant work of length, it was his instinct for 32-bar and shorter pieces that ensured his place in musical history. --John Longenbaugh


'An excellent critical account of Gershwin's musical development in the social and musical context of the first three decades of the century.' (BBC Music Magazine) 'Sharply observed...' (Billboard) '...an insightful, well written book...' (Jewish Chronicle) 'a handsome, illustrated Gershwin biography.' (Daily Telegraph) '...my best tip for Xmas stockings would be Rodney Greenberg's concise and well organised study of the life and music of everybody's centennial hero, George Gershwin.' (BBC Music Magazine) 'As a series, Phaidon's 20th Century Composers has brought remarkable variety and a welter of information, both necessary and delightfully trivial. Intended both for the general reader and for the more enthusiatically musical...' (The Scotsman)

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Product Details

  • Series: 20th Century Composers
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press; 1st Ed. edition (April 23, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714835048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714835044
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,112,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This was a fascinating look into the development of one of the outstanding musical forces of the 20th century. It traces Gershwin's incredible rise from Brooklyn streets, through Tin Pan Alley, to Broadway, concert halls, and Hollywood. It looks into the many influences to his music, and his aspirations for higher forms. Greenberg introduces us to a man with a huge ego, an insatiable love of music, and an extraordinary gift - a lovable character, around whose piano you would love to stand for even just one song.
The author gives us a sense of the tragedy in Gershwin's life that was deeply touching without being melodramatic. After reading this book you'll listen to Gershwin's music with a much enriched appreciation and understanding.
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Format: Paperback
Having read every Gershwin book avaliable in a legal deposit library, unfortunately for the American reviewer previously it was one in England, I can honestly say that this is one of the most informative and lively books to cover Gershwin's life and music. There is not as much focus on the music as I would like, but I am amazed at just how much I found out about it, in a book I still view as primarily a biography.

Having met "Gershwin at the keyboard" I started to read about him a few years ago, and this book persuaded me to go on reading and submit an extended essay for my A Level on Gershwin. I am now putting the finishing touch to an undergraduate dissertation on Gershwin and the only book I have felt the need to buy to help me with it is this one.

I recommend it highly for the casual reader and the scholar, and it is to be praised for its objective view, some of the other books can go on quite a boring path of conjecture connected to Gershwin's sexual habits, whilst maintaining an engagement of the reader. For a much more detailed book consider 'Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, (University of California Press)' and for sources 'Wyatt and Johnson (ed), The George Gershwin Reader, (Oxford University Press, 2004)'
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Seemed a little odd reading a book about Gershwin by a Brit named Greenberg. There are many on this side of the ocean that knew Gershwin intimately and it is there rather than in this book that you will find an authentic rather than scholarly approach. Anyone can accumulate information and photographs and if skilled at writing assume a role of arbiter.

Gershwin is the natural Jewish American seed of genius--spontaneous genius without the paste and glue of institutional methods and means. Had he lived beyond 39 years perhaps a true symphony would have emerged.

Then Greenberg cannot resist a simple line touching on the prospect of great Gershwin being a homosexual. What was that for? Where is there any indication of it in his hectic star struck life time. Why was it included?
What point did it serve?

There is little need for psychoanalytical applications heaped upon this creative genius. His music speaks the language of the then American heart and soul. He did not caterwaul like Elliot Carter or blast your ears like Reigger, nor create vast intellectual excusions like Sessions who music is terrible. William Schuman could compose for a thousand years and nver approach his teacher Roy Harris' Third Symphony, let alone Gershwin.

So in fact there is alot of intellectual garbage out there oh so rationalized by Boulez et al--who listens to their music? Who listens to late Stravinsky--or the minimalists or the sonorists or the serialists?

Gershwin knew the difference between preprogrammed raucous noise and music from the heart and soul. Serialists are soulless atomatons and are cumulatively not dust between the toes of gershwin creatively--he had the devine spark and we all know it--THEY did not.
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