Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for George Gershwin

Dr. Bob Prescribes George Gershwin, Concerto in F

A statement I’ve made before and will gladly make again: George Gershwin is among the handful of greatest composers the United States has produced, and his death at the age of 38 (of a brain tumor) should be considered an artistic tragedy comparable to the premature deaths of Schubert (at 31), Mozart (at 35), and Chopin (at 39). He was born Jacob Gershovitz (though his birth certificate reads “Jacob Gershwine”), the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, on September 26, 1898 at 242 Snediker Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. (For our information: in 1963, a bronze plaque commemorating Gershwin’s birth was affixed to the building. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had fallen on very hard times: the plaque was stolen – it is still MIA – and the building vandalized. It burned down in 1987, and all that remains of the neighborhood today is a blighted area of warehouses and junkyards.) Rarely has a major composer begun his life in an artistically less promising manner. Tall, athletic, and charismatic, Gershwin was the leader of various tenement gangs, played street ball, roller skated everywhere and engaged in petty crime. By his own admission, he cared nothing for music […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes George Gershwin Songs

Two weeks ago, my Dr. Bob Prescribes post featured the guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, despite the fact that it would have been entirely appropriate – given the Music History Monday post the day before on Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – to feature a post on that opera. Given yesterday’s Music History Monday post on Franz Schubert’s song Gretchen am Spinnrade, today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes might appropriately feature a recording of Schubert’s songs or, perhaps, some relatively obscure work by Schubert. However, like two weeks ago, I have chosen to take a different path in today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes because I personally require (at present) a rather different sort of music, given the state of things “out there”. Color me escapist, but there you have it. And since I long ago realized that there is nothing particularly special about what I think, I naturally assume that we all presently require regular doses of joyful escapism to get us through these times. For some people it comes from the out-of-doors; for some it is food and drink; for many it is non-prescription pharmaceuticals (I judge not!); for myself, it is music (and yes, food and drink). Early in the pandemic it was the […]

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Music History Monday: A Concerto, by George!

On December 3, 1925 – 93 years ago today – George Gershwin’s Concerto in F for piano and orchestra received its world premiere at Carnegie Hall, with Gershwin at the piano and the New York Symphony Society Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch.  Statement: George Gershwin is among the handful of greatest composers the United States has ever produced, and his death at the age of 38 (of a brain tumor) should be considered an artistic tragedy equal to the premature deaths of Schubert (at 31), Mozart (at 35), and Chopin (at 39).  He was born Jacob Gershovitz (though his birth certificate reads “Jacob Gershwine”), the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, on September 26 1898 at 242 Snediker Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. (For our information: in 1963, a bronze plaque commemorating Gershwin’s birth was affixed to the building. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had fallen on very hard times: the plaque was stolen – it is still MIA – and the building vandalized. It burned down in 1987, and all that remains of the neighborhood today is a blighted area of warehouses and junkyards.) Rarely has a major composer begun his life in an […]

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Music History Mondays: Porgy and Bess

81 years ago today – on October 10, 1935 – George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess opened at the Alvin Theater in New York City. With a libretto by Dubose Heywood (whose play Porgy was the basis of the libretto) and Gershwin’s older brother Ira, Porgy and Bess ran a frankly unimpressive (by contemporary Broadway standards) 124 performances before it closed. Porgy and Bess was applauded for the beauty of its numbers but roundly criticized for being neither fish nor fowl. The critic Samuel Chotzinoff – ordinarily friendly to Gershwin – wrote: “As entertainment it is a hybrid, fluctuating constantly between music drama, musical comedy, and operetta.” Given the version of Porgy and Bess that he heard, Chotzinoff’s criticism is entirely justified. And therein lies a tale. George Gershwin’s amazing success as a composer of Broadway musicals and jazz-influenced concert works lit a fuse deep inside him: a desire to compose a full-length, no-holds-barred, knock-‘em-out-of-their seats American opera. His life-long affinity with the music of the African-American community – drumming, ragtime, jazz, and the spiritual – drew him like a bear to honey to a play called Porgy by Dubose Heywood. Heywood’s Porgy was produced on Broadway in 1927 and depicts […]

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Music History Mondays: Porgy and Bess

81 years ago today – on October 10, 1935 – George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess opened at the Alvin Theater in New York City. With a libretto by Dubose Heywood (whose play Porgy was the basis of the libretto) and Gershwin’s older brother Ira, Porgy and Bess ran a frankly unimpressive (by contemporary Broadway standards) 124 performances before it closed. Porgy and Bess was applauded for the beauty of its numbers but roundly criticized for being neither fish nor fowl. The critic Samuel Chotzinoff – ordinarily friendly to Gershwin – wrote: “As entertainment it is a hybrid, fluctuating constantly between music drama, musical comedy, and operetta.” Given the version of Porgy and Bess that he heard, Chotzinoff’s criticism is entirely justified. And therein lies a tale. George Gershwin’s amazing success as a composer of Broadway musicals and jazz-influenced concert works lit a fuse deep inside him: a desire to compose a full-length, no-holds-barred, knock-‘em-out-of-their seats American opera. His life-long affinity with the music of the African-American community – drumming, ragtime, jazz, and the spiritual – drew him like a bear to honey to a play called Porgy by Dubose Heywood. Heywood’s Porgy was produced on Broadway in 1927 and depicts […]

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