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Backstage Dramas

Donald Macleod explores how Gershwin enjoyed good business on Broadway and in London's West End, as well as keeping up his appearances as a pianist on the concert platform.

This week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of George Gershwin. Today Gershwin enjoys good business on Broadway and in London's West End as well as keeping up his appearances as a pianist on the concert platform.

A life cut short, George Gershwin died in 1937 of a brain tumour at the age of just 38. Yet this isn't a story of what might have been. Gershwin's musical legacy stands as one of admirable achievement. He wrote a string of twelve Broadway musicals, orchestral music and an opera. He penned some of the most recorded tunes in the popular song catalogue of all time. We'll hear many of them across the week, in classic versions made by some of the twentieth century's legendary voices, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Outside the sphere of popular music, Gershwin's orchestral music won plenty of public support although his critical reception was mixed. Nonetheless among his supporters were significant figures in the classical world such as the New York Philharmonic's Walter Damrosch.
Despite the breadth of his appeal, his professional standing and his wealth, Gershwin remained a man who never felt truly confident in his own musical knowledge, perhaps because his musical education had been limited by circumstance. He was born in 1898 in New York, the second son of Jewish immigrant parents, Morris and Rose Gershowitz. As a child George excelled on roller-skates rather than school-work. Leaving altogether at the age of 14 he was pounding away on a piano in Tin Pan Alley for 10 hours a day. Success came early though when he persuaded Al Jolson to record his song "Swanee". The two million records it sold made George a comfortable pile, and from there on, as they say, "the rest is history".

Building on the success garnered with "Lady Be Good" Gershwin and his lyricist partner, brother Ira, had three more shows opening on Broadway and a further three in London. As if that wasn't enough, after a short break in Europe, Gershwin returned with sketches for a new concerto, which naturally enough would feature himself as the pianist for the premiere at Carnegie Hall.

Someone To Watch Over Me (Oh, Kay!)
Dawn Upshaw, Kay
Orchestra of St. Luke's
Eric Stern, conductor

Overture (Tip-Toes)
The New Princess Theater Orchestra
John McGlinn, conductor

Piano Concerto in F
Xiayin Wang, piano
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Peter OUndjian, conductor

Maybe; Clap Yo Hands; Do, Do, Do (Oh, Kay!)
Patrick Cassidy, Larry Potter
Kurt Ollmann, Jimmy Winter
Dawn Upshaw, Kay
Ensemble
Orchestra of St. Luke's
Eric Stern, conductor.

1 hour

Music Played

  • George Gershwin

    Someone to watch over me

    Singer: Dawn Upshaw. Orchestra: St Luke's Orchestra. Conductor: Eric Stein. Conductor: Eric Stein.
    • ELEKTRA/NONESUCH : 7559-79361-2.
    • ELEKTRA/NONESUCH.
    • 5.
  • George Gershwin

    Clap yo' hands

    Singer: Patrick Cassidy. Singer: Larry Porter. Singer: Kurt Ollmann. Singer: Jimmy Witter. Singer: Dawn Upshaw. Orchestra: St Luke's Orchestra. Conductor: Eric Stern. Conductor: Eric Stern.
    • Nonesuch 7559793612.
    • Nonesuch.
    • 19.
  • George Gershwin

    Do, do, do

    Singer: Patrick Cassidy. Singer: Larry Porter. Singer: Kurt Ollmann. Singer: Jimmy Witter. Singer: Dawn Upshaw. Orchestra: St Luke's Orchestra. Orchestra: St Luke's Orchestra. Conductor: Eric Stern. Conductor: Eric Stern.
    • Nonesuch 7559793612.
    • Nonesuch.
    • 19.

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