The Brothers Gershwin
George and Ira Gershwin will always be remembered as the songwriting team whose voice was synonymous with the sounds and style of the Jazz Age. From 1924 until George’s death in 1937, the brothers wrote almost exclusively with each other, composing over two dozen scores for Broadway and Hollywood. Though they had many individual song hits, their greatest achievement may have been the elevation of musical comedy to an American art form. With their trilogy of political satires – Strike Up the Band, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Of Thee I Sing, and its sequel, Let ‘Em Eat Cake (all three written with playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind) — they helped raise popular musical theatre to a new level of sophistication. Their now-classic folk opera, Porgy and Bess (co-written with DuBose Heyward), is constantly revived in opera houses and theatres throughout the world.
Concurrently with the Gershwins’ musical theatre and film work, George attained great success in the concert arena as a piano virtuoso, conductor, and composer of such celebrated works as Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and the Concerto in F. After George’s death, Ira continued to work in film and theatre with collaborators ranging from Kurt Weill and Jerome Kern to Harold Arlen, Burton Lane, Vernon Duke, and Harry Warren, among others, writing such standards as “Long Ago (and Far Away)” and “The Man That Got Away,” both nominated for Academy Awards.
George Gershwin’s Paris
Described by George Gershwin as an extended symphonic tone poem, the 1928 music composition, An American in Paris, was written by Gershwin on commission from the New York Philharmonic and soon became one of his most famous compositions. Inspired by his time spent in Paris during the 1920’s, Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” At approximately 20 minutes in length, the composition premiered on December 13, 1928 at Carnegie Hall under the orchestration of Walter Damrosch. The piece was hailed by the critic Isaac Goldberg as being an “American Afternoon of a Faun”.
The 1950 MGM Motion Picture
The idea for An American in Paris came to producer Arthur Freed when he attended a concert of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Freed liked the title and from that he built a musical with Gershwin tunes after months of negotiations with Ira Gershwin, estate trustees, and two different music publishers.
As further developed by the artistic triumvirate of choreographer and star Gene Kelly, director Vincente Minelli and screenwriter Alan J. Lerner, An American in Paris became one of the most famous film musicals in the history of Hollywood and went on to win six Academy Awards in 1951.
In approaching the film’s choreographic sequences, Kelly took the opportunity to make cinematic choices that broke new ground, including the legendary 17 minute final ballet sequence. He also discovered co-star Leslie Caron after seeing her in Paris’s Ballet des Champs Elysees. Kelly was given an honorary Oscar “in appreciation for his extreme versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”
The magnificent legacy that originated with George Gershwin’s composition in 1928 and continued with the breakthrough 1950 motion picture has inspired a generation of artists and audiences, and continues to inspire this further re-imagining today.