BY GEORGE! HE’S GREAT!!!
It is probably safe to say that, on the centennial of his birth, the jury is in – HE IS GREAT! How else explain the fanfare with which George Gershwin’s 100th birthday was celebrated the world over.
But it may surprise some to learn that the question “Is he or isn’t he a great composer?” has been greeted with much equivocation through the years. Of course, to the folks who know a good tune when they hear one or get a thrill on hearing the brilliant sonorities and vibrant rhythms of a new orchestral sound, there has never been any question of his greatness. However, cutting-edge jazzmen were slow to accept him as one of their own; more hesitant still and with unmistakable condescension were the elitists/critics/purists of classical music. But then these are the folks who quibble over definitions and credentials, who when in a state of disbelief feel compelled to ask:
Can anyone be a serious, let alone great, composer
- who has had only a casual education in musical theory?
- who has NEVER attended a conservatory?
- who has only a limited command of technique in orchestration and composition?
- whose musical pedigree goes back only to Tin Pan Alley?
But if “great composer” means his works have:
- defined a new musical idiom
- the underpinnings of great musical ideas
- influenced musicians of his and future generations
- become staples of the world’s concert repertory
- withstood the test of time, as loved today by the public as they were in his time
then by George!
Gershwin years ago passed these tests with flying colors!
And as if to make up for the belated acknowledgment of his greatness – for “distinguished and enduring contributions to American music”, George Gershwin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music. This in 1998, more than 60 years after his death!
But as they say, better late than never.