British pianist Viv McLean has chosen a fascinating range of pieces for solo piano, either original or brilliantly arranged by Percy Grainger, Maurice Whitney, and Henry Levine) for his compilation of Gershwin piano music. The result is breathtaking, with a final bonus of three songs performed together with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra.
The best composers show more than their souls through their music: they also capture the spirit of their heritage, their communities and their era. George Gershwin was no exception. Music, he suggested, “must repeat the thought and aspirations” of the times. “My people are American,” he declared. “My time is today.”
George Gershwin (1898 –1937) — one of those Jews whom Mason found so insidious— began his career plugging hit tunes at the piano for Tin Pan Alley (as the popular music industry in New York City was called); by the end of his career he was a tennis partner of Arnold Schoenberg’s and a respected composer of a concerto and an opera. Of all the Modernist composers, Gershwin had perhaps the most remarkable faculty for assimilating and fusing diverse styles: whereas Stravinsky uses many styles — Russian folk, ragtime, Baroque, twelve-tone — holding them all gingerly at arm’s length, Gershwin synthesizes so enthusiastically that it is difficult (in his concert pieces) to tell where the world of Ravel stops and where the blues begin. Of course, this discrimination is sometimes troublesome in Ravel’s own work, such as the Violin Sonata (1923 –27), with its “Blues” second movement; but Gershwin may have done more than anyone else to show just how flimsy the division between high and low music can be.*