Can anyone point me to the real story of the meeting of George Gershwin with Maurice Ravel in Paris (probably early 30's)? I understand Ravel told Gershwin that he would never qualify as a bonafide classical composer, maybe because of Gershwin's lack of technical training. Most of Gershwin's orchestrations were handled by others. How the two integrated syncopation, a "classical" exponent of the jazz age, into their compositions has always been intriguing.
"Gershwin was influenced very much by French composers of the early twentieth century. Upon meeting composer Maurice Ravel, Gershwin asked him of the possibility of becoming a student of composition under the master. Ravel is said to have replied, "Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?" Ravel was already quite impressed with the ability of Gershwin, commenting, "Personally I find jazz most interesting: the rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin's works and I find them intriguing." (Mawer 42) The orchestrations in Gershwin's symphonic works often seem similar to those of Ravel; likewise, Ravel's two piano concertos evince an influence of Gershwin. He also asked Igor Stravinsky for lessons; when Stravinsky heard how much Gershwin earned, he replied "How about you give me some lessons?"
Gershwin's own Concerto in F was criticised as being strongly rooted in the work of Claude Debussy, more so than in the jazz style which was expected. The comparison didn't deter Gershwin from continuing to explore French styles. The title of An American in Paris reflects the very journey that he had consciously taken as a composer: "The opening part will be developed in typical French style, in the manner of Debussy and the Six, though the tunes are original."
Thanks -- those are kind words by Ravel and Stravinsky; I hope they weren't
being patronizing. I was listening to Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand the other day and was surprised at how much syncopation there was, but I don't see a parallel with Gershwin. But then I'm not classically trained. Just like playing composer with your clever invention.
"Gershwin was influenced very much by French composers of the early twentieth century. Upon meeting composer Maurice Ravel, Gershwin asked him of the possibility of becoming a student of composition under the master. Ravel is said to have replied, "Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?"
I like to believe that Ravel only had Gershwin's best interest in mind. From what I have read of Gershwin in biographies he struggled with the feeling that, as a "popular" composer, he would not be looked upon kindly by the "serious" musical establishment, yet he yearned to create something of substance that would last. I believe what Ravel was trying to say to him was "be true to yourself, and the rest will take care of itself". Fortunately for Gershwin, he is greatly admired for both his popular and his serious sides. This struggle is not at all unusual for musicians who are not just talented, but also versatile. According to some sources, had Leonard Bernstein not been blessed/cursed with equal facility in both popular and more serious music, he actually would have produced a lot more work. Instead, he focused on conducting as it was more "neutral" territory.
"Porgy and Bess" is a prime example. This was to be Gershwin's crowning opus - his grand American opera, but the classical musical establishment of the day wanted nothing to do with it. He eventually had to settle for a Broadway house production, with more spoken dialogue and reduced recitative. He never got to see it fully staged as he had written it, and it was a major disappointment for him. The first recording of the full opera didn't appear until the '70s and that's when the work really began to become part of the operatic repertoire and could play in "real" opera houses.
Ummm, I think you also have to consider that Gershwin was also a student of a prominent theorist for a number of years - Schillinger. Although, his theories are debunkable (if you ever read them as I have), they were popular for quite a few compozers in his day.
"...Gershwin had begun taking composition lessons with a noted teacher and theorist named Joseph Schillinger, author of the mathematically-based Schillinger System of Musical Composition, published in two monumental volumes in 1941. Gershwin, already a major celebrity thanks to his numerous Broadway shows and concerts works such as Rhapsody in Blue, studied with Schillinger for four years to perfect his technique in Western classical composition, and treated the Cuban materials with a technical sophistication he had acquired through his work with his teacher..."
He also studied with Henry Cowell, and Wallingford Riegger!!
Going back to the original topic; here is a letter Ravel wrote to Nadia Boulanger on March 8, 1928:
There is a musician here endowed with the most brilliant, most enchanting and perhaps the most profound talent: George Gershwin.
His world-wide success no longer satisfies him, for he is aiming higher. he knows that he lacks the technical means to achieve his goal. In teaching him those means, one might ruin his talent.
Would you have the courage, which I wouldn't dare have, to undertake this awesome responsibility?
I expect to return home in early May, and will come to see you in order discuss the matter.
In the meantime, I send you my most cordial regards.
It goes on to describe a dinner party in New York in honor of Ravel's 53rd birthday where Gershwin was also invited. The hotess recalls:
"...The late George Gershwin was one of the honored guests, since Ravel had expressed a great desire to meet him and hear him play "Rhapsody in Blue," "The Man I Love," etc. It was a memorable evening. George that night surpassed himself, achieving astounding feats in rhythmic intricacies, so that even Ravel was dumbfounded. George was very keen to study with Ravel, but the Frenchman's answer was that 'you might lose that great melodic spontaneity and write bad Ravel.'"
This info come from a very interesting book called "A Ravel Reader" compiled by Arbie Orenstein (1990, Columbia Univ. Press), and is basically a collection of his letters, articles, interviews and other ephemera. Anyone interested in Ravel I'm sure would find this an entertaining read.
Do you think Gershwin and other popular composers most likely had difficulties with elitists? Some "serious" musicians most likely frowned upon their work as not adhering to the standards at the time.
QUOTE = thomaspenders
I totaly agree. You know back in 1994 I was refused to be a student of the composing Schoenberg lineage at the Conservatory of Rotterdam. and the following year again.... The reason was that i composed to classical.
For a long time it made me kind of hate the elitist. but now i just realize
that creating music is an art . And different kinds of people like different kinds of music. Just a matter of personal preference.
Gerswin is unique.
I am happy for Gershwin he didn't get to study with Ravel...