George Gersh­win: An Inti­mate Portrait

Wal­ter Rimler
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
Famous, revered, and wealthy as a con­se­quence of his tal­ent as a com­pos­er of pop­u­lar songs, George Gersh­win was still not sat­is­fied. His desire was to achieve suc­cess as a com­pos­er of seri­ous music. In the end he achieved his wish, par­tial­ly, with his Amer­i­can opera, Por­gy and Bess, and sev­er­al oth­er seri­ous works. No doubt there was con­sid­er­ably more music with­in him, but his life end­ed on a sad note, cut short at the age of 37 by a brain tumor. 

As a pre­sen­ta­tion of the basic facts about Gersh­win, touch­ing on the music he com­posed, his life and loves, his ambi­tions and achieve­ments and fail­ures, this book serves well. There are notes for each chap­ter, a sec­tion of pho­tographs with cap­tions, and an index, but no bib­li­og­ra­phy. Although the musi­cals and films for which he com­posed songs and music are men­tioned in the text, there is no orga­nized list, nor is there a list of his seri­ous works. 

Rim­ler touch­es on many aspects of Gershwin’s life, yet his impact on his times remains unex­plored, as is the impact of the times upon him. That his broth­er Ira’s lyrics con­tributed to the suc­cess of his songs might also have been exam­ined. Where does Gershwin’s work fit in the worlds of Broad­way and Hol­ly­wood musi­cals? Much space in the book has been giv­en to George’s urge to write an opera, which led to Por­gy and Bess, and his accom­plish­ment of its writ­ing and pro­duc­tion, but his songs and musi­cals are prob­a­bly the pri­ma­ry source of inter­est in him, yet they are giv­en short shrift in the book.

On bal­ance, this book is a use­ful and well writ­ten source of basic infor­ma­tion for the casu­al­ly curi­ous, but greater depth and more read­ers’ tools would have been even more wel­come. Index.


Read an excerpt here.

Addi­tion­al Reading

Claire Rudin is a retired direc­tor of the New York City school library sys­tem and for­mer librar­i­an at the Holo­caust Resource Cen­ter and Archives in Queens, NY. She is the author of The School Librar­i­an’s Source­book and Chil­dren’s Books About the Holocaust.

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