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Products for grant FT-254515-17

Opera on the American Popular Stage, 1890-1915
Kristen Turner, North Carolina State University

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Gershwin and Pre-War Aesthetics (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Gershwin and Pre-War Aesthetics
Author: Kristen M. Turner
Abstract: When considering the artistic landscape in which George Gershwin matured, it is easy to imagine the theaters, concert halls, and opera houses of New York City as a succession of cultural silos. Musicologists have tended to study popular entertainments such as vaudeville, musical comedies, Yiddish theater, and opera as if they were isolated from each other – each style with its own performers, impresarios, influences, and traditions. But, in fact, the entertainers, businessmen, and patrons who powered the engine of the New York cultural scene traveled easily between genres on stage and met each other after hours at the same parties. It was this smorgasbord of dance, theater, and music that nurtured Gershwin in the early years of the twentieth century. Using “Blue Monday,” (1922), a one-act opera written for a revue as a case study, I argue that Gershwin’s restless search throughout his career for ways to integrate popular and classical music was a logical reaction to his early musical surroundings, which promoted constant genre crossing, sometimes for aesthetic reasons, but also to make larger political or social points through humor and references to cultural touchstones. This short work exemplifies the ways that Gershwin used music to trouble musical, class, and racial boundaries at the same moment that critics were succeeding in creating a cultural hierarchy based upon those same criteria. Seen in this light, Gershwin’s music clings to a pre-World War I musical and theatrical aesthetic that valued deft stylistic flexibility that many of his contemporaries eventually abandoned.
Date: 9/23/2017
Conference Name: American Musicological Society, Southeast Chapter, Fall 2017 Meeting