APM: Composers Datebook

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Jul 10, 2019 Today’s date marks two events in American musical history—one sad, one happy. It was on today’s date in 1937 that George Gershwin died at 10:35 in the morning in a Hollywood hospital after an operation for a brain tumor. He was only 38 years old. Gershwin was the idol of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, and also admired by the “serious” composers of his day, such as Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Even Arnold Schoenberg, the fearsome leader of the 12-tone school—and Gershwin’s regular tennis partner in Los Angeles—said, in tribute, “there is no doubt that he was a great composer.” A Gershwin memorial concert was held in the Hollywood Bowl later that year, featuring notables from both classical and popular music, including Otto Klemperer, Fred Astaire, and Lily Pons. The happier anniversary we note is the founding of the Hollywood Bowl itself, on today’s date in 1922. This open-air auditorium was constructed in a natural canyon in the Los Angeles area, and hosted its first public concert with the fearsomely-bearded German conductor Alfred Hertz on the podium. An audience of 5,000 cheered music by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Rossini. Works by those composers still show up on Hollywood Bowl programs today, often alongside selections from now-classic Hollywood film scores, often conducted by their composers—bearded or otherwise.

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