Music and Art: Hopper and Gershwin

By Cathy Fuller

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The Museum of Fine Arts opened their Art of the Americas Wing in November 2010, and out of sheer glee, I decided to feature one treasure from the new wing paired with music written in the same year.

Edward Hopper’s "Room in Brooklyn," (left) painted in 1932, is haunting. The signature sunlight which so intrigued Hopper is here given harsh geometry, and the woman seems starkly alone. Her isolation has emptied the city of its life.

This disconcerting canvas offers a vision of New York light years away from George Gershwin’s view. His is romantic, lush and complex -- full of the rhythms that he insisted “should be made to snap, and at times to crackle.”

In 1932 Gershwin’s publisher suggested that he write some keyboard versions of his own songs. "Playing my songs as frequently as I do at private parties," Gershwin said, "I have naturally been led to compose numerous variations upon them, and to indulge the desire for complication and variety that every composer feels when he manipulates the same material over and over again."

Here is a selection from Gershwin's songbook transcriptions for piano, played by William Bolcom:

Gershwin: Rialto Ripples (excerpt)


If you’re so moved, post a comment below about whether your vision of New York resonates with either of these masterpieces.

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