Johann Straus II - Vergnügungszug (Pleasure Train), op. 281

Johann Strauss II , known for his waltzes and lively compositions, had a unique approach to his creative process. He consistently sought contemporary and relevant themes to serve as the driving force behind his new musical compositions. This approach ensured that his work remained fresh and connected with the audiences of his time.  One notable instance of this creative approach was the composition of this polka, composed in 1864. This piece of music was specifically crafted for a summer concert held in the picturesque Russian town of Pavlovsk. It's fascinating to note that Strauss drew inspiration for this composition from the world around him. In this case, he found it in the emerging technology of the time, namely, the steam locomotive. The composition itself is a testament to Strauss's ability to capture the essence and energy of the subject matter. The rhythm of this dance piece mirrors the rhythmic chugging and movements of the old-fashioned steam trains that were prevale

Gershwin - Porgy and Bess

A photo from the first performance of the opera Porgy and Bess in New York in 1935.

Gershwin's unique attempt at opera, created a dizzying combination of classical drama and atmospheric jazz, which remains unsurpassed in contemporary music.

Gershwin loved "black music" as they originally called jazz. Its pulsating rhythms reached the ears of the refined American white society in the early decades of the twentieth century. Gershwin felt that her pure energy lies in the soul of the American people. Many of the songs are deeply influenced by jazz, but his real ambition was to write a great black opera.

Gershwin's attempt to introduce jazz to the opera combined two antidiametric musical genres. Already famous as a songwriter, in 1926, he realized that the material for this challenge was in the popular novel Porgy, which referred to the tragic love of a black beggar from Charleston, South Carolina.

But it took eight years before he started composing, in collaboration with Ira and the book’s author, Edwin DuBose Hayward. They spent two months on Folly island, ten miles from Charleston, to assimilate the atmosphere of the South. Gershwin spent many evenings in neighboring James island listening to the music of Gullah, the effect of which is clear in the final form of the opera, (The Gullah-Geechee are descendants of enslaved West African people who worked on coastal plantations from North Carolina to northern Florida).

A cultural shock

The result was a dramatic tale of passion and murder, told through a series of songs in Gershwin’s unforgettable style.
Gershwin faithfully follows the South Afro-American mode of speech.His refusal to compromise was the main reason for the contradictory reviews the opera received when it was put on a show in 1935. The composer did not attempt to refine the language or the rawness of his story’s emotions, thus conforming to the preferences of his sophisticated white audience.
Porgy and Bess was a cultural shock that preceded several decades of its time. It became a success only after Gershwin’s death and after major revisions. It was only when it became a movie in 1959, starring Sidney Poitier, Gershwin’s mix of classical music and jazz, that found the universal acclaim it deserved.