Elli grew up in Deerfield IL, listening to WBEZ and WFMT of Chicago. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin where she majored in Communication Arts and Jewish Studies. Elli began her radio ...
When Gershwin and Schoenberg Played Tennis Together
Thursday, September 08, 2016
The U.S. Open tennis tournament wraps up this weekend in Queens and that has us thinking about the story of two famous composers who struck up a surprising friendship on the court.
In Hollywood in 1936, George Gershwin moved into a Spanish-style mansion with a swimming pool and, more importantly, a tennis court. Not far away lived 62-year-old Arnold Schoenberg, who had recently moved to America to escape Nazi Germany.
At the time Schoenberg had a great teaching job and Gershwin was busy writing the score to Shall We Dance. Even though their music is completely different, Gershwin admired Schoenberg. He even considered studying music theory with him, but his overture to Schoenberg was decidedly non-musical: he challenged him to a friendly game of tennis.
One match became two, two became three, and tennis quickly turned into a weekly ritual for the composers. Schoenberg often brought a small entourage of string players and conductors. Gershwin invited his songwriter friends like Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg.
The composers’ techniques on the court were as different as their music: Gershwin’s was linear, direct, while Schoenberg was more, well ... Schoenberg. Gershwin’s game was described as nonchalant, relentless and chivalrous. Schoenberg’s as overly eager and choppy.
But they enjoyed playing together so much that they never missed a match. Schoenberg even showed up to play the day his son Ronald was born.
Their friendship was deep, but unfortunately very brief. Gershwin died less than a year after they met at 37. The next day, Schoenberg honored him in a memorial broadcast during which he said, "In this meaning I want to express the deepest grief for the deplorable loss to music. But may I mention that I lose also a friend whose amiable personality was very dear to me."
Watch rare footage that Gershwin shot of Schoenberg at his home, followed by the interview of Schoenberg talking about Gershwin shortly after his friend's death.
Like music, tennis is full of passion. The players are expressive, the fans enthusiastic and in Gershwin and Schoenberg’s case, every match was full of love.