George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue premiered in An Experiment in Modern Music, a concert held in Aeolian Hall, New York on February 12, 1924. Since then, the piece has remained a favourite, being performed and recorded many times and used in countless films and broadcasts along the way. Also in 1924, Stravinsky’s Concerto for piano and winds received its debut performance. Britten Sinfonia perform both pieces with Jeremy Denk in London, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds in February and March. We take a look at what else was happening around the time that the work was premiered…
Following a vote of no confidence in Conservative Stanley Baldwin in late 1923, Ramsay MacDonald formed a Labour minority government in January 1924, relying on Liberal support. The government didn’t last long though, and an election in October 1924 saw a Conservative landslide after the ‘Zinoviev letter’ was leaked just before the election.
The British Empire Exhibition opened, with 56 territories represented, in displays and pavilions. To tie in with the exhibition, construction of a “great national sports ground” called the Empire Stadium was completed in 1923, but today’s readers might know it better as the original Wembley Stadium. The opening of the exhibition, by King George V, was broadcast on by radio – the first ever broadcast of a British monarch.
Andrew Irvine and George Mallory attempted to be the first people to scale Mount Everest but disappeared on the North-East ridge. It is not known what happened to the men, but George Mallory’s preserved body was discovered on the mountain by researchers in 1999. Andrew Irvine has never been found, and neither has the pair’s camera, which could hold clues about what happened. Everest was finally successfully summited in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
Harry Grindell Matthews, an inventor, was contacted by the War Office after he claimed to have invented a “death ray”. He demonstrated it in his own lab, where it supposedly switched on a light bulb and cut off a motor, but the government, sceptical that such an instrument existed, wanted further proof that it would work. Matthews refused. Public uproar led to questions about whether the government would prevent Matthews selling the weapon to a foreign power, but despite repeated offers of significant financial rewards, Matthews never demonstrated the “death ray” to the satisfaction of buyers, home or foreign.
The Taung Child, was discovered in South Africa. The fossil is thought to be 3-4 million years old and the child, believed to be about 3 or 4, is thought to have been killed by an eagle. The exact species, Australopithecus africanus is an extinct close hominid relative of humans, and scientists believe it demonstrates the evolution of apes into humans.
Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Soviet Union died on January 21 and was buried in Moscow’s Red Square. Lenin was critical of his successor, Josef Stalin, in a series of dictated notes, and Stalin colluded to keep these from going public, immediately beginning to purge his rivals. After Lenin’s death, the United Kingdom formally recognised the Soviet Union as a state.
• Marlon Brando – Film actor: On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now…need we go on?
• George H. W. Bush – 41st President of the USA and father of George W. Bush
• Truman Capote – Author, known for Breakfast at Tiffany’s
• Jimmy Carter – 39th President of the USA and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
• Joe Harnell – American composer and arranger
• Benny Hill – British Comedian and star of The Benny Hill Show
• Maurice Jarre – French composer and conductor who wrote many film scores
• Baroness Lockwood – Politician and campaigner for women’s rights
• Henry Mancini – American composer, conductor and arranger, famous for his film scores
• Sir Neville Marriner – Conductor and founder of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
• Ron Moody – Actor: Oliver!, The Mouse on the Moon, The Twelve Chairs, Flight of the Doves
• Christopher Tolkien – Son of J. R. R. Tolkien who drew the original maps for The Lord of the Rings
• Robert Mugabe – Controversial former President of Zimbabwe
• Jeanette Schmid – Professional transgender whistler known as “Baroness Lips von Lipstrill” (life story here, video of her performing here)
• Mabel Louise Smith – American R&B singer known as Big Maybelle
• Sarah Vaughan – Jazz singer and four-time Grammy Award winner
• Sandy Wilson – Composer and lyricist, known for the musical The Boy Friend
• Ed Wood – Regarded as one of the worst film directors of all time
• Albert Abrams – conman who claimed he could cure most diseases with machines he had invented
• Henry Bacon – Architect, best remembers for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
• Sabine Baring-Gould – Writer of the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers
• Frances Hodgson Burnett – Author, known for The Secret Garden
• Ferruccio Busoni – Italian composer, pianist and conductor
• Joseph Conrad – Author, known for Heart of Darkness
• Gabriel Fauré – French romantic composer and organist
• Andrew Irvine and George Mallory – British Mountaineers (see above)
• E. Nesbit – Author and poet, known for The Railway Children
• Giacomo Puccini – Italian opera composer of works including Madama Buttterfly and La bohème
• Louis Sullivan – Architect and the “father of skyscrapers”
• Charles Villiers Stanford – Irish composer and conductor
• Woodrow Wilson – 28th President of the USA, in office during the First World War
Did you know? In 1924…
• A pint of beer cost about 6d. In the United States, however, the sale of alcohol was banned, known as Prohibition, but the laws were largely flaunted.
• The average weekly wage was £5
• The global population was just under 2 billion (today it is 7 billion). The UK’s population was about 44 million (today it is about 65 million)
• The average house cost £348 (equivalent to about £20,000 today), by comparison, an average car cost £275 (equivalent to about £15,000 today)
• Women could only vote if they were over 30 and were property owners; men could vote at 21 or aged 19 if they were in the armed forces – equal voting rights between women and men was not established until 1928
• George V was King of the United Kingdom. His granddaughter is Elizabeth II
• The British Empire consisted of 58 territories
• The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in New York City
• The first ever Winter Olympic games were held in Chamonix, France. The Summer Olympics were held in Paris – photos, videos and winners here.
• Calvin Coolidge became President of the United States
• The IBM corporation was founded
• The Shipping Forecast was first broadcast on the BBC. It continues to this day on BBC Radio Four.
• The first British nudist camp was established in Wickford, Essex
• J. Edgar Hoover became head of the FBI, a post he would hold for 48 years
• The first facsimile was sent across the Atlantic Ocean
• Adolf Hitler was charged with treason following the Beer Hall Putsch (a failed coup attempt by the Nazi Party in 1923)
• Louis Armstrong married Lil Hardin
Britten Sinfonia perform Rhapsody in Blue with Jeremy Denk on 27 February (London), 2 March (Norwich) and 5 March (Bury St Edmunds).