Music | Irving Berlin
M502 | 8794 | Jeffrey Magee


M502:  Irving Berlin
Instructor: Jeffrey Magee

	In a career spanning seven decades, Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
wrote several hundred songs–including “Alexander’s Ragtime
Band,” “Blue Skies,” “God Bless America,” “and “White Christmas”–that
distilled and defined the musical, social, and political spirit of
his times.  In the process, he profoundly shaped some of the
principal sites of American musical entertainment, from Tin Pan Alley
to Broadway to Hollywood. With Stephen Foster and Cole Porter, Berlin
was one of the few songwriters who consistently wrote both words and
music in the age before rock.  His enterprising musicianship, lyric
craft, industrious work habits, irrepressible optimism and strong
patriotism seemed to grow from a single impulse energized by an
immigrant’s hunger to belong in the New World. As early as 1917,
writer Carl Van Vechten called Irving Berlin one of “the true
grandfathers of the Great American Composer of the year 2001.”
Songwriter Jerome Kern said that “Irving Berlin has no place in
American Music. HE IS AMERICAN MUSIC.”

	This seminar-style class will explore Irving Berlin work,
life, and place in American culture from a variety of angles and
require active participation by all students.  We will analyze many
of his songs in the context of songwriting conventions of his times.
We will explore the stage and screen musicals in which many of those
songs appear.  We will consider how performers and performance
affected his songwriting and how they shape our understanding of his
work. We will see how his work reflected and shaped a vision of
America that gained broad acceptance.  We will examine how his life
may represent the archetypal immigrant experience through readings of
recent studies of American Jewish culture.  Assignments will include
participation in class discussion, papers analyzing songs and
readings, essay and listening exams, informal performance, and
possibly a songwriting exercise or two.