Gershwin plays Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
One of my absolute favourite tunes of all times is “Rhapsody in Blue”. Unexplainable, whenever I am in a very low mood and I accidentally stumble upon this musical piece, my mood shifts to happiness within seconds… It has happened so many times…. I wonder why? Must be some spark of miracle in it….
First presented on February 12, 1924, in a concert billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music,” composer George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra won both critical and public acclaim for elevating American jazz to a new form of symphonic invention. The quintessentially American character of the piece has since garnered it a position of popularity practically unmatched by any other work of a native composer, and has found the success of its premiere often referred to as “one of the great nights in American music.”
While many viewed Rhapsody in Blue as a stark departure from Gershwin’s more established career as popular songwriter and Broadway composer, it in fact reaffirmed his continuing involvement in the world of classical music. Some twelve-years earlier, a fourteen-year-old George Gershwin could be found refining his gifts at the piano by performing works by Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy, and his studies of harmony, orchestration, and counterpoint would also continue for years to follow. His first classical piece, entitled Lullaby, was composed as early as 1919, and had been written for string quartet. As a clear example of the diversity and depth of his musical talent, in the following year, George Gershwin would also pen the wildly successful song Swanee, for singer Al Jolson.
When once discussing the overwhelming misperception regarding “the limitations of jazz,” by both the classical music world and the broader public, Gershwin stated that he had “resolved to kill the misconception with one sturdy blow,” through his composing of Rhapsody in Blue.
Originally intending to call his new work American Rhapsody, it was George Gershwin’s brother and long-time songwriting partner Ira who would finally suggest its name, inspired by the paintings Harmony in Gray and Green and Nocturne in Blue and Green by American painter James Whistler. In the years to come, following the unparalleled success of Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin would also begin dedicating much more of his time toward his own, personal interest in drawing and the visual arts, while continuing to compose for the increasingly popular field of moving pictures.
George Gershwin’s achievement in the creation of Rhapsody in Blue would not only bring together two musical worlds previously thought of as separate, by transforming the perception of both popular music and symphonic tradition, but would also lay the foundation for an equally important place in American musical history, some ten years later, with his groundbreaking work combining African-American folk tradition and classical opera in Porgy and Bess.
And now I get back to my feeling as I listen to Gershwin’s Rhapsody… Try it too… I am sure you will at least smile. 🙂