Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin premiered on February 12, 1924
Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra is one of the most famous works of the American composer George Gershwin.
Once, Gershwin accidentally saw a paragraph in the newspaper noting that on commission from Paul Whiteman, he was working on a jazz concert, although in fact he was not even planning to write such work. Deciding that this was a mistake, he called his “boss” and found out that the latter had really added a non-existent composition to the program of the upcoming concert, where the authoritative music critics were expected to answer the burning question “what is American music?” on the basis of the compositions they were going to hear during this concert. Thus, Gershwin had no choice, and he began work.
Thus, Rhapsody in Blue appeared. Two meanings of the English word “Blue” beat upon each other in this work - a lyric song (blues) and blue color.
The composer recalled the process of creation the Rhapsody, “All of a sudden an idea occurred to me. People are talking so much about the limitations of jazz, they misunderstand its function. It is commonly believed, that jazz should sound in the same tempo and be based only on dance rhythms. I decided, as far as possible, to break this erroneous concept at one blow. Inspired by this goal, I began to write in the unaccustomed rhythm".
On the day of the premiere, on February 12, 1924, singers, pianists from Tin Pan Alley, jazz and musical stars, prominent critics and academic composers (Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, and others were among them) gathered in the Julian Hall in New York. The program of the concert, that was declared an "experiment in the modern music" included works with the elements of jazz by many composers. At first, the public was not enthused over the “experiment”.
Some listeners were about to leave the concertl. Hence, George Gershwin sat down at the piano. Rhapsody in Blue, that he composed, sounded. No trace of the previous boredom was left. Orchestra musicians engulfed by emotions, played as if turning themselves inside out. The conductor Paul Whiteman was not noticing that tears of delight were rolling down his cheeks. Gershwin played the piano inimitably. The finishing sounds of the Rhapsody sounded. The performance was welcomed enthusiastically by a storm of applause!
Criticists unanimously welcomed Gershwin’s ingenious melodic gift, “original sense of harmony” and “rhythmic ingenuity”. Hence, the main advantage of this composition was that for the first time there was a harmonious combination of a classical orchestra composition, associated with the works of Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, and the blues style. With Whiteman’s easy state of mind, the new style was called symphonic jazz.
Subsequently, Rhapsody in the Blue turned out to be the most frequently performed work worldwide, written by an American composer. The words of the American conductor and music critic Walter Damrosch about the Piano Concerto, created by Gershwin in 1925, are quite applicable to the Rhapsody, “Many composers walked around jazz like cats around a plate of hot soup, waiting for it to cool down, to enjoy it without fear of burning their tongues, as they were used to the lukewarm, distilled liquid prepared by the cooks of the classical school. Lady Jazz, adorned with intriguing rhythms, walked dancing through the entire world, right up to the Eskimos in the North and Polynesians in the South Islands. However, nowhere did she meet a knight who would introduce her as a respected guest into the higher musical society. George Gershwin performed this miracle. He was the prince who took Cinderella’s hand and openly proclaimed her a princess, causing the wonder of the world and the rage of her envious sisters."
Rhapsody in blue” became Gershwin’s brand identity. Now musicians of both academic and jazz styles perform it with equal success.
We present a rare recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” performed by George Gershwin (piano part) and Orchestra conducted by Paul Whiteman. Recorded from Duo-Art paper music roll, played back on Reproducing grand piano "Steinway Duo-Art" (USA, 1926).