My primary goal for enrolling in music appreciation was to learn about the composers/musicians that have greatly contributed to modern music. Therefore, I decided to analyze a piece of music ?Rhapsody in Blue?, which affected music in 1920’s and still impacting the music world today. George Gershwins, ?Rhapsody in Blues?, first performance was on February 12, 1924, and became an overnight success taking the music world by surprise. In this paper, I intend to analyze two very important versions of ?Rhapsody in Blue,? and describe Gershwin’s life leading to his achievement.
George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz on September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York. The son of immigrant parents, George had two brothers, Arthur and Ira, and one sister Francis. Although, George is the most well know of the family, his brother Ira was also a successful lyricist. In fact, if it were not for Ira’s interest in music, George’s parents would have never purchased the family’s first piano. George, took an immediate interest in the piano, and immediately began successfully playing by ear. His parents arranged for piano lessons, and George began to study seriously at the age of 12 years old.
George began his professional career in ?Tin Pan Alley,?
Located in New York City were aspiring composers and songwriters would bring their music in hopes of selling them for a modest amount of cash. He became a ?song plugger? for the Jerome Remick Company. There, he became exposed to thousands of songs, giving him a better idea on the quality of music. Two years after he started work for Jerome Remick, George had his first song published. ?When you Want Em You Can’t Get Em? this piece was not an instant success for George, but it attracted attention from other great composers. This composition shaped the foundation, for the success George’s future was beholding.
Very few composers have achieved instant celebrity to anything like the degree that George Gershwin enjoyed following the performance of ?Rhapsody and Blues?. This piece was composed very quickly. In fact, the whole evolution of this composition was an experiment. Paul Whiteman, one of New York’s foremost bandleaders had hired the Aeolian Hall for what was billed as ?An Experiment in Modern Music?. The experiment was to see whether it was possible for American composers to achieve a combination of classical and popular idioms and forms. This experiment was a success, and paved Gershwin’s road to a short but successful career.
?The Rhapsody was extremely important to the future of American music because it introduced what Rudy Vallee called symphonized syncopation to sophisticated audiences in the serious setting of the concert hall. The Rhapsody in Blue, which owes much to the influence of Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and the Russian music Gershwin heard as a young student, has beautiful, recognizable, unforgettable melodies, and the entire piece is characterized by Gershwin’s energy and rhythmic sense.?
In ?Rhapsody in Blue? he combines Jazz, Impressionism and classical elements, which he uses for his unique 20th Century romanticism. He utilizes the expression of emotion without over-romanticizing Impressionists, and grounds it with his plain rhythms. He then implements gorgeous melodies between the major themes. ?For example, the Andantino Moderato section opens with the most compelling theme in the Rhapsody, a theme so haunting it could have easily descended into an emotional mire were it not for the introduction of a sub motif in the third and fourth bars.? It is so important to Gershwin to restrain the music emotionally, that one never hears the Andantino Moderato theme without its brittle and unusual interruptions.
The original version of ?Rhapsody in Blue?, was a great performance, but incomplete. In the piano part of the original 1924 piano/orchestra edition, over fifty measures had been deleted in the published versions. Remarkably, eighty-eight measures were missing from the piano solo version. Where Gershwin left blanks or few indications, necessary editing had been made. However, in over sixty-five measures, Gershwin’s own phrasing, chords, notes, dynamic and other interpretive clues had been altered! Grofe’s orchestration of Gershwin’s manuscript had not been shortened, and Grofe had not personally made any deletions from Gershwin’s piano manuscript. ?The final result of Harms decision to shorten the Rhapsody was a fragmented and truncated work, lending confidence to the structurally flawed judgment of the work by Gershwin’s critics?. The originally published Rhapsody was now approximately twelve to fourteen minutes in length, but in Gershwin’s original performances it was at eighteen minutes even with his quickly paced tempo.
In view of all this it was timely to produce a new edition of the ?Rhapsody in Blue? which brings it closer to Gershwin’s original notation and intent. This new publication allows a clearer understanding of a style of piano playing that was born with him. What to jazz pianists comes so easily, although with restricted technique, is difficult to comprehend by many classical pianists who have used traditional approaches to the interpretation of this piece.
In the revised ?Rhapsody in Blue?, all of Gershwin’s notations have been restored according to the original Gershwin and Grofe manuscripts. ?New editing was applied to those sections which were blank and/or in which no indications were given by the composer or Grofe. All pedaling and fingering is suggested and up to the individual pianist except where the sostenuto pedal is called for.? In adapting the orchestra part to the piano as indicated in the manuscripts, certain editorial changes were necessary while, however, leaving Gershwin’s chords and phrasing intact. Where feasible, Gershwin’s dynamics and phrases have been footnoted. None of them have been altered or deleted in this edition, and all missing measures have been re-inserted in their original form. ?With the restoration of the ?Rhapsody in Blue? to its original state, a masterwork emerges, unflawed and tightly woven. Its early 20th Century innocence and brilliant musical statements weave in and out of the performers and listeners souls as it brings us back to an America which was building its very own Stairway to Paradise!?
George’s life met a short and tragic end. What started as simple headaches became more serious and chronic. When George started to forget portions of his compositions while performing his friends and family encouraged him to see a physician. Doctors informed him that he had a brain tumor and suggested emergency surgery. Doctors who specialized in this form of cancer surgery were to be flown in to California to perform a potentially life threatening procedure. Unfortunately, George did not survive the surgery and died on July 11, 1937 in Hollywood.
After George’s death, his brother shared a great deal of his works with young up and coming musicians. In fact, George’s music was eventually played on mainstream media. Commercials feature George’s music regularly. United Airlines used ?Rhapsody in Blue? for years as its theme song. H&R Block recently encouraged their clients to think of their services as ?Someone to Watch Over Me.? Visa got into the latest fray by using ?I Got Rhythm? to inform the public that the Tony awards don’t take another credit card.
?Commercials aren’t the only place to hear George’s music. Motion pictures still use George’s music as staples to their themes and plots. In Mr. Holland’s Opus, a young student sings the love ballad ?Someone to Watch Over Me? while her mentor, whose efforts to glide the beautiful girl border into feelings of love and compassion, conducts her performance. ?When Harry Met Sally? featured numerous Gershwin songs, including ?Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off?.
George became one of America’s first premier composes and his compositions are still used today as tools for teachers everywhere. His jazz derived techniques, and melodies known as ?blues? notes helped shape modern music. His musical style has influenced many modern day