Rhapsody in Blue—George Gershwin
George Gershwin was born September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of an immigrant family and began his musical career as a song plugger on Tin Pan Alley. “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em” was Gershwin’s first published work. Shortly after it was published, he met a lyricist named Irving Ceaser. Together, they wrote a number of songs, including “Swanee”. The majority of Gershwin’s compositions are Broadway musicals, the first of which was “La, La Lucille”. George Gershwin teamed up with his brother Ira in 1924. Their partnership lasted for the rest of George’s life. Their first collaboration together was a musical comedy called “Lady Be Good”. Together, they wrote many popular musicals, including “Oh Kay!” and “Funny Face”.
While continuing to write musicals and pop tunes, George Gershwin sought to expand his style and leave his mark as a serious composer. It was out of this desire that the widely popular Rhapsody in Blue was written. The piece premiered when Gershwin was just twenty-five years old in New York’s Aeolian Hall as part of the concert, “An Experiment in Music”. After enjoying initial success, Gershwin continued working with classical music. His compositions include “Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody No. 2″ and “An American in Paris”. In the early 1930’s, Gershwin wrote the Broadway musical “Of Thee I Sing”. It was a big hit and became the first comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1937, George and his brother went to Hollywood and worked together on music for films, including “Shall We Dance” and “A Damsel in Distress”. George Gershwin planned to move back to New York and continue writing classical music, but he became ill and died of a brain tumor before his plans were accomplished.
Rhapsody in Blue was composed by George Gershwin in 1924 for solo piano and jazz orchestra. It was premiered in Aeolian Hall in New York with George Gershwin playing the piano. The piece combines classical and jazz elements. Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned by Paul Whiteman specifically for an experimental concert. Gershwin accepted the commission just five weeks before the scheduled premiere. He passed it on to the arranger days before the concert. Nevertheless, Rhapsody in Blue was completed when the premiere evening arrived. Gershwin found inspiration for Rhapsody in Blue on a train ride to Boston. The piece wasn’t, and then all of a sudden it was. He could hear the structure of the piece start to finish, by listening to the sounds of the train. Building on that, Gershwin finished the piece in the few weeks left before the premiere.
Rhapsody in Blue was met by a mixture of reviews. The critics were harsh toward to piece, noting mindless repetition and a lack of depth and expression. Leonard Bernstein, who admittedly enjoyed Rhapsody in Blue, refused to acknowledge it as a true composition due to the cut and paste nature of the melodies. The public’s response was an entirely different story. It became extremely popular. Recordings and performances were both in high demand. Rhapsody in Blue remains a popular piece for conductors, performers, and audiences around the world.