CBS MYK 37242
George Gershwin ____________________________________________________
Rhapsody In Blue
An American In Paris
Piano and Conductor
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
New York Philharmonic
1. Rhapsody In Blue (16:26)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, Piano
2. An American In Paris (18:22)
New York Philharmonic
Produced by John McClure
Consists of previously released material
Prepared for CD by Leroy Parkins with Frank H. Decker, Jr., Engineer
Cover design: Henrietta Condak/Front cover engraving: Culver Pictures © 1981 CBS Inc. (Not for U.S.)/ “CBS” is a trademark of CBS Inc. (In Canada, trademark of CBS Records Canada Ltd.)/Manufactured by CBS Records, CBS Inc., 51 W. 52 Street, New York, NY (Distribution: CBS Disques. Warning: All rights reserved, including all rights of the producer and of the owner of the recorded work. Unauthorized copying, public performance, broadcasting, hiring, or rental of this recording prohibited, as provided by applicable law.
“Whiteman Judges Named,” read a small item on the amusement page of the New York Tribute of January 4, 1924. “Committee Will Decide ‘What Is American Music’,” said the subhead. The body copy began: “Among the members of the committee of judges who will pass on What Is American Music? at the Paul Whiteman concert to be given at Aeolian Hall, Tuesday afternoon, February 12, will be Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, Efrem Zimbalist and Alma Gluck…. This question of just what is American music has aroused a tremendous interest in music circles, and Mr. Whiteman is receiving every phase of manuscript, from blues to symphonies. George Gershwin is at work on a jazz concerto…”
The item was read to George Gershwin by his brother, Ira. The composer was in the final throes of readying the score for the Broadway musical Sweet Little Devil for its Boston tryout. He remembered talking to Paul Whiteman about a proposed, eventual jazz concert for which he would produce a large work, a serious composition using jazz rhythms and formulas. But now the date of the concert was suddenly only five weeks away.
Before he took off for Boston and Sweet Little Devil, Gershwin talked to Whiteman and was shown that, by producing no more than a piano score of the proposed piece, he could fulfill this commission in time. For Whiteman had on hand as his arranger the top professional man in the business, Ferde Grofe.
On the train to Boston, with a few themes collected in his mind for possible use, Gershwin got down to organizing the piece. “It was on the train,” he later stated, “with its steely rhythms, its rattly-band…(I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise), that I suddenly heard – even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind, and tried to convince the composition as a whole…By the time I reached Boston, I had the definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”
The actual substance was put together in the back room of the Gershwin New York apartment on 110th street, when George got back from Boston. It was sketched for two pianos, with large empty spaces left where the solo piano part was to go. Grofe was on hand, taking the manuscript as it was completed, one section at a time, and rapidly turning out the orchestration.
Gershwin did make some indications of the scoring he had in mind, but it was done not by naming the instrument but by naming the Whiteman musician or musicians required for the passage at hand!
Clarinetist Ross Gorman could play a fabulous glissando where others could not, and the opening notes were conceived with his special abilities in mind. Though the work was described as written for “Jazz Band and Piano,” Whiteman’s band was, rather, a large dance orchestra made up of individuals who, in themselves, had jazz backgrounds and, often enough, successful jazz careers ahead of them in their own names.
The final title was provided by Ira. On the afternoon of the concert George had still not added the complete piano part but nevertheless played with perfect composure before the blank page.
The Rhapsody came next to the last of the twenty-three numbers on the program. Since Whiteman had no complete score, he had to wait for Gershwin to cue him to bring the orchestra back in the after the solo passages. Nevertheless, it went off well and excited an audience that had begun to find this experimental concert of only educational interest.
“The concert,” Carl Van Vechten wrote Gershwin two days later, “quite as a matter of course, was a riot; you crowned it with what I am forced to regard as the foremost serious effort by any American composer. Go straight on and you will knock all Europe silly.”
In 1928, Gershwin went to Europe, not to knock it silly but to study and familiarize himself with the music of European moderns. Between social engagements, he managed to meet Milhaud, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Poulenc, and to attend a number of concerts.
The idea for An American In Paris he brought with him, or rather brought back with him, since it had first occurred to him during an earlier trip to the French capital.
The piano sketch was finished on August 1, the orchestration on November 18. Written without the piano part that was until now the crux of any Gershwin composition – and scored by Gershwin with no more than helpful advice for his many friends and advisors – it represents a considerable advance in sophistication over Rhapsody in Blue and also over the Concerto in F from 1925.
Gershwin made a published statement about the work:
“The new piece, really a rhapsodic ballet, is written very freely and is the most modern music I’ve yet attempted. The opening part will be developed in typical Frency style, in the manner of Debussy and the Six, though the themes are all original. My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris, as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.
“As in my other orchestral compositions I’ve not endeavored to represent any definite scenes in this music. The rhapsody is programmatic only in a general impressionistic way, so that the individual listener can read into the music such as his imagination pictures for him.
“The opening gay section is followed by a rich blues with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Our American friend, perhaps after strolling into a café and having a couple of drinks, has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness. The harmony here is both more intense and simple than in preceding pages. This blues rises to a climax followed by a coda in which the spirit of music returns to the vivacity and bubbling exuberance of the opening part with its impressions of Paris. Apparently, the homesick American, having left the café and reached the open air, has disowned his spell of the blues and once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life. At the conclusion, the street noised and French atmosphere are triumphant.”
The work was given its premier under Walter Damrosch at Carnegie Hall, December 13, 1928.