Rhapsody in Blue

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The Rhapsody in Blue is one of the most famous compositions by the American Broadway composer George Gershwin . The piece was first performed on February 12, 1924 at the Aeolian Hall in New York . The concert was announced under the title An Experiment in Modern Music . Gershwin himself sat at the piano at the premiere .

The Rhapsody in Blue is an attempt to combine jazz and concert symphonic music . The melodies of the work are now world famous.

History of origin

The band leader Paul Whiteman had already held a concert in the Aeolian Hall on November 1, 1923, around four months before the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue , which juxtaposed jazz and classical music. It was a passable success so Whiteman decided to tackle an even more ambitious project. This was to take place on February 12, 1924. Whiteman asked Gershwin to write a jazz piece for orchestra for it. The latter refused at first with reference to scheduling problems and probably because he had little experience in composing for a classical orchestra. It wasn't until Whiteman put Gershwin on the program list on his own that Gershwin finally composed the piece.

Whiteman and Gershwin had already worked together on the highly successful Broadway revue George White's Scandals , which was based on motifs from Gershwin's - at least commercially unsuccessful - jazz opera Blue Monday . Gershwin turned down the proposal because a few days later, on January 7th, he had to give a rehearsal of his new musical Sweet Little Devil and to comply with any requests for changes before the premiere on January 21st.

On the evening of January 3, 1924, Gershwin was playing pool with his friend and colleague Buddy DeSylva near Broadway while his brother Ira Gershwin read the next day's edition of the New York Tribune . In an article entitled (in German as: "What Is American Music?" What makes American music? ) About the concert from Whiteman was announced that George Gershwin was working on a jazz composition for this idea.

In a phone call with Gershwin the next morning, Whiteman said that his rival Vincent Lopez wanted to steal the idea of ​​his experimental concert from him and that there was no time to lose in discussions. Gershwin was finally persuaded to compose. Since there were only five weeks left before the performance, he started it immediately and worked on it for a few weeks before handing it over to Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grofé .

The first manuscript for two pianos is dated January 7, 1924. It contains notes on the instrumentation , in which not the instruments but the names of the soloists are entered. Grofé apparently orchestrated the work with consideration for the individual style, strengths and techniques of the individual orchestra members. On February 4, 1924, eight days before the premiere, he finished the orchestration.

The working title of the piece was American Rhapsody . Ira Gershwin suggested the name Rhapsody in Blue after visiting an exhibition by James McNeill Whistler , who often named his works of art such as Symphony in White or Arrangement in Gray and Black .

The famous start of the Rhapsody in Blue

Incidentally, Gershwin originally composed the famous beginning of the rhapsody as a trill with a rapidly ascending scale consisting of 17 notes . Whiteman's clarinetist Ross Gorman played the last half of the scale as a glissando during rehearsal . When Gershwin heard this, he decided to use this variant for the score. This clarinet part was performed by Chester Hazlett and not by Gorman at the premiere .

The broad, melodically accentuated middle section (from bar 303 audio sample ? / I ) was included in the composition at the suggestion of Ira Gershwin, who selected a suitable theme from George's sketchbook. Audio file / audio sample

Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra designed the performance himself . The concert was to be offered as part of a music evening under the title An Experiment in Modern Music (“An Experiment in Modern Music”). Well-known musicians, including Stravinsky , Rachmaninoff , Leopold Stokowski , Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler , music critics and intellectuals had come to listen to it. 26 different pieces were performed, including Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 and compositions hardly known today such as True Form of Jazz and Contrast: legitimate scoring vs. jazzing .

The Rhapsody in Blue was the penultimate track. By then, the audience was extremely restless, as many of the works had sounded similar and, on top of that, the ventilation system of the Aeolian Hall had failed. Tonight, due to the premiere of the composition discussed here, the evening is considered legendary. Gershwin played the piano part himself. Since he did not have a full piano score and because of the time pressure Grofé could only give him a band score with the scrawled words Wait for nods ("Wait until someone nods to you"), the premiere version is no longer closed today reconstruct.

Press comments on the premiere

The Rhapsody in Blue received very different reviews. Olin Downes reviewed the piece for the New York Times :

“This composition shows the extraordinary talent of a young composer who struggles with a form that he is far from mastering. [...] Regardless of this, he developed his own significant style throughout the entire, highly original composition. [...] The first theme is more than just a dance piece. It is an idea, more than that: different ideas brought together and combined in varying and contrasting rhythms that cast a spell over the listener. The second theme is more reminiscent of Mr. Gershwin's colleagues: tuttis too long, cadences too long. The dissolution loses much of its ferocity and magnificence that it might have had with more extensive preparation. […] The audience was touched and experienced concertgoers were thrilled to hear how a new talent found his voice. There was rapturous applause for Mr. Gershwin's composition. "

- Olin Downes: A Concert of Jazz . In: The New York Times . February 13, 1924, p. 16 .

Some critics accused Gershwin of a missing form: he had only strung individual melodies together. Lawrence Gilman wrote in the New York Tribune :

“How banal, weak and conventional these pieces are; how cheesy and flat the harmonies. Hidden under a cumbersome and worthless counterpoint. Tears for this lifelessness in melody and harmony: old, stale and expressionless. "

- Nicolas Slonimsky: Lexicon of Musical Invective . WW Norton & Company, 2000, pp. 105 .


After the premiere in 1926 and 1942, Grofé worked out two further scores for Rhapsody in Blue , both for an enlarged orchestra. The younger version is by far the most frequently played in today's repertoire.

The premiere was with flute , oboe , clarinet, heckelphone , several saxophones , two horns , two trumpets , two flugelhorns , euphonium , two trombones , bass trombone, tuba , two pianos, celesta , banjo , drums , timpani , several violins , double bass and accordion occupied. Paul Whiteman's band, then consisting of twenty-three musicians, was reinforced by nine people. However, several musicians in the band took over two or more instruments. Some played 4 instruments in the piece.

The score from 1942 is for solo piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet , two bassoons , three horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion ( cymbal , snare bass drum , triangle , gong and bells ), piano , two alto saxophones , tenor saxophone , banjo and a string section (violins, violas , cello and double bass). In today's performance practice, however, the 2nd alto saxophone part "3rd Saxophone (E flat Alto)" is usually played with a baritone saxophone . One of the reasons for this is that the two alto saxophone parts are written in unison in most passages of the piece (see also the sheet music example below). By using a baritone saxophone, duplication is avoided here.

In 2017, the work was given a new instrumentation based on the Grofé score. The German saxophonist Benjamin Steil arranged the work for a standard big band (5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, rhythm section and optional percussion parts).

The synthesis of jazz and art music

The differences as a metaphor in pictures: The hustle and bustle on Broadway ...
... and the venerable Carnegie Hall

At the beginning of the music of the 20th century , the influence of jazz on the work of important composers became apparent. This was related to tendencies in art music since 1910: Neoclassical tendencies , represented by Stravinsky , for example , contrasted with New Music with its pioneer Arnold Schönberg . Both of them - the twelve-tone music probably a little more than the neoclassicists' experimental but still tonal music - threatened to lose their listeners. Their circle shrank more and more to a small community of highly specialized experts.

In his volume Die Musik des 20. Jahrhundert , Hermann Danuser described the paradox that actually modern music “in the course of a profound crisis in the eyes of some - and not just in youth circles - has become a questionable part of a 'world of yesterday '. "

In 1953, Joachim Ernst Berendt attested to the jazz listeners “a strong, lively feeling for the mendacity and cloudiness, for the formulaic and indirectness, without further ado for the 'lateness' of our epoch” and concluded from this: “From this feeling one longs for something direct and original, something alive and moving. That is what jazz music gives. ”This quotation, however, already indicates the problematic of a composition that includes jazz elements: Terms such as directness and liveliness up to emphasis are closely connected with improvisation . This important means of expression of jazz was excluded from the artistic claims of the conceived classical music from the start.

Very few composers, including Gershwin, wanted to create real, spontaneously improvised jazz. Rather, they deviated from this model in order to overcome the required style difference to art music and thus to do justice to the art concept of the time. In addition, Gershwin got to know jazz in New York in the 1920s in the “watered down”, commercialized form of the sweet (“sweet”, but also “comfortable”, “smooth”). In addition to Whiteman, this style was mainly represented by the now almost forgotten band leader Guy Lombardo . He strove to take away from jazz its original "hardness", "rawness" and "disorder" ( Loudspeaker.svgsee web links ) and thus to make it more attractive for an upscale, mainly white audience.

This corresponded to the comment in the program booklet for the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue by Hugh C. Ernst:

"Mr. With the support of his orchestra and his helpers, Whiteman wants to demonstrate the enormous progress that has been made in popular music from the days of dissonant jazz, which sometimes appeared out of nowhere ten years ago, to the truly melodious music of today. "

- David Ewen: European Composers Today . 1954.

George Gershwin as the forerunner of the Third Stream

In the 1950s, Gunther Schuller invented the theoretical term third stream for the synthesis of art music and jazz. Composers like George Russell and John Lewis then related this to their music. However, the idea existed earlier and also preoccupied Claude Debussy and Darius Milhaud . Other examples of this approach are Béla Bartók's Contrasts , which he wrote for Benny Goodman in 1938 , Igor Stravinski's Ebony Concerto , which was composed in 1945 for Woody Herman's jazz band, or Kurt Weill with the Threepenny Opera . Other composers were also inspired by jazz in their works, such as Shostakovich ( Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1 and No. 2 from the years 1934 and 1938), Aaron Copland , or Ernst Krenek ( Jonny plays on op. 45 from the year 1926).

In contrast to these, Gershwin's works did not initially belong to art music: he composed primarily for the main artery of popular music, Broadway. Before 1924 he wrote only two works for the concert hall: Lullaby for string quartet (1919) and Figured Chorale for septet (1921). Nevertheless, he was familiar with the works of great composers and had studied with Charles Hambitzer . Despite great respect for the classics, he confessed:

“Only one thing matters in music: ideas and feelings. The different tonalities and the sound mean nothing if they don't grow from ideas. "

- Antonio Mingotti: Gershwin. A picture biography . Munich 1958, p. 128 .

So he put more emphasis on the originality of his musical ideas. The form that can arise from their development of this material - for example in the sense of motivic-thematic work - seemed alien to him; he was not interested in a closer examination of this within his pieces.

For Gershwin, the term jazz was not yet clearly defined either. While Schuller advocated improvisation as the main characteristic of jazz in his theory of the third stream, Gershwin saw it as an inconsistent mix of styles around 30 years earlier:

“He's really a mixture of many things. It has something of the ragtime , the blues , the classicism and the spiritual , [...] but basically it is a matter of rhythm. After the rhythm come the intervals , tone intervals that are specific to the rhythm. "

- George Gershwin: The Composer and the Machine Age . In: Merle Armitage (ed.): George Gershwin. Word and memory . Zurich 1959, p. 28 .
Bars 115 to 118 of the piano version.

The example on the right shows the typical accompaniment form for the stride piano style of ragtime consisting of bass notes in octave fingerings on the first and third beats, chords in the middle position on the second and fourth beats.

Gershwin did not need a narrower definition of jazz, because with all of his styles he combined an attitude towards life that distinguished itself from other music with unusual instrumentation, strange articulation , new rhythms and the use of tonal structures.

He described jazz as American folk music "which is probably more in the blood of the American people than is the case with folk music of other styles":

“Jazz is a lasting contribution to America's accomplishments because it says a lot about us. It is the quintessential American expression. "

- David Ewen: George Gershwin. Life and work . Zurich / Leipzig / Vienna 1955, p. 53 .

For Gershwin, the third stream was the recognition of artificial aspects in jazz. He saw in this the possibility of giving America its own identity in art music, with which it could step out of Europe's shadow.

Because Gershwin saw genuine folk music as the natural basis for art music, musicologists ask analytically about the relationship between symphonic and jazzy elements in the Rhapsody and whether and how the composer was able to create “authentic testimony to the American zeitgeist”. Because his hesitation to tackle the work suggests not only inexperience with symphonic art music, but also a great respect for the task of bringing jazz on a par with classical music.

By composing the work for two pianos and leaving the instrumentation to the arranger Ferde Grofé, he was already committed to not solving the problem of the difference in style between art music and jazz with the instrumentation. He didn't want to just compose jazz for orchestral instruments, nor did he want to integrate improvisation into composed parts. Rather, he envisioned a synthesis of art and jazz music that he could not achieve using tone colors alone - an essential element of musical expression in the 19th century.

Jazz and blues elements in the Rhapsody in Blue

Melody and harmony

Accordingly, the beginning of the Rhapsody in Blue is exemplary of the compositional strategy and the character of the main themes : the howling clarinet glissando plays with characteristics of the blues , which - whether intentionally or not - the work title suggests, and leads to the main theme (bars 2-5 ):

Audio sample ? / I ) The opening theme of the Rhapsody in Blue.Audio file / audio sample

The expression of the blues, laboriously forced into notes, is based in the melody on hinted and notated 'dirty play' with suggestions and the chromatic formation of blue notes , in the rhythm on the alternation of triplets and partly syncopated eighth notes. Nevertheless, it is immediately clear that no authentic blues will sound here. The spectacular glissando draws attention to his expression and shows that his style is being taken seriously. But the topic itself can hardly be divided into individual motifs . It forms a complex unit that is not reminiscent of a spontaneous idea. This gives it a compositional, not improvised character and can therefore exist in a symphonic context.

In order to underline and lengthen the introduction of the blues into the concert hall, Gershwin not only cites its melodic means of expression, but also brings melodic and harmonic material into a close relationship: as in a typical blues form, a two-bar motif answers the melody presented at the beginning, twice is repeated and thus leads in sequences to the subdominant .

Like all blues chords, this is usually extended with a minor seventh , but - unlike in classical functional harmony - it is not interpreted as a dominant seventh chord and therefore does not have to be resolved into a new basic chord ( tonic ). Seventh chords are not used here for modulation , but as a harmonic, relatively independent step chord , the overtone spectrum of which can be enriched with additional tones - ninths, sixths and other dissonances . The blues - and jazz following it - draws a large part of its tension from such unresolved chords (see: main article blues ).

In the answer topic (study number 1, bars 1–4) the root note alternates immediately with the minor seventh, without - as the further course shows - the harmony has a dominant, ie. H. to give mandatory function for continuation.

Audio sample ? / I ) The second topic.Audio file / audio sample

Chromatic alterations of the 3rd and 7th degree show that it is also tonally based on the blue scale . It is also characterized by a partly syncopated rhythm.

With the presentation of the two related opening themes, Gershwin also exposes the thematic duality of a sonata main movement . Even if this is not redeemed in the process, Gershwin refers to the formal possibilities of his composition. The entire opening brings the piece very thematically very close to the blues, without losing its symphonic character. Jazz expression and jazz articulation are also refined compositionally in the following musical ideas of the piece in such a way that it fulfills its claim to be art music.

Problems of the symphonic form

The composition is a rhapsody not only in name but also formally . Apart from a few exceptions, which have indicated thematic processing, Gershwin dispenses with the structure and consistency of a closed form in favor of a loose sequence. However, Gershwin does not face the problem of creating a coherent, coherent large form alone, but in the best company with most of the composers of his generation ( see Paths of the Development of the Form of Symphony in the main article New Music ).

The fact that the Rhapsody in Blue appears to be a closed work despite the immense variety of topics is thanks to the quasi- leitmotif character of the melody, whose most formative shapes pervade the entire piece.

The opening theme also sounds in the tutti at the end , so that the last two unmediated themes can still fit into the overall framework.

In the microcosm of individual thematic processing, however, the implementation part shows on the one hand Gershwin's will to create artificial structures, but on the other hand also the inadequacy of these attempts, from which Leonard Bernstein completely wrote off the status of a composition:

“[It is] not a composition in the true sense of the word. In addition, it lacks internal consistency and consistency. Everything seems arbitrary. "

- Leonard Bernstein: joy in music . Munich 1982, p. 54 .

This is exemplarily clear in the development of the following topic, which is indicated in the score with study number 14 (bars 138 to 140):

Audio sample ? / I ) Sample topic for implementation.Audio file / audio sample

The subject performs once a a dancing lightness, their widespread impact primarily by reference to Musical - clichés , such as the retarding effect of the quarter note, is achieved.

Here a dilemma becomes clear that Gershwin found himself in when composing: On the one hand, jazz already has the superficiality and the lively play that its followers love so much. On the other hand, art music expressly calls for a serious examination of the thematic material.

Gershwin looks for solutions in simple methods that on the one hand seek to meet the needs of the listener, but in return at least want to suggest an implementation: sequencing is elevated to a stylistic device, subject processing now means simple shifting of the keys.

In the example - which, with a few exceptions, in which the composition scratches at least the surface of a processing, can be transferred in its structure to the entire piece - the above motif is repeated in octaves , seamlessly according to B major and finally to Des- Major and played continuously until the solo passage begins.

The interjections of the piano also ensure a clear structure: They separate the individual topics from one another and hold the otherwise independent musical ideas together. At the latest in the extended solo, they let the inadequacies with the virtuoso attitude of a bravura piece be forgotten.

This is how Arnold Schönberg judged:

“The impression is that of an improvisation with all the merits and disadvantages that go with this type of work. You could compare its effect in this respect with a lively speech that may disappoint when you read it and take a close look - you miss what was so moving when you were overwhelmed by the enchanting personality of the speaker. "

- Merle Armitage (Ed.): George Gershwin. Word and memory . Zurich 1959, p. 65 .

To what extent Gershwin, who sat at the piano himself at the premiere, actually improvised, and how many of the notes were subsequently notated, can now be reconstructed just as little as the question of whether the high time pressure Gershwin was under during the elaboration. ultimately led to compromises in the composition process.

The attempt to insert artificial structures into the Rhapsody in Blue must, however, be described as fragmentary, at least on a formal level, based on the traditional score.

Classical music influences

Even if, as already explained, Gershwin hardly uses classical design and form principles, in addition to the jazz elements mentioned, he also uses stylistic elements from 19th century classical music , especially Romanticism and Impressionism in Rhapsody in Blue .

Audio sample ? / I ) Main part from bars 321–326.Audio file / audio sample

Some passages, especially orchestral tutti of the first and third parts, are reminiscent of symphonies and solo concerts by Schumann , Tchaikovsky or Bruckner with their penchant for monumentality, pathos and sentimentality . In the following example (bars 321–327) a “plaintive” violin cantilena rises above the string section , which is then followed by a “dramatic outbreak” of the entire orchestra in fortissimo .

The virtuosity of the piano music by Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin with its fast-paced, filigree runs, octave fingerings and massive chord blocks comes into its own as well as the pianistic achievements of Debussy and Ravel . In the above ( audio sample ? / I ), four full-grip chords are followed by fast runs in high register, which, via falling double octave fingerings of both hands, lead into a part that is harmoniously reminiscent of Debussy. Audio file / audio sample

The depiction of the humorous, bizarre and bizarre, popular since Impressionism, can also be found in the work (for example, through highlighted tone repetitions , abruptly breaking off figures and the use of extreme positions and playing styles of the instruments).

Audio sample ? / I ) Style change in bars 49–53Audio file / audio sample

Often the classical approaches are interrupted after a few bars by a stylistic change to the jazz genre. A four-bar, increasing, romantic phrase (bars 49–52) suddenly and unexpectedly merges with theme 1 (bars 53–54), which is also performed in staccato .

The question of whether this can be seen as an “ironicization of classical attitudes” must remain open. Gershwin himself has not made any statements in this regard. His attitude towards classical music and American popular music alike makes this conclusion seem rather unlikely.

This is how Leonard Bernstein answers in a fictional interview:

"PM:" [...] This is America as it is and lives - its people, its big city life that George knew so well, its lifestyle, its longings, its strength, its size, its - "
LB:" Yes, but they forget the melody sequences stolen by Tchaikovsky, the Debussy-like, the Lisztian brilliance. […] At that moment America is walking out of one door and Tchaikovsky and his friends come in at the next […] ""

- Leonard Bernstein: joy in music . Munich 1982, p. 54 .

The influence of classical elements on the Rhapsody in Blue becomes clear when one considers the following factors on Gershwin's musical path:

  • The piano lessons with Charles Hambitzer, who introduced the young Gershwin to the music of Bach , Beethoven , Chopin, Liszt, as well as the music of Debussy and Ravel, which was still regarded as "modern" at the time.
  • The degree in harmony that the seventeen-year-old Gershwin completed with Edward Kilenyi, and during which he learned a lot about the art of instrumentation .

Summary and critical assessment

The analysis of Rhapsody in Blue reveals some fundamental aspects of George Gershwin's working method:

On the one hand, the expression of jazz, the articulation, seems to be an essential point for Gershwin. Possibly this results from the impossibility of integrating the other essential point, improvisation.

On the other hand, the excessive use of this blues expression in ever new topics - with all due respect for the originality of the musical ideas - the impression of arbitrariness inevitably arises.

As if Gershwin partially capitulated to the impasse, light music expose the serious depression in the execution, it executes whenever art music listeners wanted a differentiated analysis of the material, a new one.

The fact that the Rhapsody in Blue draws its popularity not only from the mass compatibility of its themes and formal informality, nevertheless points to a certain authenticity in the work, which Gershwin seems to have met and Wolfram Schwinger with the sentence “He composed America. “Summarized.

If one understands the play as a document of American contemporary history, which seeks to give the people from the new world an identity to the old Europe, a new way of looking at things also develops from it, which shows another interpretation of the wealth of topics.

Gershwin's commitment to jazz, which he considered to be American folk music (see above), is largely based on the rhythm, which, due to the syncopation of topics - the swing - is constantly renewing itself like a kind of perpetual motion machine drives forward. Here the metaphorical possibilities of interpretation with regard to the machine age, which goes hand in hand with an increased fast pace, are clearly shown.

If you look at the ever new topics as an allusion to the fast pace of America before the stock market crash , in which nothing seems to last, the formal inconsistency of the implementation can be understood as a stylistic device that is not concealed by constantly new material, but in the Contains opposite almost prophetic character: A metaphor on the fast pace.

One of the few remaining buildings in Storyville. The New Image Supermarket used to be Frank Early's Saloon , where Tony Jackson played regularly

According to Gershwin, the only moment that holds this America together is the blues. That American self-creation, the theme of which frames the plot at the beginning and the end and is the only stop that runs through the entire piece. It also plays a role in the few parts (for example study numbers 5-7, bars 41 to 85), in which there is a move beyond simple tonal shifts to the implied processing that is required by art music.

The blues and jazz thus build a bridge between the black jazz districts, such as Storyville , and Carnegie Hall .

Gershwin commented on the interpretation of his rhapsody:

"I see it as a kind of musical kaleidoscope of this fast-moving melting pot called America, as our blues, as our crazy big city"

- Ron Cowen: George Gershwin: He Got Rhythm. In: The Washington Post Online. 1998, accessed July 26, 2006 .

At least in terms of an authentic perspective, the attempt to combine the Rhapsody in blue jazz with serious music can be regarded as successful. It gives clear indications of the closeness to life in America (especially New York) by occasionally evading noisy marching music . The compositional flaws are by no means only hidden, but stylistically incorporated.

Reception history

The Rhapsody in Blue found its way into the repertoire of the concert halls almost immediately after its premiere. Despite mixed reviews and skepticism on the part of the art musicians, the piece was immediately very popular with the audience. It was heard in Europe (Brussels) as early as 1925 and in Paris in 1926 in the version for two pianos. The Rhapsody has remained a crowd puller to this day, as its lively lightness is seen as a welcome change from the often intellectually demanding canon of other classical music.

Gershwin took up the Rhapsody in Blue's recipe for success a year later and, following a commission from the New York Symphony Society , wrote the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, a piano concerto that again combined jazz and classical music.

Paul Whiteman also drew on the fame that Gershwin had brought him with this composition for a long time. At the end of 1924 - eleven months after its premiere - he had already performed 84 times and sold the recording a million times. The piece later became the recognizable theme of his band. Whiteman's radio broadcast always began with the slogan Everything new but the Rhapsody in Blue (German: Everything new except for the Rhapsody in Blue ).

The popularity of the work is also reflected in the fact that a ballet was choreographed on it just two years after its premiere in London . In 1928, ballet performances by Anton Dolin in Paris and a version of Ballet Russes under Djagilew in Monte Carlo followed. In 1940, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo showed on an American tour under the direction of Léonide Massine a compilation of several works by Gershwin, including the Rhapsody in Blue , under the title The New Yorker .

Whiteman Orchestra played the piece with Roy Bargy on piano in the 1930 film The King of Jazz . In 1945 the Hollywood film Rhapsody in Blue with Robert Alda as Gershwin was released, which, in addition to the "real life" of Gershwin, also contained some inventions, the inevitable love story, and a lot of music by Gershwin, including Rhapsody in Blue .

The Musicology dealt later detailed with the work. Arnold Schönberg had just triggered a musical history revolution with twelve-tone music, so that research was initially devoted to this historical turning point in its field.

In the 1950s, the American composer Gunther Schuller initiated the Third Stream, a genre in which he wanted to fuse modern jazz with European new music . In addition to Schuller - himself also a musicologist - research now also concentrated on models of this new direction, which also brought the Rhapsody in Blue back into the focus of attention.

Schuller had formulated demands that a piece that was to be assigned to the Third Stream would have to take into account. Rhapsody in Blue , which was written almost 30 years earlier, already implements some of these requirements: Third Stream should not be jazz on classical instruments (or vice versa) and classical elements should not be played in swing rhythm. Therefore, the Rhapsody in Blue was interesting for researching the new genre of music, because - as described above - it actually chose a different approach by confidently carrying the blues into the concert hall.

Leonard Bernstein in 1945

Famous conductors now also devoted themselves to this piece. As noted above, Leonard Bernstein did not see an entirely artificial composition in the Rhapsody in Blue , but was nevertheless very enthusiastic. In an article in the Atlantic Monthly from 1955, he raved about "a melodic inspiration that has not existed since Tchaikovsky ".

In 1945 he played the piece as a soloist on the piano for the first time, and his conducting of the work in 1983 is one of the reference recordings alongside James Levine's 1993 version.

The above-indicated interpretation of Rhapsody in Blue as a metaphor of the American city, especially New York, was also in the film Manhattan by Woody Allen known. The melancholy and loneliness of the protagonist is captured here with long long shots of the big city, underlaid with the Rhapsody in Blue . The images of New York in the 1930s in the Disney film Fantasia 2000 are also underlaid with Gershwin's Rhapsody and drawn in the style of Gershwin's contemporary Al Hirschfeld .

The American airline United Airlines has been using an excerpt from the Rhapsody in Blue as a jingle since 1988 for a license fee of 300,000 US dollars per year . From 1996 to 2000 the German brewery Krombacher also used the piece in their advertising.

The copyrights of the piece expired in the European Union at the end of 2007 ; in the USA they will gradually expire between 2019 and 2027.


As early as 1924, the Whiteman Orchestra and Gershwin on the piano recorded the work in a shortened form. Because of its cultural and historical significance to the United States , this first recording of Rhapsody in Blue was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress on January 27, 2003 . The acoustic recording is available today on CD from Naxos (8.120510: "Gershwin Plays Gershwin") and BMG (63276: "Historic Gershwin Recordings"). It is characterized by an emphasis on dynamics, a small cast and a "drive" that stands in contrast to some later, more romanticizing interpretations. In 1925 there was also a piano role of the work, also with Gershwin as the pianist ( Loudspeaker.svgsee web links ). A second record (today also on BMG 63276) with Gershwin and the Whiteman Orchestra - albeit without Whiteman himself - from 1927 already used the new possibilities of electrical recording technology with microphones and amplifiers (see Development of the Record Industry ).

The recording of Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Oscar Levant as the soloist from 1945 is just as lively. Arturo Toscanini's 1942 recording with Earl Wild as the soloist shows a completely different approach . He interpreted the Rhapsody as a musical drama just as seriously as works by Beethoven , Wagner or Strauss , although critics complain that some of the swing and jazz feeling is lost.

The professional world was able to convince the interpretations of Leonard Bernstein as a conductor, partly also as a pianist (1944, 1959, 1983). Morton Gould's recording from 1955 also seems particularly inspired. The recording by Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra with Jeffrey Siegel at the piano should also be mentioned. Arthur Fiedler's version with the Boston Pops and Earl Wild, on the other hand, is more conventional .

A vast number of recordings by today's most recognized conductors, orchestras and pianists have been made over the past 30 years, including Kurt Masur with the Gewandhausorchester in 1975, Sir Neville Marriner in 1991, Michael Tilson Thomas in 2004 and André Previn with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra . A very close to jazz, much praised version of the classical and jazz pianist Michel Camilo with the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya was released in 2005.

The version for two pianos was also recorded in 1991 by well-known interpreters such as the French sister couple Katia and Marielle Labèque , in 1991 by the piano duo Anthony & Joseph Paratore or - in a classic European adaptation - by Anna and Ines Walachowski .

More recently, recordings have been made in freely chosen instrumental compositions, mainly for wind instruments: for example in 1993 with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble under Richard Dufallo . In 1998 the Vienna Art Orchestra released a CD entitled “American Rhapsody; A Tribute to George Gershwin ”, which also includes the Rhapsody in Blue. In 2000, a version for orchestra and trumpet by Sergei Nakariakov was published under Vladimir Ashkenazi . In 1992 pianist Georges Rabol recorded an interpretation of the original version for piano and big band with the jazzogène orchestra .



  • Steven E. Gilbert: The music of Gershwin . Yale University Press, New York 1995, ISBN 0-300-06233-8 .
  • Ulrich Kurth: From the new world. Investigations into the reception of Afro-American music in European art music of the 19th and early 20th centuries . Kümmerle, Göppingen 1982, ISBN 3-87452-559-7 .
  • Carol J. Oja: Making Music Modern - New York in the 1920s . Oxford University Press, New York 2000, ISBN 0-19-516257-9 (2003 reprint).
  • Maurice Peress: Dvorak to Duke Ellington . Oxford University Press, New York 2003, ISBN 0-19-509822-6 .
  • Deena Rosenberg: Fascinating Rhythm . University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1998, ISBN 0-472-08469-0 .
  • Peter W. Schatt: "Jazz" in art music. Studies on the function of African American music in compositions of the 20th century . In: Walter Gieseler, Siegmund Helms, Reinhard Schneider (eds.): Perspectives on music education and musicology . Kassel 1995, ISBN 3-7649-2476-4 .
  • David Schiff: Gershwin, Rhapsody in blue . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 1997, ISBN 0-521-55077-7 .
  • Gunther Schuller: Early Jazz. Its Roots and Musical Development . New York 1968, ISBN 0-19-504043-0 .
  • Wolfram Schwinger: Gershwin. A biography . Goldmann TB 33069 / Schott 8217, Munich / Mainz 1983, ISBN 3-442-33069-6 ( ISBN 3-7957-8217-1 (Schott) / 1988 Piper, Munich, ISBN 3-492-18217-8 ).


  • George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue for Piano and Orchestra . Eulenburg, Mainz 1988, ISBN 3-7957-6160-3 (Edition Eulenburg No. 8012).
  • George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue. Piano for 4 hands . Boarding school Music Publ. Ltd, ISBN 0-7692-5892-1 .
  • George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue for piano (two hands) . Warner Brothers Music Germany / Neue Welt Musikverlag, Munich (for Germany and Austria).

Web links



Individual evidence

  1. Jonathan Freedman: Klezmer America - Jewishness, ethnicity, modernity , Columbia University Press, 2008, p. 186
  2. Note: The shots of Rhapsody in Blue differ greatly in the emphasis on this glissando and other Klezmer effects. (Jonathan Freedman: Klezmer America - Jewishness, ethnicity, modernity , Columbia University Press, 2008, footnote on page 186)
  3. ^ Hermann Danuser: The music of the 20th century. New manual of musicology . Ed .: Carl Dahlhaus. tape 7 , 1984, pp. 108 .
  4. ^ Joachim Ernst Berendt: The jazz book . Frankfurt am Main 1953, p. 204 .
  5. Wolfram Schwinger: Gershwin. A biography . Schott / Piper, Mainz / Munich 1983, p. 26-28 .
  6. Wolfram Schwinger: Gershwin. A biography . Schott / Piper, Mainz / Munich 1983, p. 40 f .
  7. Wolfram Schwinger: Gershwin. A biography . Mainz 1986, p. 235 .
  8. Rodney Greenberg: George Gershwin . Phaidon Press, 1998, pp. 54-55 .
  9. ^ Leonard Bernstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue / Westside Story . Deutsche Grammophon.
  10. James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue / An American in Paris / Porgy and Bess Suite (Catfish Row) / Cuban Ouverture . Deutsche Grammophon.
  11. ^ Rhapsody in Blue at the National Recording Library. Retrieved August 10, 2017 .
  12. Music à la carte - Bernstein, Leonard (1918–1990): Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”. jpc-Schallplatten Versandhandelsgesellschaft, accessed July 26, 2006 .
  13. Peter Gutmann: George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. In: Classical Notes. Retrieved July 26, 2006 .
  14. Reviews. (No longer available online.) In: Michel Camilo - Official Website. Archived from the original on September 7, 2006 ; Retrieved July 26, 2006 .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on August 27, 2006 in this version .