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Gershwin+and+Jazz+readings - Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue...

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Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue Background reading Backdrop: The 1920s - The Age of Jazz The novel rhythms of black America sweep musical America and white band leaders catch on. Jazz reshapes the styles and fires the imaginations of musicians and songwriters, spawning new musical ideas. Critics rave about Broadway's fast rising tunesmith - George Gershwin, and his innovative treatment of jazz. How Rhapsody came to be: Sometime in late 1923, the bandleader Paul Whiteman asked George Gershwin to think about writing a jazz piece for his band. Gershwin gave it some thought, sketched some possible themes, and left it at that. On January 4, 1924 to his surprise, a report appeared in the New York Tribune announcing that George Gershwin was at work on a "jazz concerto" to be premiered by the Whiteman Band at the Aeolian Hall in New York on February 12, in a concert to be called An Experiment in Modern Music. At the time, he was in the thick of his Broadway commitments and the jazz concerto was barely more than a thought, but Gershwin's genius rose to the occasion. He would later point to the rhythm and rattle of the Boston train he was once on as the source of his rhythmic ideas, and to James McNeill Whistler's painting Nocturne in Black and Gold as the inspiration for Rhapsody's title. On February 12, at the appointed time, which was toward the end of the programme, he delivered his first large-scale work - to an audience that included luminaries like Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. The wailing of the clarinet as the work opened could only have seduced the audience. Rhapsody was a huge success, the day's most talked about musical "experiment" eclipsing the rest of the programme. It was very American in its daring and its energy. And like America, it was a veritable "melting pot" of the influences that shaped Gershwin's musical language - Scott Joplin's tuneful piano rags, the rhythmic jazz of Harlem's clubs, the folk music of the Yiddish theater, and the new post-Romantic music of Ravel and Schoenberg and Stravinsky. It was a stunning performance, with George Gershwin himself playing the piano solo. Rhapsody was a great "hit" through the years and in its first decade (which included the Depression years) earned the composer big bucks - over $250,000. A fortune in those days. An uncommon reward for a most uncommon composer. What the critics said: Enthused by Rhapsody's daring novelty, most critics found it possible to think of George Gershwin, then only 25, as a composer of "serious" music. But for many years some critics were of two minds about Rhapsody - praising "...the rich inventiveness of its rhythms, the saliency and vividness of the orchestral color" while lamenting the loose, episodic nature of its musical themes and "...the lifelessness of its melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive .... " And when it became known that Rhapsody was orchestrated by Whiteman's chief arranger, Ferde Grofé (who would later compose the Grand Canyon Suite ), Gershwin became even more suspect - will he even make it to Carnegie Hall? Having never before written
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