Rhapsody In Blue: An Experiment in Modern Music

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The famous clarinet opening of Rhapsody in Blue(Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dono)
The famous clarinet opening of Rhapsody in Blue(Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dono)

Boyce Lancaster talks with Maestro Albert-George Schram, the resident staff conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, about George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue (1924), originally composed for solo piano and jazz band written in 1924.

The composition was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé three times, in 1924, in 1926, and finally in 1942, who pushed the piece toward the more symphonic sound that is widely played today.

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2006/RhapsodyinBlue.mp3"]

Highlights From This Interview:

Albert-George: “(Ferde) Grofé had to orchestrate Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue because Gershwin, when Rhapsody in Blue premiered, he just didn’t have enough knowledge of the orchestra. He was just not a symphonist at all, but he knew he was a great musician.”

Boyce: “I think a lot of people think that’s just the way Gershwin did it, and they kind of forget that he had somebody orchestrate it, because his piece was being performed by the likes of Paul Whiteman, and it’s more of a jazz feel, which is a really fun way to hear it.

Albert-George: “And it was a smaller band on the original performance. The original performance of it was on an afternoon that Whiteman himself put together. It was billed as being ‘symphonic jazz.’ In other words, he did a number of things: some American tunes were set to be played by a symphony orchestra, and it was actually a fairly long-winded, boring sort of thing. The audience was not particularly enthralled. Until, at the end, Gershwin came out, and there was honest to goodness jazz, and this wonderful, sleaze-bag clarinet thing that it begins with.”

Albert-George: “It was a glorious idea, and there was a sort of symphonic ensemble doing it. And then later on it was set for the orchestra. But on the world premiere of the piece, from what I understand, it was quite a shock.”