Earl Wild’s Love of George Gershwin

Earl Wild was wild about Gershwin(Photo: NPR, courtesy of Earl Wild)
Earl Wild was wild about Gershwin(Photo: NPR, courtesy of Earl Wild)

I have Earl Wild to thank for my appreciation of George Gershwin.

I have to admit that when I first began listening to classical music, in what I guess you could call a  “serious” way in the early 1980′s, I didn’t immediately take to some of Gershwin’s music, that unique blending of orchestral concert music and jazz.

I thought: give me Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler, even Stravinsky – or give me real jazz: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, but not this hybrid form. Well, it was Earl Wild’s joyous and exuberant performances that won me over.

My first recollection of the late, great Earl Wild was his fantastic recording of George Gershwin’s music with the Boston Pops and conductor Arthur Fiedler. While there are other fine versions of these pieces, they have never been performed better than this.

The recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” from 1959 and particularly the “Concerto in F” from 1961, are magnificent; both the pianist and orchestra sound great in this brash and outgoing music.

The Variations on “I Got Rhythm” demonstrate Wild’s marvelous virtuosity as well, and the recording includes “An American in Paris,” and in its most recent CD incarnation, the “Cuban Overture” as well – an easy first choice for a single disc collection of Gershwin.

I discovered that Earl Wild was a Gershwin specialist and had a long history of playing his music. In 1942, Toscanini invited Wild to play “Rhapsody in Blue” with the NBC Orchestra, and it was such a success that it made Wild a household name in America.

Another of his specialties was his virtuoso transcriptions that included Gershwin songs as well as Rachmaninoff and other composers (readily available on CD), confirming Wild’s brilliance as a composer and transcriber, as well as being a great virtuoso at the keyboard.

For Wild’s brilliance as a performer of Romantic works in the standard repertoire, see the video my colleague Boyce Lancaster posted in his tribute to Earl Wild (playing Franz Liszt‘s “Fountains of the villa d’Este”), or see Christopher Purdy’s blog in which he describes the superb recording of the Rachmaninoff “Third Piano Concerto” (recorded with the London Symphony and Jascha Horenstein in 1965).

I couldn’t find a video of Earl Wild playing any Gershwin, but I did come across this 1971 Boston Pops performance with him and Arthur Fiedler playing the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s “1st Piano Concerto.” Enjoy:

 

Comments
  • http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/82fgy6dr9780252034442.html Walter Rimler

    Thanks for posting this information about Earl Wild. His recordings of Gershwin music were memorable and wonderful.