An Experiment in Modern Music

[The editors of the Cambridge Music Handbooks opined that The Rhapsody in Blue (1924) established Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer and it has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works.”]

The composition in question by the American composer George Gershwin premiered in an afternoon concert on Tuesday, February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band Palais Royal Orchestra, entitled An Experiment in Modern Music, which took place in Aeolian Hall in New York City. Many important and influential composers of the time such as John Philip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff were present. The event has since become historic specifically because of its premiere of the Rhapsody.

The purpose of the experiment, as told by Whiteman in a pre-concert lecture in front of many classical music critics and highbrows, was “to be purely educational.” It would “at least provide a stepping stone which will make it very simple for the masses to understand, and therefore, enjoy symphony and opera.”

The piece itself is for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, himself an American composer as well as an arranger and pianist. Several times he included the original 1924 scoring, “theater orchestra” setting published in 1926, and the symphony orchestra scoring published in 1942.

Here is Geshwin’s performance of the Rhapsody in Blue on YouTube for you to enjoy its anniversary of 93 years ago.

George Gershwin
26 Sep 1898 – 11 Jul 1937

My own ‘romance’ with Gershwin’s compositions began when I heard the performance of his Piano Concerto in F in New York in 1975. When I took over managing the then Florida Philharmonic in Miami, I introduced a promotional TV ad for the FPO’s 1976-77 Winter Series by recording the opening of the finale, a gay, ebullient eruption of color and rhythm.

Reference: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen, My Music Albums.

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