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Gershwin from Russia

the belair collection

I Got Rhytm Variations for piano and orchestra was composed and completed only in a matter of days before Gershwin started an extensive concert tour in Boston the 14th January 1934. It was based on an earlier hit song he had written for the show Girl Crazy produced on Broadway in 1930. The song provided Gershwin with a basis for using his talent of improvisation and it is interesting to note that although a complex work, most of the Variations was composed away from the piano. Gershwin wrote it during his studies with Professor Joseph Schillinger who had developed a system of composing to exact scientific principles. Gershwin composed the Variations because he had become quite bored with playing the ever-popular Rhapsody and Concerto in F.

Rhapsody in Blue for Jazz band and piano was composed for similar reasons as the Concerto of the following year - as an attempt to make jazz accepted in the concert hall. The work was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, a jazz musician himself. Whiteman had heard Gershwin play and asked him to write a new jazz work to be premiered at Whiteman’s concert on the 12th February 1924. Gershwin originally planned to write an extended jazz blues called American Rhapsody, but on the suggestion of his brother Ira, he later changed the title to Rhapsody in Blue. The inspiration of the work came to him while he was on a train to Boston. He wrote: “…and there I suddenly heard – even saw on paper – the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end… I heard it as a musical kaleidoscope of America – of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.”

Gershwin began working and the two-piano short score was ready to be orchestrated only three weeks later. Accepting his limited skill in orchestrating, he left the task to Ferde Grofé, a talented musician and arranger, who also played in Whiteman’s orchestra. The orchestration was finished with only five days left for rehearsals. The first part of the concert on the 12 February 1924, at the Aecolian Hall, did not live up to expectations as people were disappointed with most of the 23 pieces in the program consisting of louder and more fully orchestrated versions of songs they already knew. The audience were getting bored and started to leave when Gershwin took his place at the piano for the last item in the program. His performance turned what could have been a disaster for Whiteman into a huge success and the event put Gershwin firmly in the driving seat as a serious composer. The reception of the work was sensational and went on to earn large sums of money for Gershwin and his estate.

Concerto in F was Gershwin’s second large-scale work coming soon after the Rhapsody in Blue of the previous year, and premiered at the Carnegie Hall on 3rd December 1925. It was commissioned by Walter Damrosch and written as a classical concerto. Gershwin, with his limited musical education, must have been severely tested by a work of this size. He probably accepted the commission without knowing what was involved and he is said to have actually gone out to buy a book on orchestration to get to know exactly what a concerto was. The work’s original title was the New York Concerto and its three movements had an overall plan of Rhythm, Melody and More Rhythm. By the time the short piano score was finished and the piece was ready to be tried out on his two friends, conductor Bill Daly and Damrosch, Gershwin had revised the title to Concerto in F

Assisted by Bill Daly the orchestration of the Concerto was completed on the 10 of November and Gershwin hired an orchestra with Daly as conductor in order to do a complete run through. Gershwin described this trial run as his “greatest musical thrill”. The sore was then ready for rehearsals with the New York Symphony Orchestra in the Carnegie Hall where it was to be premiered. At first Gershwin had to gently guide the musicians into jazz mode and get them to unwind and flow with the music’s buoyant drive – a style far removed from the concert traditions of Carnegie Hall – but soon the orchestra began to swing with the music. Walter Damrosch made a speech at the premiere in which he paid tribute to the composer for achieving the miracle of bringing jazz into the classical world of the concert hall on a level where it could be accepted as a respectable member in musical circles - the whole Concerto simply breathing vitality, youth and energy.


George Gershwin (1898-1947)



I Got Rhythm Variations for Piano and Orchestra
Rhapsody in Blue
Concerto in F
Andante con moto
Allegro agitato


Total playing time 58:25

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      Free MP3 sample from track no. 1 I Got Rhythm

Raimondo Campisi, Piano
   Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
   Dmitry Yablonsky, Conductor

DDD Digital Recording. Moscow Radio Studio Five,  1/2005
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