Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 40

f, as Dvořák suggested, American classical music
would have to come from uniquely American
roots, then
Rhapsody in Blue
may be the ultimate in
American classical music. In it, Gershwin combined
40
MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Sommerfest
Gershwin and Bernstein
july 25
are set in bustling public squares, both offer spirited
genre dances in that square, both involve a flutist with
magical powers, and both end mysteriously. But while
Petrushka
tells a tragic tale,
The Incredible Flutist
remains
lighthearted throughout. This, Piston’s only work for the
stage, became his most popular work. With costumes
by Marco Montedero and choreography by Wiener,
The
Incredible Flutist
was premiered in Boston on May 20,
1938. Fritz Reiner asked Piston to draw an instrumental
suite from the ballet, and Reiner led the premiere of the
suite in Pittsburgh on November 20, 1940.
This appealing music is easy to follow. A quiet once-
upon-a-time introduction precedes the entrance of the
vendors and customers. One of the most attractive dances
in the ballet is the
Tango
, danced by the merchant’s four
daughters; the unexpected meter of 5/8 gives it a nicely
syncopated lilt. The vigorous
Circus March
announces
the performers’ arrival. At the premiere, orchestra
members contributed shouts of welcome, which Piston
incorporated into the score (along with a brief but
memorable appearance by a dog). In
Solo of the Flutist
,
that mysterious figure plays a silvery, seductive solo over
soft string accompaniment before a solo piano obbligato
takes us to the spirited
Spanish Waltz
. Eight soft strokes
of sound mark the tolling of the bell, and the lovely
Siciliano
, with clarinet and oboe solos over muted strings,
is the music by which the flutist courts the merchant’s
daughter. The
Polka Finale
begins with saucy tune in the
woodwinds, gathers speed and strength, and rushes the
suite to its sizzling conclusion.
George Gershwin
Born:
September 26, 1898, Brooklyn
Died:
July 11, 1937, Beverly Hills
Rhapsody in Blue
i
the European idea of the piano concerto with American
jazz, and in the process he created a work that has
become famous throughout the world. In addition to
its many recordings by American orchestras,
Rhapsody
in Blue
has been recorded by orchestras in England,
Germany, Australia and Russia. Gershwin was aware
that it might become a kind of national piece; he said
that during its composition he “heard it as a sort of
musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting
pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our
metropolitan madness.”
Classical purists argue that this is not a true piano
concerto, and jazz purists argue that it is not true jazz.
Both are right, but that doesn’t matter:
Rhapsody in
Blue
is a smashing success on its own terms. Gershwin
was right to call this one-movement work a
rhapsody,
which suggests a form freer than the concerto. Soloist
and orchestra are not as tightly integrated as in a
concerto, and the music tends to be episodic, with the
piano typically playing alone, not participating in the
intermittent orchestral interludes; only rarely does
Gershwin combine all his forces.
Gershwin wrote the
Rhapsody
in the space of less than
a month early in 1924, when he was only 25. Because
he was uncertain about his ability to orchestrate, that
job was given to Ferde Grofé, who would later compose
the
Grand Canyon
Suite. The work was premiered on
February 12, 1924, with Gershwin as soloist and a small
jazz ensemble.
The
Rhapsody
has one of the most famous beginnings
in all of music. The clarinet trill that suddenly spirals
upward in a seductive, sleazy glissando leads directly
into the main theme, which will recur throughout. The
various episodes are easy to follow, and it’s notable
how smoothly Gershwin moves the music along, with
seemingly effortless changes in tempo and mood from
one episode to the next. Also noteworthy is the big
E-major string tune marked
Andantino moderato con
espressione
. Near the end Gershwin gives this to the brass
and transforms its easy flow into a jazzy romp—ending
in one of the most ear-splitting chords ever written.
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