21 Feb 2019

GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (orch. Ferde Grofe)

From Music Alive, 7:40 pm on 21 February 2019

"I think of all the piano concertos, this one is pure joy" ~ Tamara-Anna Cislowska

Performed by Tamara-Anna Cislowska with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Giordano Bellincampi.

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska Photo: Steven Godbee

Tamara-Anna Cislowska on the Rhapsody in Blue:

“I think I’m yet to meet a person who doesn’t love Rhapsody in Blue. There’s just so much to love about it: there are beautiful melodies, heartbreaking melodies, and such driving rhythms. I think it has that endless appeal for everyone from the layman to the most cynical professional. You just can’t help but crack a smile when you hear this one, I think.

“I was reading about some of the first performances of Rhapsody in Blue the other day, and did you know that Toscanini performed it once? With the great American pianist Earl Wild. And apparently Toscanini was a big fan of Rhapsody in Blue; that really tickled me.”

George Gershwin began his musical career as a “song-plugger”. He was employed by music publishers to go round music stores and theatres to “plug” their songs – he had to be both a pianist and a salesman in one. He earned money through his teenage years by being a convincing and compelling pianist, interpreting other people’s music. He got a reputation as a song-plugger that he also started recording piano rolls: playing into a special piano that made perforations in a roll of paper to play back later.

He also went from strength to strength as a composer in his own right: he sold his first song for 50 cents, but beyond that, he had success with piano music, and one of his songs got picked up by one of the biggest names in vaudeville, Al Jolson. That led him to writing for Broadway, rather lucratively.

In 1923, at the age of 25, he was approached by the band leader Paul Whiteman to write a concerto-like piece for solo piano and jazz band, for a concert called “An Experiment in Modern Music”.  As he said: “I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep”.

The result was an expansive 15-minute “American Rhapsody” - George Gershwin’s original title. His brother Ira – a lyric writer – suggested the final title, Rhapsody in Blue.

The première was attended by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, John Philip Sousa – the biggest names of the music world who were in New York City at the time.

Programme Note by Robbie Ellis

Recorded by RNZ Concert, Auckland Town Hall, 21 February 2019
Producer: Tim Dodd; Engineer: Adrian Hollay

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes