Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

Discuss the jazz influences in Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.

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  • 1 decade ago
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    The influences of jazz and other contemporary styles are certainly present in "Rhapsody in Blue." Ragtime rhythms are abundant, as is the Cuban "clave" rhythm, which doubles as a dance rhythm in the Charleston jazz dance.

    Gershwin’s own intentions were to correct the belief that jazz had to be played strictly in time so it could be danced to.The "Rhapsody’s" tempos vary widely, and there is an almost extreme use of rubato in many places throughout. The clearest influence of jazz is the use of blue notes, and the exploration of their half-step relationship plays a key role in the Rhapsody. The use of so-called "vernacular" instruments such as accordion, banjo, and saxophones in the orchestra contribute to its jazz or popular style, and the latter two of these instruments have remained part of Grofe's "standard" orchestra scoring. Gershwin incorporated several different piano styles into the work. He utilized the techniques of stride piano, novelty piano, comic piano, and the song-plugger piano style. Stride piano’s rhythmic and improvisational style is evident in the "agitato e misterioso" section which begins four bars after rehearsal 33 as well as in other sections, many of which include the orchestra. Novelty piano can be heard at rehearsal 9 with the revelation of the Train theme. The hesitations and light-hearted style of comic piano, a vaudeville approach to piano made well-known by Chico Marx and Jimmy Durante, are evident at rehearsal 22.


    The famous clarinet opening of Rhapsody in Blue.

    The opening of Rhapsody in Blue is written as a clarinet trill followed by a legato 17-note rising diatonic scale. During a rehearsal, Whiteman's virtuoso clarinetist, Ross Gorman, rendered the upper portion of the scale as a captivating (and fully trombone-like) glissando: Gershwin heard it and insisted that it be repeated in the performance.An American Heritage columnist called it the "famous opening clarinet glissando... that has become as familiar as the start of Beethoven’s Fifth.The effect is produced by gradually opening the left-hand tone-holes on the clarinet during the passage from the last concert F (or earlier if possible, thus employing the right hand as well) to the top concert B-flat, adjusting the embouchure to smoothly control the continuously rising pitch. This effect has now become standard performance practice for the work.

    By the end of 1924, Whiteman’s band had played the Rhapsody eighty-four times, and its recording sold a million copies.Whiteman later adopted the piece as his band's theme song, and opened his radio programs with the slogan "Everything new but the Rhapsody in Blue".

    Although Gershwin himself spoke of the Rhapsody as "a musical kaleidoscope of America", Rhapsody in Blue has often been interpreted as a musical portrait of New York City. It is used to this effect in Woody Allen's film Manhattan, the Disney film Fantasia 2000, and the a cappella version of Rhapsody in Blue recorded in 1991, Rhapsody of New York, by the female barbershop quartet "Ambiance".

    Rhapsody in Blue is known to many as the background music of the commercials of United Airlines, and has been in use by the company since 1987. The company agreed to pay an annual fee of US$300,000 for the rights to use the piece in its advertisement.

    The 1945 film about Gershwin, starring Robert Alda, is named Rhapsody in Blue. Rhapsody in Blue was played simultaneously by eighty-four pianists at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.In 1999, National Public Radio included Rhapsody in Blue in the "NPR 100", in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.

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