Rhapsody in Blue is performed live for the first time in New York City’s Aeolian Hall. The entire evening’s program, billed as an “Experiment In Modern Music,” was organized by Paul Whiteman, the immensely popular leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra, and intended to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form. The program first featured didactic segments intended to make this case, and segments with titles like “Contrast: Legitimate Scoring vs. Jazzing,” had bored the audience to near tears for interminable pieces.
Enter 25-year-old George Gershwin.“It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet,” wrote Olin Downes of the New York Times.“It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it . . . often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation.” Downes was in emphatic agreement with Whiteman’s original premise: “This is no mere dance-tune set for piano and other instruments,” he judged. “This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.”
Gershwin, often with the assist from lyricist brother Ira, penned multiple pieces and scores for Broadway, film and orchestral presentation, including Blue Monday, Shall We Dance, You Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Porgy & Bess and An American In Paris. Struck down by a brain tumor at 38, The Guardian, using “estimates of earnings accrued in a composer’s lifetime” concluded that George Gershwin was the wealthiest composer of all time.
On a final note, in September 2013, a partnership between the estates of Ira and George Gershwin and the University of Michigan was created and will provide the university’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance access to Gershwin’s entire body of work, which includes all of Gershwin’s papers, compositional drafts, and scores. This direct access to all of his works will provide opportunities to musicians, composers, and scholars to analyze and reinterpret his work with the goal of accurately reflecting the composers’ vision in order to preserve his legacy.
And here, the song endeth.