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George Gershwin’s Life and Jazz Music Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2021

George Gershwin was a great composer of jazz music with some classical elements. This is a review of Rhapsody in Blue; one of the great compositions that George did in those days. Rhapsody in Blue was composed in 1924 for unaccompanied forte-piano and jazz groups. This masterpiece was performed in public for the first time on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall in New York, during a concert dubbed An Experiment in Modern Music.

Paul Whiteman is the person who commissioned this piece of music. After having a successful classical jazz performance in collaboration with Eva Gauthier in 1923, Whiteman resolved to try a more ambitious performance. With this idea dominating his mind, he approached Gershwin with a suggestion of a joint performance in Aeolian Hall in 1924. From this suggestion, Gershwin had to come with a composition to brace the occasion hence the birth of Rhapsody in Blue. The idea of this piece came as Gershwin traveled by train to Boston.

After its premiere on February 12, 1924, this composition became a point of discussion. Some people felt that this was jazz while others claimed that, it was not pure jazz. Even though there is this point of contention, it is important to note that Paul Whiteman was a self-proclaimed ‘King of Jazz.’ Rhapsody in Blue may not be jazz, maybe classical jazz, but the concert performed in the Aeolian Hall and the subsequent orchestration for principally wind instruments, make this piece of composition sound more of jazz than any other genre.

Rhapsody in Blue is scripted for unaccompanied forte-piano with orchestra. This composition is an epitome of rhapsodies in that; it contains significant dividing lines in texture, color, and style. It entails vivid forte-piano solos accompanied by tardy, liberal, and extravagantly orchestrated parts. The opening part of rhapsody in Blue is scripted as a single woodwind warble succeeded by a smooth 17-note arising diatonic surmount. This composition is rich in rhythmic excogitation and melodious inspiration characterized by strong motive interrelationship. This composition contains depressed sevenths, and assortment of minor and major thirds spanning three degrees of diatonic scale.

Rhapsody in Blue represents a complex harmonic structure beginning and ending in B flat. As it begins, it takes a sub-dominant direction but abruptly returns to B flat as it terminates. The music adopts the reverse direction of circles of fifths modulating classical tonal interrelatedness throughout the composition. C major dominates the integral middle section though it incorporates G major in some instances. There are intonations that pass freely and well, despite the fact that they lack harmonic direction. Gershwin George uses an algorithm consonant procession of minor thirds, which gives a fantasy of motion. This strategy covers the fact that the passage uses unchanged key through out. The music is also characterized by ragtime rhythms. It appears that George Gershwin wanted to disqualify the notion that one could only dance jazz when played in time. To achieve this, he used varied tempos and intense rubato. There are also varied piano techniques including freshness piano, stride piano and risible piano among other styles. For instance, in ‘agitato e misterioso’ section after rehearsal 32, stride piano stands out clearly while immediately after rehearsal 9, the freshness piano sets in. Vacillations and the blithe style represent the risible piano style.

This is a masterpiece work of all the times especially the forte-piano and philharmonic orchestra version by Ferde Grofe in 1942.

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