Something old, Something new

Even when you think you know everything you want to know about a particular composer’s work, there is, of course, always more to learn.

This has been true for me while I have been listening to the American composer, George’s Gershwin’s music.

I have three of the standards:

  • Rhapsody in Blue
  • An American in Paris
  • Cuban Overture

And two slight ‘oddities’:

  • ‘Porgy and Bess’ Suite – A symphonic Picture by Robert Russell Bennett
  • Prelude for piano no 2

Of course, there is much more in Gershwin’s repertoire – did you know he wrote I’ve Got Rhythm, They Can’t TakeThat Away From Me, Embraceable You, and Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off? As well as the opera Porgy and Bess, which includes the well known ‘numbers’ Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So.

But let’s stick with what we’ve got for the moment.

Rhapsody in Blue was composed in 1924. It opens with that now iconic trill and upward glissando by the clarinet. There happens to be an excellent description of the piece on Wiki here if you would like to know more detail. And fascinatingly, there is a link here to the very first recording. Amazing!

You may see from the Wiki entry that there have been debates about whether this work can be classed as jazz or not. Who cares? It’s an incredible piece of music of which one can never tire.

An American in Paris, written in 1928, exemplifies Gershwin’s story-telling abilities. From the first note, we are thrust into the hubbub of city life and taken along with the adventures and thrills that one experiences in a new environment. Strange noises, rhythms help us also to imagine the different and wonderful sights, smells and people which might be there too.

And then the Cuban Overture? Well, Gershwin goes all Latin on us and treats us to the most fabulous combination of the exotic and flamboyant, still with his trademark ‘jazz’ sounds thrown in.

Turning to the Prelude, this is a little ‘CD filler’ which I had not paid much attention to before now. But my goodness, what a little gem. Funnily enough, it could easily fit in to the Rhapsody as a cadenza. But it deserves to stand on its own two feet. And guess what? I have discovered I have the sheet music for all three of Gershwin’s Preludes – they’re a challenging play, but I’ll give them a go!

And finally – Porgy & Bess, well that Suite anyway. This is a 25-minute symphonic compliation of the main aspects of the opera. I guess it is a bit like a lengthy overture. For some reason, I have always steered clear of the full opera. I’m not sure why. I like Gershwin’s music, and the principal works and well known. And this Suite that I have just confirms that the work must be as amazing as everything else I have listened to. So the full work will have to go on the wish list.

Maybe it’s a bit corny to say that I feel a bit like that American in Paris discovering new corners to look around, but it’s true. I expected my Gershwin post to be pretty run of the mill. But as is often the case, it’s thrown up some great new things to get stuck in to. Do you agree?

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