For many people the words "American music" usually conjure up images of rock or pop, with names like Elvis Pressley, Madonna, or Lady Gaga coming to mind. However, popular American music is about more than just hits on the radio. America has had a profound influence on many genres of music, including the invention of jazz,
Americans have contributed to the world music community in brilliant and unexpected ways. Even in the era of COVID-19, people can learn a little bit more about the surprising and unconventional ways that Americans have changed the artistic landscape. George Gershwin and his composition Rhapsody In Blue is one of those contributions in the most unlikely spaces; classical music.
More Than Just Tradition
Most people think of the orchestra as useful for only two things; performing the classics of European composers or, in a modern setting, providing a soaring, emotional score for film soundtracks to rouse the audience's feelings. George Gershwin, an American composer, born in 1898, saw a different possibility. One hundred years ago, by the time the "roaring 20s" arrived in the 20th century, jazz, a new music genre, was already filling the air as a popular form of music.
George Gershwin first got the of taking the staid, dry world of classical music and orchestral performances and infusing those compositions with jazz. Gershwin was very much a product of his time. His first job at the age of 15 had been a "song plugger," someone who played sheet music in an attempt to promote and sell that sheet music to aspiring music performers. And it was his love for the music of that time that prompted his most famous composition.
New York Comes To Classical
Rhapsody In Blue was the first significant composition Gershwin created. Fittingly, this jazz love-letter to New York was first performed by an orchestra in New York. Audiences of the time weren't prepared for the complex, playful jazz compositions invading a concert hall, first opening with a surprising clarinet solo and then moving onto vibrant, lively, unconventional rhythms and orchestral arrangements that reflected both the uniqueness of jazz, as well as the energy of New York city itself.
To this day, Rhapsody In Blue is synonymous with New York is often borrowed as a dominant melody to signify the city. The composition is nearly 100 years old now but has lost none of its vibrancy.
Today, Rhapsody In Blue and Gershwin himself are considered important fixtures of American music. Fortunately, today's musicians have never had it easier to enjoy, perform, and even use this iconic piece of music. As of January 1, 2020, the composition entered the public domain.
This means that, while specific musicians and performances may be copyrighted, Rhapsody In Blue itself is free to the public, creative, and musical community to use as they see fit.
If you’d like to enjoy more of what the arts have to offer, come to us. Contact the Multicultural Arts Exchange and find out about performances or other events we have to experience.