Having declined bandleader Paul Whiteman’s invitation to write a composition to be included in his concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music, Gershwin was somewhat surprised to read that Whiteman continued to maintain that he was working on a ‘jazz concerto’. A call to Whiteman revealed that a rival impresario had plans to put on a similar concert and, with just five weeks to go before the concert, Gershwin finally agreed to the commission. Luckily, inspiration quickly followed during a train journey of which Gershwin recalled: And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end….. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.
Rhapsody in Blue was premièred (with Gershwin at the piano) in New York on 12 February 1924 where it was met with tumultuous applause. Although it was far from being universally admired by the critics of the time this remarkable piece of classical-jazz fusion most definitely sealed Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer and remains one of the most popular of all American concert works.
In this arrangement for wind quintet and piano the solo piano sections remain largely unaltered from standard versions although there are additional passages in a number of the tutti sections.
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