Curating Music History: An American in Paris (Gershwin)

in classical-music •  2 months ago

George Gershwin (1898-1937) is one of the best known and beloved of the American "Classical" composers. Like many of the American composers, he was heavily influenced by the popular music of the day, which was Jazz. Many of his melodies and compositions are recognised by the general public, however, it might not be known that they are from a Classical/Jazz history!

He first found his feet as a pianist and a composer of Broadway theatres. It was during his attempt to study in Paris with the famed composer Boulanger (who refused to teach him), that he wrote this piece "An American in Paris".

"An American in Paris" is a symphonic piece that is heavily influenced by jazz, but also foreshadows the film music that would come later in the century! It is highly descriptive aurally, and you can easily construct a theme or story to match the music.

It is one of the most successful meldings of Jazz and Classical music that I know of, and one of the masterworks of the American Classical Music genre. Oddly enough, although it wasn't written with a film in mind, a film was based upon the music (in a sort of backwards order!). It was also called "An American in Paris" and it featured Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, which won an Oscar in 1951.

The Perfomers

This piece is one of the most recorded pieces of works in the Classical Repertoire. The premiere was considered incredibly dull and sluggish by the composer, who walked out on the performance!

This performance by Andre Previn and an unnamed orchestra does not suffer from a lack of spirit. However, from such a famed conductor, you wouldn't expect that it would!

Previous Curating Music History posts

1st and 2nd Arabesque (Debussy)

Last movement from 6th Brandenburg Concerto (JS Bach)

Agnus Dei from Faure Reqiuem

Vivaldi double Cello concerto

Last movements from 2nd Sonata in a minor (Westhoff)

The Typewriter by Erik Satie

Children's Corner (Debussy)

Last movement from Brahms Violin Concerto

Finale from 4th Symphony (Tchaikovsky)

Last movement from "Jupiter" Symphony #41 (Mozart)

Overture to Midsummer Night's Dream (Mendelssohn)

Histoire du Tango: Cafe 1930 (Piazzolla)

Last movement from Violin sonata 2 (Prokofiev)

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Britten)

'Sonata in d minor for violin and continuo" (Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre)

'Sonata duodecima' for Violin and Continuo(Isabella Leonarda)

Chaconne from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Lully)

Alla Danza Tedesca from Beethoven String Quartet Op.130

6 Elizabethan Songs: Argento

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I'm a big fan of George and Ira Gershwin. Which means I'm a big fan of 'An American in Paris'.

Thanks for a great review of a true classic.


Oh, yes Ira as well! Together they did some really great things! Glad you are also a huge fan of "An American in Paris"!

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i get most of my musical injections from accuradio these days ... i wonder

i, myself (and me) don't get any more in classical music than Chopin so far and a few things by that other piano guy ... was it eunm let me youtube that
beethoven !

i wonder , do you keep to a single genre or do you go by virtuosity ?

like turntablism (dj shadow or cut chemist or dj odilon and the likes who turned it from a table to an instrument) or modern jazz like satoko fuji ?

not limited to that ofcourse, i like a whole lot of metal and electronica too

check this out btw

o yea, that's pop music ofcourse, can hardly expect an a.i. to produce some avant-garde jazz :p


I don't know about accuradio! I will have to look that up...

For this series of posts, I do stick to "Classical" Music (so old music, from Baroque through to the more modern forms, via Classical and Romantic). Mostly, because it is the subject that I know best about due to the fact that I'm a professional "Classical" musician (well, Baroque/Classical specialist if you are being picky!). I do often listen to other music in my spare time (punk and ska being my go to genres), however there are probably people who know much more about those things than I do!

That was an incredibly interesting read that you linked to there. I didn't have a chance to listen to the music as I'm sitting on the floor waiting for the toddler to go to sleep, but I will definitely return back and have a proper listen and redigest the reading!

He is very clearly jazz influenced. I suspect that anyone who has much film or ad watching history would recognize Rhapsody in Blue. Its interesting how musical forms that are once fringe, suddenly become so mainstream that no one notices. Witness how many soundtracks now are minimalist, yet when Cage and Glass started making minimalist music it was considered fringe and even unlistenable. As someone who sat through the second performance ever of Music in 12 Parts by Glass, I never felt it unlistenable. Instead, it was a mark of things to come.

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Wow, I'm generally not a fan of Philip Glass... But recently I've heard a few things that have made me reconsider...

Jazz is (was) the popular music of the time, I think it was Bernstein that said that Art music needed to draw from the music of culture that it was being performed in, and not from an adopted culture (in this case, European culture, not being completely at home in America).

I like George Gershwin. I found some educational posters for music beginners with name on it


Gershwin is an easy way into Classical music, it has elements that are more familiar to a modern audience!

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