90 years ago, on this date, February 12, 1924, Rhapsody in Blue premiered.
Composed by George Gershwin, “Rhapsody in Blue” has come to be regarded as one of the masterpieces of American music, and it is heard very often even now. For example, it was used in the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, and by United Airlines. Ilia Kulik skated his way to a gold medal victory in the 1998 Winter Olympics with Gershwin’s music. Gershwin himself hastily composed the piece in five weeks in order for it to be performed at Paul Whiteman’s experimental concert, An Experiment in Modern Music. He got the basis of the composition on a train ride to Boston. Gershwin stated in 1931:
“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often stimulating to a composer - I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise… And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper - the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end.”
Whiteman’s experimental concert wasn’t going too well - the program included 26 different pieces, and as the evening drew on, the audience started to get impatient. Rhapsody in Blue was supposed to be second-to-last. The ventilation system was broken and many of the numbers sounded similar, which caused the audience to become indifferent. Then, the clarinet glissando that opened this piece was heard and from that second on, the audience was riveted. Gershwin was center stage; improvising almost everything he did, and for the next seventeen minutes, the composition unfolded in front of an awestruck audience. By the end of the year, almost a million copies of the song had sold, and thus, its place was cemented in the annals of history. 90 years ago, today, George Gershwin dared to break the traditions of music and stepped out to show the world something revolutionary.