“Rhapsody In Blue”, Then And Now

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From Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhapsody_in_Blue

Rhapsody in Blue is a 1924 musical composition by American composer George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.
Commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman, the composition was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé three times, in 1924, in 1926, and finally in 1942. The piece received its premiere in a concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music, which was held on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall, New York, by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano. The editors of the Cambridge Music Handbooks opined that “The Rhapsody in Blue (1924) established Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works.”[1]


From National Public Radio, today…

A Gershwin Biopic That Ain’t Necessarily So True



Warner Archives George Gershwin’s most famous works include Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and the opera Porgy and Bess.

May 4, 2012

The movie Rhapsody in Blue, a biography of George Gershwin, was released only eight years after his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. It’s a good subject: Gershwin wrote some of the best popular songs ever produced in this country, but he also had ambitions to be a serious classical composer and wrote symphonic music, concertos and an opera — all of which are still performed.

He’s played by Robert Alda, the matinee-idol father of M*A*S*H‘s Alan Alda, who went on to star in the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. He captures both the well-documented charm and the driven quality of the brilliant young composer.

Other sympathetic performances include avuncular Charles Coburn as Max Dreyfus, Gershwin’s supportive music publisher, and theater legend Morris Carnovsky as Gershwin’s father. Carnovsky’s Hollywood career would soon come to an end when he was blacklisted, but he remained a respected stage actor.

Injecting an uncanny reality into the film are a number of figures from Gershwin’s circle who play themselves. Gershwin’s real-life friend, pianist and caustic comedian Oscar Levant, gives the film its biggest jolt of satiric energy. Levant was famous for playing Gershwin’s music, and it’s Levant we hear in the piano solos for Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F.

For a scene reenacting the historic premiere of Rhapsody in Blue at Aeolian Hall, the conductor is bandleader Paul Whiteman, who conducted the real premiere. In a scene in a Turkish bath, we find the real George White, producer of the famous series of Broadway revues for whom Gershwin wrote many of his early hits. And making a guest appearance is no less a star than Al Jolson, whose original rendition of “Swanee” made Gershwin famous.

Among the film’s other musical high points are a rare staging of Gershwin’s early mini-opera, Blue Monday, which got only one performance on Broadway. There’s lovable song-and-dance man Tom Patricola, who isn’t even credited, singing and dancing “Somebody Loves Me,” the Gershwin song he actually introduced onstage. And most remarkable, Anne Brown — the original Bess in Porgy and Bess — sings the most famous song from that opera, “Summertime.”

But Hollywood can’t help messing with facts. Gershwin’s brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics to most of George’s songs, is a major character in the film, but their two other siblings are completely expunged. In the movie, George discovers that Ira can write lyrics years after the real Ira started writing them.

Gershwin was something of a playboy who never married. His most serious romance seems to have been with songwriter Kay Swift, for whom he named one of his biggest hit shows, Oh, Kay!

But with astonishing chutzpah, the film concocts for him two completely fictional lovers — an imaginary Broadway star named Julie Adams, played by goody-goody Joan Leslie, and a cool society beauty played by Alexis Smith. One gratuitously false bit of dialogue comes when Gershwin meets Oscar Levant in Max Dreyfus’ office.

“I’m George Gershwin,” he says. “That’s my real name.”

But George was actually born Jacob Gershvin. In this movie, real history, in the form of the people who actually knew George Gershwin and performed his music, makes a bigger and truer impression than the Hollywood fabrications.”


4 thoughts on ““Rhapsody In Blue”, Then And Now

  1. This piece of music makes my hair stand on end. It’s extraordinary, like The City, itself. And I love the Disney animation too. Really pulls in the Art Deco era, doesn’t it? Also, as I watch I am struck by the sense it has an artfulness that Pixar short films can never touch. I can’t put my finger on what it is. Thanks for this!


    1. Hanna-Barbara killed animation. “The Flintstones” and “Yogi Bear” cremated the nitrates!! Or should have. Give me “The Toonerville Trolley” and “Farmer Grey”. Wallace and Grommet are heirs to the throne. http://www.wallaceandgromit.com/ There must be a local art movie theater that shows an Animation Festival. Its amazing, what creative minds can do!!


      1. I agree with you on the artfulness of W&G. Unparalleled, really. It is unique drawing–and the plots are Chaplinesque, if you want to think about how they derived their comedy. Disney, in that short, did a host of cultural commentary, by making a mini-plot that analyzed the various musical structures and forms, the city’s architecture, and the class structure. That is incredibly complex stuff. I’m so glad no one asked me to conceive of it. In fact, I’m shocked that I was able to analyze two at any depth at all!

      2. “I’m shocked that I was able to analyze two at any depth at all!…..”

        Neither of us need our false modesty. In my work work as a therapist, I was a master of one-down-manship. I knew NOTHING, but somehow I appeared wise. Go figure. Tarot’s Hanged Man, the wise fool?

        My colleague “Fish” chastises me constantly…”Take your power, asshole”. he says to me. But I’m afraid of power. I am very sexual, acquisitive, grasping, angry, so I have to live a very quiet life. But I have a Hyde in my Jekyll. Do all men have this?? I don’t know ALL MEN.

        I’ve been quite lucky to have met women who don’t seem to mind my struggles. I’m amazed at my good fortune.


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