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The Gershwin moment

“Rhapsody in Blue” is one of the most famous pieces of American classical music. Over the years, the piece has come to define America’s jazz age. It broke the rules and crossed boundaries.

In February 1924, its world premiere was met with tumultuous applause. But some critics were unimpressed.

Lawrence Gilman, a music critic from the New York Tribune, had this to say:

How trite, feeble and conventional the tunes are. How sentimental and vapid the harmonic treatment, under its disguise of fussy and futile counterpoint. Weep over the lifelessness of the melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive.

Another critic went further and wrote that Gershwin, whose parents were Russian Jews, displayed “a weakness of spirit, possibly as a consequence that the new world attracted the less stable types.”

As birthday celebrations ramp up for “Rhapsody in Blue,” our guide, Joe Horowitz, says it is time to take Gerswhin’s music seriously.

For this celebration, we hear from a Russian pianist, American writers, and scholars who provide new insight into a composer who died young but left a remarkable and ever-popular legacy.

“The Gershwin Moment” was scripted and edited by Joe Horowitz. Sound design and production by Peter Bogdanoff. Excerpts from “An American in Paris” and “Porgy and Bess” were performed by the orchestra of the University of Michigan School of Music led by Kenneth KieslerKirill Gerstein performs “I Got Rhythm” and “Concerto in F” on his Gershwin album, on Myrios Classics. Joe Horowitz is the author of “On My Way; The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin and Porgy and Bess.” Earlier ‘More Than Music’ programs can be found hereherehere , and here.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

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Rupert Allman