A quintessential American composer is George Gershwin and there is not a single piece of music that represents America’s classical music more than Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a piano concerto. A major American airlines has been using this piece as its theme song for years. What brought me to talk about this piece is actually hearing the airlines’ commercials during the Olympics.
Ironic to be featured in an airlines’ commercials, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is anything but linear. Not a single note is “in beat” with the next. It jumps around from one idea after another, but somehow the whole thing gets strung along together. A happy and irreverent piece, there’s nothing blue about it — so I’ve always wondered why it is called “Rhapsody in Blue” other than it might have some musical origin in blues music.
George Gershwin reveals an astounding capacity for epic tenderness in the middle of the piece. In fact it’s been harvested and feature in an airlines commercial, played famously every 4 years at the worldly Olympics: 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020….
The ending is an all-proclaiming, self-important, and slightly histrionic F I R E W O R K. Uunfortunately this is isn’t played that way by Gershwin himself. But don’t let the mischievousness fool anyone. All these notes don’t just appear out of no where; they were written down one note at a time by George. He definitely had an eye toward creating architectural details. But he was definitely very mischievous and irreverant, almost degrading, when he played his own music. It is rousing enough to sell millions of dollars of airplane tickets to business travelers. So why did George Gershwin insisted to play this like it’s a cartoon background music for Tom and Jerry?
Mr. Gershwin died of a brain tumor at the age of 39.