Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue W /CDGershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel, Charlesbridge, 2006

When George Gershwin read in the newspaper in January 1924 that he was working on a concerto for a special concert of American music scheduled for February 12, he was shocked. He had spoken to the organizer, Paul Whiteman, about the possibility, but he didn’t know it was a done deal. Apparently it was, though; the concerto he hadn’t even started to write was going to be the featured work.

I’ve had nightmares that started in a similar way. Gershwin had only a few weeks to come up with the highlight of a concert that was to be “attended by the world’s musical elite.” My bad dreams, however, don’t usually end as well as Gershwin’s real-life story. Author Anna Harwell Celenza describes how Gershwin went from not knowing what he was going to write to finding inspiration for his piece in the rhythms of a train ride, the music that surrounded him, and his love for New York City. “Rhapsody in Blue” brought together jazz, blues, klezmer, ragtime, and foxtrot within a traditional form—a piano concerto—to create a new and entirely American piece of music. This book comes with a CD of the piece so you can really hear how everything works together. Gershwin did an amazing job of taking an old form and making it new, but in a very accessible way.

The author knows her stuff; she has a Ph.D. in musicology, and has written several other children’s books about how particular compositions came to be: The Farewell Symphony, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Heroic Symphony, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations. There are so many interesting stories out there—I hope more books follow soon.
The Farewell Symphony
Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Heroic Symphony
Bach's Goldberg Variations

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