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George Gershwin – Piano

Concerto in F

Genesis of the Concerto

Damrosch had been present at the

February 12, 1924 concert arranged
and conducted by Paul Whiteman at
Aeolian Hall titled An Experiment in
Modern Music which became famous for
the premiere of Gershwin's Rhapsody in
Blue, in which the composer performed
the piano solo. The day after the
concert, Damrosch contacted Gershwin
to commission from him a full-scale
piano concerto for the New York
Symphony Orchestra, closer in form to
a classical concerto and orchestrated
by the composer.

Gershwin would later receive formal training and lessons from

influential figures like Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger and Arnold
Schoenberg in advanced composition, harmony and orchestration,
however, in 1924 he had had no such training. Under the pressure
of a deadline to complete the work, in 1925 Gershwin bought books
on theory, concerto form and orchestration and taught himself the
skills needed. Because of contractual obligations for three different
Broadway musicals, he was not able to begin sketching ideas until
May 1925. He began the two-piano score on July 22 after returning
from a trip to London, and the original drafts were entitled New York
Concerto. The first movement was written in July, the second in
August, and the third in September, much of the work being done in
a practice shack at the Chautauqua Institution. This had been
arranged through the Australian composer and teacher Ernest
Hutcheson, who offered seclusion for Gershwin at Chautauqua,
where his quarters were declared off limits to everyone until 4 p.m.
daily. Thanks to this, Gershwin was able complete the full
orchestration of the concerto on November 10, 1925.

Gershwin hired a 60-piece orchestra to run through his first draft

later that month. Damrosch attended and gave advice to Gershwin,
who made a few cuts and revisions. The premiere performance was
by the composer on [3 December, 1925 at Carnegie Hall, New York,
with the New York Symphony Orchestra with Damrosch conducting
(three years later the orchestra would merge with the Philharmonic
Symphony Society into the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and
one of the new orchestra's first projects was the commission and
December 1928 premiere of Gershwin's next symphonic work An
American in Paris). The concert was sold out and the concerto was
very well received by the general public. However, the reviews were
mixed, with many critics unable to classify it as jazz or classical.
Indeed, there was a great variety of opinion among Gershwin's
contemporaries; Igor Stravinsky thought the work was one of
genius, whereas Sergei Prokofiev disliked it intensely.

The Concerto in F shows considerable development in Gershwin's

compositional technique namely because he orchestrated the entire
work himself, unlike the Rhapsody in Blue which was done by Ferde
Grofé, the orchestrator for Paul Whiteman's orchestra. The English
composer William Walton commented that he adored Gershwin's
orchestration of the concerto, he himself being a famous
orchestrator. Gershwin scored his concerto for 2 flutes and a piccolo,
2 oboes and an english horn, 2 B flat clarinets and a B flat bass
clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns in F, 3 B flat trumpets, 3
trombones and a tuba, 3 timpani - 32", 29" and 26" (one player), 3
percussionists (first player: bass drum, bells, xylophone; second
player: snare drum periodically muffled and with regular and brush
sticks, wood block, Whip (instrument); third player: crash cymbals,
suspended cymbal with sticks, triangle and gong), solo piano and


The concerto is in the traditional three movements:

1. Allegro
2. Adagio - Andante con moto
3. Allegro agitato

There are strong thematic links between the outer movements,

while the second movement is the most obviously jazz-influenced.
There exists in each movement a very subtle structural integrity
that is not immediately apparent to the listener or even the player,
but the structure rivals that of any classical or romantic composer.

The first movement begins with blasts from the timpani, introducing
some of the main thematic material. After four pages of orchestral
introduction, the piano comes in to play a jazzy solo section which
introduces yet another new melody that will be seen throughout the
movement. From here, the music alternates between grandiose and
skittish, between broad and delicately soft. The climax is reached at
a section marked Grandioso, with the orchestra blaring out the
piano's original melody, and the piano playing a large triplet figure
in support. There is a piano cadenza of a quick triplet ostinato that
has been heard before in the piece, which leades to the final pages;
speeding octaves and chords, capitulating in a large run of the
triplet ostinato up the keyboard along an F Major 6 chord, which
brings the movement to a close.

The second movement is the blues, with a slow beginning, where a

solo trumpet plays a slow blues type melody; a faster piano part,
and a gradual build until near the end. When the full orchestra and
piano are playing loud, only a few bars to the end, and it seems the
piece will come to a crashing end, everything pulls back to the
original quiet melody and ends peacefully.

The final movement is a pulsating, energetic finale that features the

dominant seventh melody and the main melody of syncopated
eighth notes and triplets from the first movement, the blues melody
from the second movement, and a melody of its own. One section,
at the Grandioso, is exactly the same as the corresponding section
in the first movement, but this time, the scales at the end lead back
into the pulsing patterns from the beginning. The same motif that
closed the first movement is heard in octaves now, a quick run of
octaves up and down an F Major 6 chord, bringing the work to a
blasting finish.

Background on the Composer

George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an

American composer. He was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New
York to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. George made most of his
works with his lyricist brother Ira Gershwin. Gershwin composed
both for Broadway and for the classical concert hall. He also wrote
popular songs with success. Many of his compositions have been
used in cinema, and many are famous jazz standards; songbooks
have been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald (memorable 3 discs recording
for Verve, with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Herbie Hancock and
several other singers or players.

In 1910, the Gershwins had acquired a piano for
Ira's music lessons, but George took over,
successfully playing by ear. He tried out various
piano teachers for two years, then was introduced
to Charles Hambitzer, who acted as George's
mentor until Hambitzer's death in 1918. Hambitzer
taught George conventional piano technique,
introduced him to the music of the European masters, and
encouraged him to attend orchestral concerts. (At home following
such concerts, young George would attempt to reproduce at the
keyboard the music he had heard). He later studied with classical
composer Rubin Goldmark.

His 1916 novelty rag 'Rialto Ripples' was a commercial success, and
in 1918 he scored his first big national hit with his song 'Swanee'.

In 1924, George and Ira collaborated on a musical comedy, Lady Be

Good. It included standards as 'Fascinating Rhythm' and 'The Man I
Love.' This was followed by Oh, Kay! (1926); Funny Face in (1927);
Strike Up the Band (1927 & 1930); Girl Crazy (1930), which
introduced the standard 'I Got Rhythm'; and Of Thee I Sing (1931),
the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.

It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn

Follies, that George Gershwin collapsed and, on July 11, 1937, died
of a brain tumour. He was interred in the Westchester Hills
Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Gershwin had a ten-year affair with composer Kay Swift. Swift was a
frequent consult of Gershwin; he named the musical Oh, Kay after
her. Posthumously, Swift arranged some of his music, transcribed
some of his recordings, and collaborated with Ira on several

The Gershwin estate continues to bring in significant royalties from

licensing the copyrights on Gershwin's work. The estate supported
the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act because its 1923
cutoff date was shortly before Gershwin had begun to create his
most popular works. The copyrights on those works expire in 2007
in the European Union and between 2019 and 2027 in the United
States of America.

Musical Style & Influence
Gershwin was influenced very much by French composers of the
early twentieth century. Upon meeting composer Maurice Ravel,
Gershwin asked him of the possibility of becoming a student of
composition under the master. Ravel is said to have replied, 'Why
should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate
Gershwin?' Ravel was already quite impressed with the ability of
Gershwin, commenting, 'Personally I find jazz most interesting: the
rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies
themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin's works and I find
them intriguing.' The orchestrations in Gershwin's symphonic works
often seem similar to those of Ravel; likewise, Ravel's two piano
concertos evince an influence of Gershwin.

Gershwin's own Concerto in F was criticised as being strongly rooted

in the work of Claude Debussy, more so than in the jazz style which
was expected. The comparison didn't deter Gershwin from
continuing to explore French styles. The title of An American in Paris
reflects the very journey that he had consciously taken as a
composer: 'The opening part will be developed in typical French
style, in the manner of Debussy and the Six, though the tunes are

Gershwin also was intrigued with the an eclectic set of works as

those of Alban Berg, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Milhaud and
Schoenberg. Russian Joseph Schillinger's influence as his teacher of
composition was substantial in providing him with a method to his
composition. After the posthumous success of Porgy and Bess,
Schillinger claimed he had a large and direct influence in overseeing
the creation of the opera; Ira completely denied that his brother had
any such assistance for this work. In analysis, Schillinger's student
Vernon Duke found that while many of Gershwin's works certainly
were reviewed by Schillinger, Porgy does not seem to be one of
them. The indirect influence of his study with the teacher was
apparent in the opera's even more clear orchestrations but it is
characteristically Gershwin in ways that Schillinger would not have
approved of.