Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue

TH-71980

Paul Bisaccia, piano

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

  • Rhapsody In Blue

  • 3 Preludes

  • 2 Waltzes In C

  • Rialto Ripples

  • Merry Andrew

  • Three-Quarter Blues

  • Promenade

  • Impromptu In 2 Keys


The George Gershwin Songbook

  • Swanee

  • Somebody Loves Me

  • My One And Only

  • Who Cares

  • I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise

  • The Man I Love

  • Strike Up The Band

  • Sweet And Low Down

  • Do It Again

  • Fascinatin' Rhythm

  • 'S Wonderful

  • Lady Be Good

  • Do - Do - Do

  • Nobody But You

  • That Certain Feeling

  • Clap Yo' Hands

  • Liza

  • I Got Rhythm

Total Playing Time 68:48

"For Gershwin interpretations, Bisaccia wins hands down."--American Record Guide

About the music:

George Gershwin's complete published music for piano solo is a diverse collection of original piano pieces and the set of 18 original song transcriptions known as The Gershwin Song Book. His tragically short life resulted in fewer examples than one would like of his unique and original piano style. (The published solo piano compositions and arrangements take up only about 70 minutes.) For such an important American master it makes sense to give scrutiny to some of these gems that have been, until now, ignored by serious musicians.

The most extended and well known of all these pieces is, of course, Rhapsody in Blue and a certain amount of luck was involved in its creation. It all began with Paul Whiteman, the band leader, casually asking Gershwin to write something for a concert that Whiteman was calling "An Experiment in Modern Music". Gershwin said he was interested in the project, but promptly forgot about it as the Boston opening approached for "Sweet Little Devil", his latest show. George was reminded of the informal discussions he had with Whiteman when Ira Gershwin spotted an article in the January 4, 1924 New York Herald Tribune announcing that George was writing a Jazz concerto to be premiered on February 12 at Aeolian Hall. Of course, there wasn't enough time to write a full length concerto, so George decided on writing a one-movement work. He quickly sketched out a two piano version and handed it page by page to Ferde Grofé, the arranger for the Paul Whiteman band,who then made the orchestrations. Ira actually came up with the title "Rhapsody in Blue" after viewing an exhibition of paintings by Whistler with colorful titles. Due to the huge success of the work Gershwin issued his two-piano version, and then later the seldom played solo piano version contained on this disc.

In 1926 Gershwin published Three Preludes. These three works form a perfectly balanced suite. Preludes one and three are both marked Allegro ben ritmato e deciso. Prelude two was once described by Gershwin as a "blue lullaby". This music reveals Gershwin at the height of his powers as a composer of piano miniatures.

Two Waltzes in C was written in 1933 (published in 1971) and served as an instrumental interlude in the show "Pardon My English". This piece was a favorite of Gershwin and his close friend Kay Swift, who often played it together in an arrangement for two pianos. The composition has four distinct parts: a short introduction, Waltz 1, Waltz 2, and then a delightful contrapuntal combination of both waltzes. Ira once envisioned publishing this piece as "Wordless Operetta Suite": "His Waltz," "Her Waltz," and "Their Waltz". The surprise of this piece is its obvious kinship to works of Debussy and Ravel. Gershwin had bought all the available piano music of Debussy while he was in Paris. He also had met with Ravel and had even asked him for some composition lessons (Ravel's supposed reply was "Why should you study with me and become a second rate Ravel when you are already a first rate Gershwin?").

Rialto Ripples is a Piano Rag published in 1917 that reflects, even at this early stage, Gershwin's tricky piano style (he was still a teenager). Coincidentally 1917 is the year that Scott Joplin, the "Father of Ragtime" died. Merry Andrew was written as "Comedy Dance" circa 1928 and published in 1974. The tiny Three-Quarter Blues was also published in 1974. Promenade was the instrumental interlude composed for the movie "Shall We Dance" with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was written in 1936 and published in 1960. The title for this musical interlude in the movie is actually "Walking the Dog" - a sequence where Fred Astaire walks his dog in an attempt to meet up with Ginger Rogers.

The George Gershwin Songbook contains 18 of Gershwin's own piano arrangements of his songs. Written in 1932, this set of pieces highlights Gershwin's idiosyncratic way of playing the piano. Gershwin himself wrote an introduction to these piano transcriptions and it is illuminating. "Playing my songs as frequently as I do at private parties, I have been naturally led to compose various variations on them, and to indulge the desire for complication and variety that every composer feels when he manipulates the same material over and over again. It was this habit of mine that led to the original suggestion to publish a group of songs not only in the simplified arrangements that the public knew, but also in the variations that I had devised." He further states that "The rhythms of American popular music are more or less brittle; they should be made to snap, and at times to cackle. The more sharply the music is played, the more effective it sounds." Particularly satisfying are Gershwin's extended arrangements of The Man I Love, Liza, and I Got Rhythm.

One hundred years after Gershwin's birth, the story of his legacy is still being written. Several of the pieces on this CD were only published (under Ira Gershwin's supervision) long after George's death and many musicians are completely unfamiliar with them. There are certainly more manuscripts that have yet to be brought before the public. The reason for the slowness to publication is not a mystery. Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart in their book The Gershwin Years write "Ira's acute ear and high standards keep him from carelessly releasing anything that George had not given final approval. Perhaps someday all of these works will be available; meanwhile that they exist is assurance that the world has not heard its last new Gershwin song." Indeed since this CD was first issued in 1994 more "forgotten preludes" have seen the light of day as well as a restored piano version of his Lullaby. These pieces have been recorded on a new album called Ragtime Lullabies which is an addendum to this CD and a continuation of the legacy of Gershwin's Solo Piano Music.

--Paul Bisaccia, Provincetown, Massachusetts