There are some pieces of music that are so ubiquitous that perhaps we sometimes stop hearing them. Not in a literal sense, of course. But when they enter our periphery, our minds might be tempted to shift into a certain gear of familiarity, one where we hear but don’t necessarily listen.
“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin is an iconic staple of the American canon. And it has been appropriated for countless purposes. Most famously, perhaps, its chords are the jingle that accompanies advertisements for United Airlines.
From its opening notes - the stirring clarinet glissando (a continuous slide upward or downward between notes) - one knows one is in for something special. American Heritage Magazine in its celebration of the piece’s 75th anniversary said its beginning has “become as familiar as the start of Beethoven’s Fifth.” High praise, and warranted. But we must guard against such a brilliant composition becoming a classical music ear worm.
“Rhapsody in Blue” helped jazz music crash the concert hall, and American culture was changed forever. So was Gershwin, just in his mid-20s at the piece’s release in 1924. The work helped catapult him stardom, a perch he held until his tragic early death from brain cancer before he turned 40.
Yet music can be immortal. And when we came across this performance from the young Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, accompanied by the Orchestre National de Lyon (Leonard Slatkin conducting), we were moved to remember how special, and smile-inducing, “Rhapsody in Blue” still remains. In listening to it anew, we felt both the comfort of the familiar and the allure of the unknowable.
We hope you enjoy it as well.
Thank you, Dan and Elliot. This is one of the...or maybe THE best performance of the Rhapsody I've ever heard, with the pianist combining power and exuberance with delicacy and tenderness. What a marvelous way to start my day! I'll be watching this video again and again.
I have an lp recording of George Gershwin himself playing his composition (though I forget the orchestra behind him) and the lady has equaled or even bettered George’s rendition. She is a marvel. From memory, with no sheet music, but with a luminous smile on her face as she was enjoying the playing as much as we the audience were. And her fingerwork was incredible!