In 1925, George Gershwin was known for his popular songs, Broadway music, and his Rhapsody in Blue. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, he then tackled another classical form with his Piano Concerto in F.
[Music: Gershwin, Piano Concerto in F]
Susan Lewis: Starting with kettledrums and percussion, a rhythmic pulse pounds. Gershwin was making a statement with the concerto, and he orchestrated it himself, which was unusual, says conductor James Gaffigan.
James Gaffigan: Normally, he would hire someone to do the orchestral parts, but he had his own vision for this particular piece.
SL: A vision expressed by Gershwin in a program note, where he wrote about representing the “young enthusiastic spirit of American life.”
JG: It’s extremely American in that it celebrates jazz.
SL: A celebration with piano, and what Gaffigan calls a fascinating use of the orchestra.
JG: The way he uses the percussion instruments. There are slapstick, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and timpani of course. But the way he combines the instruments, like a back-up band: two clarinets and a bass clarinet and a solo trumpet playing with a hat. It’s like we’re in a nightclub. It’s an incredible effect.
SL: The concerto, a commission from conductor Walter Damrosch for the New York Symphony, was written in Chautauqua, New York, in the summer of 1925, and premiered at Carnegie Hall that December.