Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rhapsody in Blue


Last weekend I went to Ravinia Park and saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform music by George Gershwin, including Cuban Overture, selections from Porgy and Bess, and Rhapsody in Blue. I didn't actually see the CSO, but heard them through the park's sound system on the lawn.

I went to Ravinia on a whim because it is a stop on the Metra North Shore Line, and not far from the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which I planned to go to. The week before I heard Rhapsody in Bluu on WNIU, and wrote in my journal what the announcer said about how Gershwin, like DeBussy, found inspiration in the paintings of James McNeill Whistler (of Whistler's Mother fame).

A little net research reveals that Gershwin's compostion of Rhapsody in Blue was inspired by the sounds of a train ride he took from Connecticut to New York during the hasty five weeks he had to write the piece. According to a Wikipedia article about the piece, the title was originally called "American Rhapsody." "The title Rhapsody in Blue was suggested by Ira Gershwin after his visit to a gallery exhibition of James McNeill Whistler paintings, which bear titles such as Nocturne in Black and Gold and Arrangement in Gray and Black (better known as Whistler's Mother).[23] "

Whistler's paintings are ethereal. Impressionist art is like that. It hits you at gut level. The beauty is not in detail, but in shading, the interplay of light and shadow. And, in Whistler's case, reflection. Rhapsody in Blue is also like that. From the clarinet glissando that opens the piece, Rhapsody in Blue doesn't ask you to contemplate the mathematical symmetry of the notes, but to roll along with the trill and bustle of its accessible themes. Its moods are simple. Its melodies hummable. It is high art that can be appreciated by a mass audience.

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