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Work of the week – George Gershwin: Concerto in F

The success of his Rhapsody in Blue led the New York Symphony Society to commission a piano concerto from the young George Gershwin.

As Ferde Grofé had done the orchestration for Rhapsody, Concerto in F was Gershwin’s first attempt at orchestrating. Aware of his inexperience in this area, he hired an orchestra for the last phase of the compositional process in order to experiment with different orchestral sounds and textures.

Gershwin himself was the piano soloist at the world premiere of the concerto at Carnegie Hall New York in December 1925. The piece established Gershwin as one of the most important American composers of the 20th century.

George Gershwin‘s Concerto in F: American Jazz cloaked in a classical garment

Originally entitled New York Concerto, Gershwin eventually changed the title to the more generic Concerto in F for piano and orchestra, reflecting his conscious desire to write absolute music, as opposed to the program music he had previously written. The piece is structured as a traditional concerto in three movements: slow – fast – slow.

Gershwin created his own American musical style with his Concerto, mixing jazz, Broadway songs, dance rhythms and late romantic harmonies. The syncopated Charleston rhythm is present in the first movement (Allegro alla breve), from which the solo piano emerges with the first theme. These two ideas are connected in the second movement (Adagio – Andante con moto) in the piano solo-cadenza. This movement is often described as a “Blues-Nocturne” because of its stylistic features. The third movement is heavily influenced by jazz, with Gershwin describing it as an “orgy of rhythms, starting violently and keeping to the same pace throughout.”

Many persons had thought that the Rhapsody was only a happy accident… I went out to show them that there was plenty more where that came from. I made up my mind to compose a piece of “absolute” music. The Rhapsody, as its title implied, was a blues impression. The Concerto would be unrelated to any program. – George Gershwin

A performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F by the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach and soloist Tzimon Barto at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg will be given on 14 August.  Though this concert is now sold out, a public rehearsal of the program which includes Ravel’s La valse and Daphnis et Chloé, can be heard  in the ACO Thormannhalle Rendsburg on 13 August.