Monday, May 16, 2011

An American in Paris - Gershwin

This is one of three pieces that will be performed on the May 22 GDYO Season Finale concert.
An American in Paris
George Gershwin
Born on September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York
Died on July 11, 1937 in Hollywood, California

In 1951, one film stole the show with 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Musical Score, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film was An American in Paris, a groundbreaking MGM musical film inspired by the orchestral composition of the same name written by George Gershwin more than two decades earlier. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant, and scored entirely with Gershwin’s music, the film followed an American World War II veteran-turned-expatriate and his friend, a struggling concert pianist, around the streets of Paris as they embarked on various escapades and became entangled in different love triangles. The movie’s success echoed that of Gershwin’s original composition, which the composer had written in 1928: the piece quickly became a favorite in the classical repertoire. Today, as a classical trademark for Gershwin, An American in Paris comes second in popularity only to Rhapsody in Blue.
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, An American in Paris is based on the sights, sounds, and moods of the French capital, which Gershwin had visited in early 1928. Deems Taylor, the 1920s composer and critic, stated Gershwin’s intention in his program notes for the premiere of the piece:
You are to imagine an American visiting Paris, swinging down the Champs-Elysées on a mild sunny morning in May or June. …Our American’s ears being open as well as his eyes, he notes with pleasure the sounds of the city. French taxicabs seem to amuse him particularly.
Gershwin was so amused by those “French taxicabs” that he brought back Parisian taxi horns for the December 13, 1928 premiere, which was played in Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Gershwin had already enjoyed considerable success as a celebrated Broadway songwriter and composer of many hit Broadway shows. His concert works Rhapsody in Blue and his Piano Concerto in F had enhanced his reputation. An American in Paris was groundbreaking in that it combined jazz—the use of saxophone and unconventional instruments like the taxi horns to evoke the feeling of the bustling La Ville-Lumiére (“The City of Light”)—and “serious music”—those unconventional elements embedded into a traditional symphony orchestra—into one symphonic piece.
Reviews were mixed. While many critics acclaimed Gershwin for bringing the vitality and dynamism of jazz onto the serious classical-music stage, others were not so thrilled with the composer’s avant-garde style. Regardless, An American in Paris proved a great success with the public and helped cement Gershwin’s position as one of the greatest composers of the day. Tonight, the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra will take you on an animated jaunt through the streets of the French Capital. As Taylor noted, “It will be great to get home; but meanwhile, this is Paris!”

Instrumentation: An American in Paris is scored for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, triangle, wood block, cymbals, low and high tom-toms, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta, 4 taxi horns, alto saxophone and soprano saxophone/alto saxophone, tenor saxophone/alto saxophone, baritone saxophone/alto saxophone, and strings.
Vivian Ludford, Cello

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