Rare First Edition of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; Inscribed by Him

  • Rhapsody in Blue.
  • Rhapsody in Blue.

Rhapsody in Blue.

Item Number: 52034

1924.

First edition one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century. Inscribed by George Gershwin on the front cover, “For Isaac Goldberg, this Rhapsody and affection. George Gershwin. October 1929.” Quarto, original printed wrappers, back wrapper with advertisements for Gershwin’s “Tip, Toes,” and “Lady, Be, Good” (covers and title-page detached, marginal tears). In very good condition with some wear. Housed in a custom half leather clamshell box. First editions signed and inscribed by Gershwin are rare and desirable.

Rhapsody in Blue is a 1924 musical composition by American composer George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects. Commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman, the composition was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé several times, including the original 1924 scoring, "theater orchestra" setting published in 1926, and the symphony orchestra scoring published in 1942, though completed earlier. The piece received its premiere in the concert, An Experiment in Modern Music, which was held on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall, New York, by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano. The editors of the Cambridge Music Handbooks opined that "The Rhapsody in Blue (1924) established Gershwin's reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works" (Schiff). “It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet,” wrote The New York Times critic Olin Downes of the now-famous two-and-a-half-octave glissando that makes Rhapsody in Blue as instantly recognizable as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. “It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it…often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation.” The music critic of the New York Times was in agreement with Whiteman’s basic premise: “This is no mere dance-tune set for piano and other instruments,” he judged. “This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.”It may be true that George Gershwin had always hoped to transcend the category of popular music, but the piece he used to accomplish that feat was put together very hastily. Just five weeks prior to the “Experiment in Modern Music” concert, Gershwin had not committed to writing a piece for it, when his brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune stating that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program. Thus painted into a corner, George Gershwin pieced Rhapsody In Blue together as best he could in the time available, leaving his own piano part to be improvised during the world premiere. Rhapsody would, of course, come to be regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century. It would also open the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers—from Copland to Brecht—to draw on jazz elements in their own important works.

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