This week’s music is “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin.
George Gershwin is one of the household names of American classical music, but not in the same way as Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein. Instead, Gershwin is famous for blending jazz and classical into a unique style that, in many ways, came to define the roaring twenties.
“An American in Paris” was inspired by Gershwin’s 1926 trip to Paris and, in particular, the sound of taxi horns on the Paris boulevards. Gershwin called the piece a “rhapsodic ballet,” though it was not adapted for the ballet stage until Gene Kelly’s Academy Award-winning ballet arrangement in 1951. Gershwin offers the listener a kaleidoscope of musical impressions, starting with a light-hearted strolling melody that gets interrupted by a honking taxi horn. There is a busy street shopping escapade featuring the violins, then a bluesy melody in the woodwinds, followed by a sassy trumpet fanfare that overlays the original “taxi horn” motif. Listen for the violin and tuba solos near the end of the piece (a bizarre pairing only Gershwin could pull off) and the return of the original strolling melody (with a twist!) at the end.