American in Paris

Hello all,

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.

Enjoy!

T

Libera Me

Hello all,

Our music for this week is Libera Me from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.

Gabriel Faure was a popular French composer in the late 19th century who composed many small-scale works for solo piano and gained international renown as a piano pedagogue. His most famous pupil is a composer that we hear from quite regularly here at TWM: Maurice Ravel.

As a professor at the Paris Conservatory, Faure’s musical style was substantially influenced by the French music of his time. For instance, if you listen to the earlier portions of this Requiem, you will hear harmonic textures that sound like they could have been written by Debussy.

Unlike the other monumental choral works of his time, Faure’s Requiem is relatively soft-spoken. Where Brahms’ Requiem and Verdi’s Requiem raise the roof with their staggering volume, Faure’s Requiem is more likely to inspire reflection through its subtlety. He wrote of the work, “Everything . . . is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.”

The Libera Me is a perfect example of this meditative aspect of Faure’s music. It opens with a mournful solo that introduces the primary theme. The rhythmic foundation of the pizzicato strings provides momentum and tension. The choir then merges into a layered exploration of the thematic material provided by the opening solo, rising to a dramatic peak complete with winds and brass. The initial melody returns at the end of the piece, accompanied again by the pizzicato strings. However, this time it is sung by the whole choir rather than a solo voice, which creates a spine-tingling atmosphere of power and intensity. Then, just as soon as it appeared, the choir fades into the background and we are left with the same solo voice that we started with, a reminder of the introspective beauty of Faure’s “eternal rest.”

Enjoy!

T