Gershwin’s OTHER Rhapsody?

George Gershwin is best known for Rhapsody in Blue, his 1924 composition in which he brilliantly fused the worlds of jazz and classical music in a way that had never been done before. Rhapsody in Blue is a piece that transformed my life when I discovered and played it as a young teenager, and its place in the annals of music history is undoubtedly secure. When you look at Rhapsody in Blue in the context of Gershwin’s short but complete life, it’s very much the work of a young Gershwin, a born melodist flexing his wings with an orchestra for the first time in his life (with the help of a more experienced orchestrator.)

But did you know that years later after An American in Paris, after the Concerto in F, that Gershwin actually composed a sequel, a Second Rhapsody, in 1931. It’s somewhat forgotten nowadays, and it has a bit of a checkered history, but it is vintage Gershwin. Most interestingly, it’s several years more mature than the maiden voyage that was the original Rhapsody. The Second Rhapsody began life as a montage scene for the film Delicious. It had early working titles of the Manhattan Rhapsody, the New York Rhapsody, or the Rhapsody in Rivets. It was only performed a few times in his lifetime, and then it was largely forgotten. Years later after his death, his publisher went back and reorchestrated the Second Rhapsody, making many revisions that weren’t quite in the spirit of what Gershwin had intended. This reorchestrated version is the version that most 20th century recordings used.

However we’re fortunate to have one historical recording of Gershwin himself performing the Second Rhapsody. In June 1931, Gershwin hired an entire orchestra in New York City to rehearse the Second Rhapsody so that he could hear the nuances of its orchestration. This recording survives and I’ve done some audio cleanup on it to make it as listenable as possible. The orchestra is sight reading the piece so the performance is not perfect, and there are a few errors here and there, but this is our fascinating opportunity to hear the Second Rhapsody as George Gershwin intended.

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