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The recorded afterlife of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'

  • Senate House, Room 261 Malet Street London, WC1E United Kingdom (map)

Catherine Tackley (Open University)

Research exploring the authenticity of and contradictions between the existent manuscripts and publications of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has exposed the lack of an obvious Urtext in notated form. This is perhaps not surprising, given Gershwin’s background and working practices. However, recordings of the work (including four with Gershwin at the piano), which preserve details of the work and influence (as well as document) performative approaches, have not yet been subject to the same degree of critical scrutiny. Rhapsody in Blue has a particularly rich recorded history: in addition to recordings of Ferde Grofé’s various orchestrations, there are arrangements which adhere to the stylistic conventions of particular genres, including jazz, progressive rock and easy listening, and also cross freely between them. Musical material from the work has also been used prolifically and influentially in film soundtracks. This paper evaluates the afterlife of Rhapsody in Blue by exploring its performance history and practices based on analysis of more than 400 recordings. I will focus on the famous ‘Andantino moderato’ theme, which, as David Schiff points out in his Cambridge Music Handbook, ‘is never played as written’.

Catherine Tackley is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Music Department at The Open University. She has written two monographs; The Evolution of Jazz in Britain 1880-1935 (Ashgate, 2005) and Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Oxford University Press, 2012). Catherine Tackley was co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project ‘What is Black British Jazz?’ in 2009-11; some of this work is published by Ashgate in a volume entitled Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance (2014), which she also co-edited. From 2012 to 2014 she was Principal Investigator of the AHRC Research Networking project ‘Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns’, and she continues to develop work on music and the sea, with particular reference to Britain and the Atlantic. Catherine Tackley is a co-editor of the Jazz Research Journal. She is currently Musical Director of Dr Jazz and the Cheshire Cats Big Band.

Part of the CMPS/IMR Performance/Research Series