GEORGE GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
An American in Paris (1928)
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic this delightful ballet started life while Gershwin was enjoying the heady atmosphere of 1920s Paris; he completed it in New York. He had come a long way from his Russian immigrant roots. His parents changed young George’s life when they bought him an upright piano and lessons to go with it. At age 16 he sought his fortune in Tin Pan Alley, and burst onto the scene in 1920 with the song “Swanee,” recorded by Al Jolson. He taught himself orchestration and collaborated with his older brother Ira on many famous American songs. The composer also went on to create several beloved American concert hall classics: Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and the present An American in Paris. Gershwin wrote at length about his delightful “rhapsodic ballet,” which was choreographed and danced memorably by Gene Kelly in the 1951 movie of the same name. He said, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” When the piece kicks into a bluesy style, the composer continues, “our American friend ... has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness.” But ultimately, the American visitor “once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life.” Listen for the characteristic French car horns as you imagine yourself ambling along Parisian boulevards.