History of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue"
"Rhapsody in Blue" was commissioned by Paul Whiteman for a February 12, 1924, concert entitled "An Experiment in Modern Music," which took place in Aeolian Hall in New York City. The event has since become historic specifically because of its premiÃ¨re of the Rhapsody.
Whiteman had asked Gershwin if he wanted to write a "jazz-influenced concert piece" for the Aeolian Hall concert. Gershwin accepted, but forgot about the assignment. On January 3, 1924, George's brother, Ira, shocked him by showing him a story in the New York Tribune announcing that Gershwin was "at work on a Jazz concerto" to be premiered that February 12. He hastily set about composing a piece, and on a train journey to Boston, ideas of the concerto came to his mind.
Later, Gershwin wrote:
"It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattly-bang, that is so often stimulating to a composer. I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise... And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper, the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance."
In three weeks, "Rhapsody in Blue" was born. However, due to the lack of time, Gershwin did not write out the piano part, only the band parts. As a result, he improvised some of what he was playing. He didn't write out the piano part until after the performance--so we don't know what the original concerto really sounded like.