American In Paris

by George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin

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About the Composer

George Gershwin was born on September 26, 1898, in Brooklyn, New York to a close-knit Russian immigrant family and died on July 11, 1937, in Hollywood, California. In his youth, Gershwin veered away from academic studies and focused more on his musical interests, studying music theory and piano. At the age of sixteen, Gershwin dropped out of school and pursued his more creative side as a song-plugger in Tin Pan Alley; a district in New York where many different publishers specializing in popular songs were located from the 1880’s through the 1950’s.

During his early twenties, George Gershwin joined up with his brother and lyricist, Ira Gershwin, to produce a musical comedy titled “Lady Be Good”. It was the beginning of a blossoming partnership between the two brothers and together they collaborated and produced more musicals together including “Oh Kay!” and “Funny Face”. Even though Gershwin was gaining notice for his popular music for the stage, he wanted to secure his role as a serious composer and write music equally as popular as his musicals.

After countless hits on Broadway and a few jazz-influenced classical pieces in between, the year 1937 left the Gershwin brothers finding themselves in Hollywood. Gershwin later became ill while working on a film, leaving plans of a string quartet and a ballet untouched. Unfortunately, with his illness, these ideas were unwritten and Gershwin later died at the young age of 38 due to a brain tumor. His works and music live on and he remains one of America’s most beloved popular composers.


About this Piece

The spring of 1928 proved to be an inspirational season for George Gershwin. Before leaving for Europe with his family, Gershwin was commissioned to write a piece for the New York Symphony Society for a brand new orchestral work. While shopping around the streets of Paris, he became inspired by the everyday sounds and set to write a piece that embodied his time within the stimulating city. Gershwin eventually returned to New York and completed the work a month before the premiere.

A reporter at the time asked Gershwin about An American in Paris, he responded, “This new piece, really a rhapsodic ballet, is written very freely and is the most modern music I’ve yet attempted”. Gershwin mixed together his trademark innovative jazz rhythms, harmonies, and irreplaceable melodies to bring together a symphonic story for his audience.

An American in Paris was first performed at Carnegie Hall in New York on December 13, 1928, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society. The piece became an immediate hit with the public, and would eventually be as equally enjoyed in Paris as well.

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