Gershwin – I Got Rhythm Variations
Gershwin – I Got Rhythm Variations

Throughout his life, the American composer George Gershwin sustained a nagging reputation as little more than a Tin Pan Alley song-spinner — a talented tunesmith, but little more.

But all along, his aspirations resided in the concert hall. In 1924, Gershwin was asked to write a concerto-like piece for piano and jazz band. Gershwin responded with what would become his most famous work, “Rhapsody in Blue.”

By 1834, Gershwin’s masterpiece was so well known that the composer was invited to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a concert tour. For the occasion, Gershwin crafted a smaller-scale piece built around one of his most popular songs, “I Got Rhythm,” from the musical “Girl Crazy.”

Structured in six variations, the work echoes many of the signature characteristics of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin gave descriptive names to each of the variations, giving a clear sense of the progression: first comes a “simple” version, followed by a “piano chromatic variation” with the melody carried now by the orchestra. The “rich melody” variation transposes the melody into waltz rhythm; then a “Chinese variation” highlights the pentatonic nature of the melody. A “modal variation” follows, and the piece concludes with a “hot variation” that unabashedly places the tune in its native jazz vocabulary.

Program notes provided by Joe Nickell

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