"Bisaccia's performance of Gershwin couldn't be righter. It is all good fun and good music." Edward Jablonski, eminent Gershwin scholar and biographer.
George Gershwin's complete music for piano solo is a diverse collection of original piano pieces and the set of 18 original song transcriptions known as The Gershwin Songbook. His
tragically short life resulted in fewer examples than one would like of his unique and original piano style. (The published solo piano compositions and arrangements take up only about 70 minutes.) For such an important American master it makes sense to give scrutiny to some of these gems that have been, until now, ignored by serious musicians.
The most extended and well known of these pieces is, of course, Rhapsody in Blue and a certain amount of luck was involved in its creation. It all began with Paul Whiteman, the band leader, casually asking Gershwin to write something for a concert that Whiteman was calling "An Experiment in Modern Music." Gershwin said he was interested in the project, but promptly forgot about it as the Boston opening approached for "Sweet Little Devil," his latest show. George was reminded of the informal discussions he had with Whiteman when Ira Gershwin spotted an article in the January 4, 1924 New York Herald Tribune announcing that George was writing a Jazz Concerto to be premiered on February 12th at Aeolian Hall. Of course there wasn't enough time to write a full length concerto, so George decided to write a one-movement work. He quickly sketched out a two piano version and handed it page by page to Ferde Grofe, the arranger for the Paul Whiteman band, who then made the orchestrations. Ira actually came up with the title "Rhapsody in Blue" after viewing an exhibition of paintings by Whistler with colorful titles. Due to the huge success of the work Gershwin issued his two-piano version, and then later the seldom played solo piano version contained on this disc.
In 1926 Gershwin published Three Preludes. These three works form a perfectly balanced suite. Preludes one and three are both marked Allegro ben ritmato e deciso. Prelude Two was once described by Gershwin as a "Blue Lullaby." This music reveals Gershwin at the height of his powers as a composer of piano miniatures.
"Two Waltzes in C" was written in 1933 (published in 1971) and served as an instrumental interlude in the show "Pardon my English." This piece was a favorite of Gershwin and his close friend Kay Swift, who often played it together in an arrangement for two pianos. The composition has four distinct parts: a short introduction, Waltz 1, Waltz 2, and then a delightful contrupuntal combination of both waltzes. Ira once envisioned publishing this piece as a "Wordless Operetta Suite": "His Waltz," "Her Waltz," and "Their Waltz." The suprise of this work is its obvious kinship to works of Debussy and Ravel. Gershwin had bought all the piano music of Debussy while he was in Paris. He also met with Ravel and had even asked him for some composition lessons. Ravel's supposed reply was "Why should you study with me and become a second rate Ravel when you are already a first rate Gershwin?"
Rialto Ripples was a piano rag published in 1917 that reflects, even at this early stage, Gershwin's tricky piano style - he was still a teenager. Coincidentally 1917 is the year that Scott Joplin "the King of Ragtime" died. Merry Andrew was written as a "Comedy Dance" circa 1928 and published in 1974. The tiny "Three-Quarter Blues" was also published in 1974. "Promenade" was the instrumental interlude composed for the movie "Shall We Dance" with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was written in 1936 and published in 1960.
The title for this musical interlude in the movie is actually "Walking the Dog" - a sequence where Fred Astaire walks his dog in an attempt to meet up with Ginger Rogers.
The George Gershwin Songbook contains 18 of Gershwin's own piano arrangements of his songs. Written in 1932. this set of pieces highlights Gershwin's idiosyncratic way of playing the piano. Gershwin himself wrote an introduction to these piano transcriptions and it is illuminating. "Playing my songs as frequently as I do at private parties, I have been narurally led to compose various variations on them, and to indulge the desire for complication and variety that every composer feels when he manipulates the same material over and over again. It was this habit of mine that led to the original suggestion to publish a group of songs not only in the simplified arrangements that the public knew, but also in the variations that I had devised." He further states that "The rhythms of American popular music are more or less brittle; they should be made to snap and at times to cackle. The more sharply the music is played, the more effective it sounds." Particularly satisfying are Gershwin's extended arrangements of "The Man I Love," "Liza," and "I Got Rhythm."
One hundred years after Gershwin's birth, the story of his legacy is still being written. Several of the pieces on this CD were only published (under Ira Gershwin's supervision) long after George's death and many musicians are completely unfamiliar with them. There are certainly more manuscripts that have yet to be brought before the public. The reason for the slowness to publication is not a mystery. Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart in their book "The Gerswhin Years" write "Ira's acute ear and high standards have kept him from carelessly releasing anything that George had not given final approval. Perhaps someday all these works will be available; meanwhile that they exist is assurance that the world has not heard its last new Gershwin song." Indeed since this CD was first issued in 1994 more "forgotten preludes" and ragtime have seen the light of day as well as a restored piano version of Gershwin's "Lullaby." These pieces have been recorded on my "Ragtime Lullabies" and "The Great American Piano Revisited" albums which are an addendum to this CD and a continuation of the legacy of Gershwin's Solo Piano Music.