George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" Turns 90

In honor of "Rhapsody In Blue, George Gershwin's monumental 1924 orchestral piece, turning 90, we talk to local engineer and classial radio host, Don Maue.

Ninety years ago, on January 7th, 1924, George Gershwin began writing Rhapsody in Blue, a musical composition often revered as the piece which formed American music. We asked Don Maue to speak with Cindy Howes of the Morning Mix in WYEP studios on behalf Gershwin’s musical influence. Maue is a Pittsburgh producer, engineer, professor at Duquesne University and a classical radio host.

In 1924, music was popularized through live performances instead of through radio broadcasts. “The kind of music that people liked and the kind of music that George Gershwin was involved in making was popular show music. Kind of what we think of as Broadway musical,” says Maue.

Gershwin originated as mostly a professional pianist who played sheet music to pitch popular tunes, but was also a self-taught composer. At this time, jazz had yet to be an existent music genre in New York, and hadn’t sprung up until 1915.

Paul Whiteman, who can be characterized as the Elvis Presley, or the Kanye West, of the early 20th century, had the goal of creating a concert which introduced New York audiences to jazz music, and nearly forced Gershwin to write this rhapsody for him in just a few short weeks.  An Experiment in Modern Music, skillfully named, was expected to yield audience members of the most prominent musicians of the time like John Phillip Sousa.

Rhapsody in Blue’s clarinet glissando introduction is arguably one of the most memorable pieces in music, comparable to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. It was influenced by life in New Orleans and Chicago; completely American, shedding light on the life of Americans in the city.

We welcome you to join us in celebrating the 90th anniversary of this groundbreaking piece, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin.