Transnational Research Associates

Concerto in F, "An American in Paris"

George Gershwin

Turner/Rhino CD

Oscar Levant, Pianist / MGM Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johnny Green (Remastered from Original Sound Track, 1951, On-Line Real Audio)

It would not be appropriate to exclude a famous American composer from my list of timeless, and potentially timeless, contributors to the world of music. Although George Gershwin did not pass away 250 years ago as did J.S. Bach, and the range and caliber of his music are not comparable to the great classic composers of the 18th Century, along with Ives, Stravinsky, and Poulenc, George Gershwin ranks high in the estimation of musicologists.

The original film, An American in Paris, made in 1951, included 47 different tunes and melodies, several of which were medleys and outtakes. However, the most identifiably classic piece, standing in stark contrast to the popular lyrical songs included in the film, is Concerto in F, which also bears the flagship title of the film. This piece is only about 4 and a half minutes long, but contains such strong melodic lines and memorable passages, it is repeatedly played – and most respectably – in some of the most elegant settings in the both the Old and New World.

Concerto in F creates an impression of dissonance and cacophony, replicating the sounds of the hustle and bustle of Paris. Cars dash everywhere at once, as pedestrians seem to dodge them musically. In the mid-section of this piece there is a lapse into the ‘bluesiness’ of the old American South, as the "American in Paris", an ex-serviceman trying to earn a living as an artist, seems to take a leisurely walk though town.

In this highly praised centerpiece for the film, Gershwin seems to incorporate all of the elements of Americana, but does so as perhaps a European would view them. Indeed, there is some evidence that Poulenc influenced Gershwin in the creative process and may have imparted, to some extent, this external perspective to the music. It is fair to say that this typically American music, passing for 'classic' in the broad sense, contains many inspired elements of contemporary European music, and yet is original and fresh in the American sense. Indeed, Concerto in F forms the core of one of the most famous American musical creations of the post-war era, and is recognized half a century later as both ingenious and beautiful.

-- Art Madsen, M.Ed.

Background Info and Real Audio Internet Sites Consulted