Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue
Tippett's Four Ritual Dances
Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances
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Gershwin's beloved Rhapsody in Blue, inspired by the blues and jazz of the roaring twenties, established Gershwin’s reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular American concert works. Also on the program is Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, which features driving rhythms intermingling with lush, romantic melodies. Hear its three movements depicting everything from an austere march and eerie waltz to the final triumph over death.
Take a peek behind-the-scenes and experience a San Francisco Symphony performance in the making. It begins at 8:30am with coffee, doughnuts, and a half-hour informative talk at 9am. Then, watch as the conductor and musicians collaborate to bring the music to life.
Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage 1952 | 25 mins
Michael Tippett’s breakthrough to the operatic stage came with this three-act The Midsummer Marriage. Tippett drew on concepts and imagery he had grasped while undergoing Jungian self-analysis in 1938-39. He had already articulated his basic idea with the motto “I would know my shadow and my light, so shall I at last be whole.” Tippett turned the four dance rituals of his opera into the concert suite heard at these performances. He tightened each of the pieces from their original form, massaged the transitions between them, and surrounded the whole with a prelude and a shimmering postlude.
Rhapsody in Blue 1924/26 | 15 mins
Gershwin devoted about a month to writing Rhapsody in Blue, but it shared his schedule with other activities, including a trip to Boston. Gershwin recalled: “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattlety-bang that is often so stimulating to a composer. . . . And there I suddenly heard—and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end. . . . I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.” Gershwin notated the work’s opening as a low clarinet trill followed by a scale rising rapidly through seventeen notes. At a rehearsal, the premiere’s clarinetist Ross Gorman—perhaps as a joke—elided the notes into a sweeping ribbon of uninterrupted pitches, after which there was no turning back. LISTEN FOR: That opening glissando became an iconic sound of American music—listen for Principal Clarinet Carey Bell's exhilarating go at this famous lick! After that, Gershwin presents forthright thematic material: an oscillating bluesy tune, then a brazen march-like melody, finally a grandly romantic theme in the strings.
Symphonic Dances 1940 | 35 mins
In the 1920s and ‘30s, Sergei Rachmaninoff was a busy composer and conductor, but was chiefly a pianist—a very great one and immensely successful. But by the end of the ‘30s, he was suffering from growing fatigue, discouragement, worsening health, and anxiety from the pressures of balancing his three careers. In spite of this, he turned his attention back to composing during the summer of 1940. Given what we know of Rachmaninoff’s state of mind at the time, it is likely that he thought of the Symphonic Dances as his last composition. Today we revel in this glorious work’s sure mastery, originality, and force of expression. Not only did Rachmaninoff compose this score with singular eagerness and urgency; he also made in his music psychological and autobiographical statements whose specific meaning is enigmatic but which were of intense consequence to him. We see him then taking leave of his craft with a hymn of thanks and praise—a musical gesture, perhaps, that “Death shall be swallowed up in Victory.”
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.