Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #13 Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

George Gershwin comes in at #13 on my Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical with his classical/jazz hybrid, Rhapsody in Blue. I know this piece has been overplayed, some say overhyped, known by most everyone, but when you can take all that and shove it aside, listen to the music itself, listen to the beautiful harmonies, my goodness is this a masterpiece. 

In 1924, George and his brother Ira were busy writing Tin Pan Alley musicals, nothing so grand as a full concerto. In fact, when it came around to composing this piece, Gershwin originally had in mind a full concerto, at least three movements. But as noted in this program note for Rhapsody in Blue at the San Francisco Symphony ( the timetable for the Rhapsody had to be moved up. Essentially two competing bands were going to do similar concerts, and Paul Whiteman wanted to be first. He commissioned both George and Ira and others for a concert infusing jazz and classical. Because George did not have enough time to create a full 3 movement concerto, he offered to create a more free form style, a, shall we call it a Rhapsody. 🙂 

Gershwin notes: “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.”

As a saxophonist, I love more saxophone and jazz music mixed into classical. There’s just such a richness of color and flavor. I’m currently working on my first symphony and the third movement is all jazz. It’s pretty cool sounding. 

Back in high school, we played Rhapsody in Blue at one of our concerts. I played the tenor saxophone. It was such a fun piece to play. And a good example of a recent recording comes from Shelly Berg, a great jazz pianist. He made a recording of the Rhapsody intermixing jazz trio cadenzas throughout and it is amazing how well it flows with the rest of the piece. Here it is live. Enjoy!

#13 – Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

#14 – Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551

#15 – Coltrane My Favorite Things

#16 – Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

#17 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss SalomĂ©

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Jobim Girl From Ipanema

Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra

Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944

Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Schubert String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die WalkĂĽre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi AĂŻda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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