Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #4 Gershwin An American in Paris

At #4 on my Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical is George Gershwin with his wonderful An American in Paris. George Gershwin composed Tin Pan Alley musicals in the early teens and twenties of the 20th century. In 1924, he composed his Rhapsody in Blue, a tremendous, successful infusion of jazz and classical (and #13 on my list). Still, Gershwin felt he could learn more from the great teachers in Paris. He went to Paris to study with Maurice Ravel. Ravel politely turned him down, saying “Why be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?” Nadia Boulanger also turned him down, saying, “What could I give you that you haven’t already got?” I believe this had quite the effect on Gershwin, that his talents and understanding of music really was at his best already. So he took the polite rejections and breathed in the sounds of Paris to create this utterly fantastic masterpiece of musical sound. 

George described this composition as “the most modern music I’ve yet attempted.” From using musique concrète with the French taxi horns, to more jazz and getting further away from classical forms, this is his most modern piece. It is also an enduring piece of music because of the idea of Paris being an inspirational totem for all kinds of art. Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli created a whole movie based on this piece, winning Best Picture for their creativeness. 

I love what Gershwin has done to paint the colors of Parisian streets, buildings and atmosphere. He has several melodic ideas that he bounces back and forth as his Hero traverses the noisy, boisterous streets of Paris. At times the motion is so full the whole orchestra flies up and down the scales only to stop and pause for the beautiful rose spotted in the garden, to watch the dew slowly glisten its way down the petal. 

The whole, approximately 17 minutes of music is split up into three general parts, almost an ABA format. The second part is the slow, bluesy solo for trumpet with saxophones harmonizing in the background. The hero has entered the jazz club but yearns for his New York City home. See, this is the kind of music I wish to hear more of from orchestral music, the combining of jazz and classical. It’s such a rich, deep treasure trove of musical creation. 

Then the third part begins, back at exploring the sights and sounds of Paris and my favorite part. About a third of the way through the third part, a trumpet takes up an offbeat, upbeat melody leading to a climax with trombones and saxophones in gorgeous counterpoint, a lot like the great interplay between the trumpets, saxophones and trombones in Duke Ellington’s Tang from Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. That part brings me happiness every time I hear it, and it matters which recording you listen to, because unfortunately in some recordings, the balance is not right between the trumpets, trombones and saxophones, where the trumpets are completely muffled out. This moment is the climactic moment of An American in Paris, the cross play between these three jazz instruments. It has to be done right. 

My favorite recording is done by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic because they get that part right. So I’m going to recommend that recording here. 

I’m also going to recommend this recording from 1929 with George Gershwin playing the celeste himself in it. The quality is great. Enjoy!

#04 – Gershwin An American in Paris

#05 – Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

#06 – Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95

#07 – Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64

#08 – Ellington Afro-Eurasian Eclipse

#09 – Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade, Op. 35

#10 – Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture

#11 – Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22

#12 – Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps

#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 Salomé

#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

Wolfe Fire in my Mouth

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Glass Anthem, Pt. 2

Weber Der Freischütz

Coleman Lonely Woman

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

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 Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

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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