In 1930, George Gershwin, together with his brother Ira Gershwin, was invited to go to Hollywood to provide the music for the film Delicious. He spent seven weeks on the score but only to find that four songs (Blah, Blah, Blah; Delishious; Katinkitschka; Somebody from Somewhere), a "Dream Sequence" and one minute from a six-minute orchestral sequence named as New York Rhapsody would be incorporated in the film.
When he went back to New York in February 1931, he had decided to use the material from the six-minute sequence to work into a concert piece and had sketched some of it. He completed the fourteen-minute piece by May. The new work was titled Rhapsody in Rivets during his sketching, but later he could not decide between New York Rhapsody and Manhattan Rhapsody. He settled on Second Rhapsody.
The piece received its première in Boston Symphony Hall by Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky on 29 January 1932, with the composer himself playing the piano part. The New York première was given a few days later.
The form most commonly heard today is a re-orchestrated version by Robert McBride, assigned by Frank Campbell-Watson, the music editor for Gershwin's publisher New World Music; most of Gershwin's orchestrations have been simplified. Also, eight measures not by the composer were added to the recapitulation. Michael Tilson Thomas has been a promulgator of Gershwin's original version, as he sought out the original manuscript in the library as the basis of his 1985 recording and for his later performances.