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An American in Paris

This article is about the Gershwin composition. For the 1951 musical starring Gene Kelly, see An American in Paris (film).
An American in Paris is a symphonic composition by American composer George Gershwin, composed in 1928. Inspired by time Gershwin had spent in Paris, it is in the form of an extended tone poem evoking the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920s. It is one of Gershwin's best-known compositions.

Gershwin composed the piece on commission from the New York Philharmonic. He also did the orchestration. (He did not orchestrate his musicals.) Gershwin scored An American in Paris for the standard instruments of the symphony orchestra plus celesta, saxophone, and automobile horns. Gershwin brought back some Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition which took place on December 13, 1928 in Carnegie Hall with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Gershwin collaborated on the original program notes with the critic and composer Deems Taylor, noting that: "My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere." When the tone poem moves into the blues, "our American friend ... has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness." But, "nostalgia is not a fatal disease." The American visitor "once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life" and "the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant."

Instrumentation

An American in Paris is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, low and high tom-toms, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta, 4 taxi horns, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, and strings.

Recordings

An American in Paris has been frequently recorded over the years. The very first recording was made for RCA Victor in 1929 with Nathaniel Shilkret conducting the Victor Symphony Orchestra, drawn from members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Gershwin was on hand to "supervise" the recording; however, Shilkret was reported to be in charge and eventually asked the composer to leave the recording studio. Then, a little later, Shilkret discovered there was no one to play the brief celesta solo during the slow section, so he hastily asked Gershwin if he might play the solo; Gershwin said he could and so he briefly participated in the actual recording. Later, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded the work for RCA Victor, including one of the first stereo recordings of the music. In 1945, Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra recorded the music in Carnegie Hall, one of the few commercial recordings Toscanini made of music by an American composer.

In 1951, MGM released a musical comedy, An American in Paris, featuring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Winner of numerous awards, including the 1951 Best Picture Oscar, the film was directed by Vincente Minnelli, featured many tunes of Gershwin, and concluded with an extensive, elaborate dance sequence built around Gershwin's symphonic poem (arranged for the film by Johnny Green).

A part of the symphonic composition is also featured in As Good as It Gets, released in 1997.

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