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."
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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