It’s easy to hear why Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is so popular. Aside from the distinctive flourishes – the opening clarinet glissando and the instantly recognizable tunes, its themes have been embedded in our popular culture. from countless quotes to its use as the United Airlines theme. Here’s a recording of Gershwin himself as piano soloist.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
The Second Rhapsody never found a place in the repertoire, despite a privileged birth. Is it because it’s a lesser piece? Its themes aren’t as distinctive? Or is it something else?
Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody
Why does one composer stay popular while another doesn’t? Why do we seek out even the most obscure scrap of music by Mozart, but ignore one of the most popular composers of his day – Salieri? Here are some excerpts from his Variations on La Follia di Spagna, a piece he wrote late in his career. It was an innovative work for its time in that it was a twist on the traditional variation form. Why is it not performed?
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Fashion of the Times
Composers go in and out of fashion all the time. JS Bach was the most famous composer of his day. But after he died, his music was neglected. It wasn’t until Mendelssohn organized a performance of the St. Matthew’s Passion that audiences rediscovered Bach’s work.
So how do you figure out what to listen to? For all we dismiss popularity, it is one way we establish value in our culture. It’s a way of sorting, of declaring that some things stand out above others. We live in the age of crowdsourcing, where everyone is a critic, where everyone has an opinion. Concurrently, we’re losing our professional critics who traditionally have helped us sort out value. Art doesn’t get power until an audience decides to do something with it. Is that “something” – the act of passing on what’s important, the new popularity?