Listen & Do: Popular Versus Not

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?


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?


  1. I’m just a listener but in listening to the Gershwin 2nd Rhapsody I sort of got the impression of the Beethoven Leonore Overture compositional journey in reverse. That is I like all three but the 3rd is the best whereas with Gershwin the 1st is better than the 2nd.

  2. Guillermo Hinojosa says:

    I’m listening the 2nd rhapsody for the first time. It sounds like an imitation of the first. What would be the fate of the second if the first not existed?

  3. Listening to Rhapsody in Blue – I love this recording. The instruments have alot more color and personality than how I’ve heard it done before. The 2nd rhapsody seems like a different beast. Not as colorful and outgoing as the 1st one, but still has interesting bits, and I love that latin rhythm that comes in about 4 minutes in. I can see how it doesn’t capture the imagination as quickly as the first one.

  4. I suppose that the 2nd Rhapsody is a lesser piece and that its themes are less distinctive, but it is impossible to love such a plodding piece no matter what is right or wrong with it, after having had the experience of Rhapsody in Blue with that opening clarinet glissando. It doesn’t stale with repetition, either.

  5. I found Rhapsody in Blue very inviting. The sound seemed to encourage participation, i.e it is lively and energetic. The Second Rhapsody, on the other hand, seemed to be music I’d like to take touring with me. It is for solo travellers. It is vast but had moments when one could stop and linger and then off we go. I like both but they are very different, I think.

  6. The piece from Salieri begins in a very modern way, to my ears : this is a surprise ! and a very nice discovery too, thank you !

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