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George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue: The Search for an American Sound

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue: The Search for an American Sound

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was one of the most emblematically American composers of the twentieth century.  An intuitive and inquisitive artist, he tapped into the pulse of the 1920s jazz age and created a range of works that straddled the boundary between “high” and “low” cultures. February 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of his most famous composition, Rhapsody in Blue, which captured the mechanistic pulse of modern life, with its soaring skyscrapers, roaring automobiles, and pulsating rhythms. In this multimedia presentation, Prof. Celenza tells the origin story of this iconic work, its ties to contemporary politics, and the profound effect it had on other American composers, most notably Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, James P. Johnson, William Grant Still, and Leonard Bernstein.

Lecturer: Anna Celenza

Anna Harwell Celenza is a professor at JHU, where she holds a joint appointment in The Writing Seminars (Krieger School of Arts & Sciences) and the Musicology Department (Peabody Institute). She is the author/editor of seven scholarly books, including Music and Human Flourishing (2023), The Cambridge Companion to Gershwin (2019), and Jazz Italian Style: from Its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra (2017). She has published numerous articles on a range of composers, from Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  Her newest book, On the Record: Music that Changed America, will be published by W. W. Norton in 2025. In addition to her scholarly work, Celenza is the author of eight award-winning children’s books, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. She currently writes and narrates thematic family concerts for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, including the BBC’s “Music Matters” and “Proms Broadcasts,” NPR’s Performance Today, and C-Span’s “Book-TV.” 

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George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue: The Search for an American Sound

Wed Mar 13
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
Hopkins Bloomberg Center