Gershwin – Three Preludes
George Gershwin was the son of Jewish immigrants from St. Petersburg. By the time his first song was published in 1916 he had, due to his father’s various business enterprises, lived in 28 different residences. George had an enlightened piano teacher called Charles Hambitzer who recognised genius in the boy and would accept no fee. He composed his first songs around the age of fourteen and his first job at the age of fifteen playing piano for a music publisher in Tin Pan Alley was for $15 a week. Later, his songs were written for Tin Pan Alley and then for the more up-market Broadway stage. Gershwin’s first big success came with Swannee.
Gershwin had always wanted to be thought a “respectable” composer; he considered the likes of Ravel, Nadia Boulanger, Varèse, Shönberg and Bloch as teachers, but never actually had lessons from them. This desire lead to the amalgam of serious and popular genres with the composition of Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and Piano Concerto in F (1925). For this latter he supposedly had to find out what a “concerto” actually was and then go and buy Forsyth’s book on Orchestration.
The Three Preludes which were published in 1927. Charles Schwarz, Gershwin’s biographer, describes them as “world favourites, highly popular…for their sensitive, attractive qualities”. They have appeared in various transcriptions, including for orchestra. For this version, the original keys have been kept, out of consideration for pianists who may have already learnt the originals. The outer movements, great for high notes, are flashy and rhythmic, whilst the lovely middle Prelude is slow and lyrical.