Back to all news stories

Cultural Collections

The way it was meant to be: George Gershwin's 'An American in Paris'

By Sydney Hawkins

George Gershwin (left), James Rosenberg, percussionist for Cincinnati Symphony (center), and tenor Richard Crooks (right), pose with taxi horns from "An American in Paris" on February 28, 1929. Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

ANN ARBOR—“An American in Paris,” a tone poem by George Gershwin that premiered in 1928 by the New York Philharmonic, is the first project of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition to be published by the University of Michigan and Schott Music Group.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of the long-awaited critical edition in September at Paris’ La Seine Musicale, revealing—for the first time in decades—the composer’s original intent for the work.

This critical edition was prepared by Mark Clague, director of the Gershwin Initiative and professor at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, who says that the most notable findings of the new edition of “An American in Paris” include the restoration of the original saxophone assignments to the orchestration and the identification of the original pitches for the score’s iconic taxi horns.  

Clague made national headlines last year when he announced his discovery that the taxi-horn pitches in the piece have been performed incorrectly for more than half a century. The horns, which have always been performed as the notes A, B, C and D, were instead meant to be more disparate pitches, mimicking the sound of cars on the street (A, B, C and D were actually just the labels given to specific horns in the original performance).

Test performances of the critical edition of “An American in Paris” took place in 2016 with U-M’s University Symphony Orchestra, with the Reno Philharmonic and with Anima Eterna in Brugge, Belgium.

There are two upcoming performances of the new Critical Edition by the San Francisco Symphony Nov. 10 and the National Symphony Orchestra Nov. 16.

The Gershwin Initiative, a partnership between U-M and the Gershwin family established in 2013, was created to restore the work of George and Ira Gershwin to its intended form, to elevate the study and international reputation of American music, and to bring new educational opportunities to Michigan students. The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and by private donations.

In February 2018, U-M’s University Musical Society and School of Music, Theatre & Dance will present a test performance of the critical edition of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” as part of the ongoing scholarly examination of Gershwin’s music.


Continue Reading