2020 vision #5: Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

It’s only a few hours from the new year where I write this, but before I ring in the new year, and a new year’s worth of public domain material, I’d like to put in a request for what music to ring it in with: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which joins the public domain in the US as the clock strikes twelve, over 95 years after it was first performed.

The unofficial song for Public Domain Day 2019 turned out to be “Yes! We Have No Bananas”, one of the members of the first big class of US public domain works in the last 20 years.  That’s a fun novelty song, and certainly memorable, but not something I necessarily want to hear a lot.  In contrast, for me Rhapsody in Blue has a freshness that makes it a joy for me to hear repeatedly, right from the opening clarinet glissando (apparently the idea of clarinetist Ross Gorman, who took the scale that Gershwin had composed for the piece and gave it the bendy, slidy wail that tells you right away that this is no ordinary concert piece).  It’s brought together classical, popular, high-art and everyday music, as it’s been played and recorded countless times by jazz bands (the original scoring is for jazz band and piano), symphony orchestras, and pop musicans like Billy Joel.  Even its licensing as an theme tune for an airline hasn’t diminished it.

There’s lots of other work joining the public domain along with Gershwin’s tune.  I’ve only had a chance to mention a few others in my short series, but others have mentioned more works you may find of interest. At the Internet Archive’s blog, Elizabeth Townsend Gard writes about Vera Brittain’s Not without Honour and other 1924 works that will be in the public domain very soon.  Duke’s Public Domain Day 2020 post mentions various books, films, and musical compositions joining the public domain as well (and has more to say on Rhapsody in Blue).  Wikipedia’s various 1924 articles also mention various works that will either be joining the public domain, or becoming more clearly established there.  And Hathitrust will begin opening access to tens of thousands of scanned volumes from 1924 over the next few days.

I’ll have more to say on the new arrivals tomorrow, sometime after the midnight bells chime.  By tradition, the first tune played in the New Year is usually the public domain song “Auld Lang Syne”.  But after that, at your new years’ party or at a later Public Domain celebration, you might enjoy hearing or playing Gershwin’s new arrival in the public domain.



About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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