To me, George Gershwin is the American Schubert, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky. Just about everything he wrote has penetrated our hides so thoroughly that, like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, it becomes part of our musical subconscious. We spontaneously hum the music without a thought as to who composed it, or even that it was composed: it seems part of the native air. Others may have written better-built pieces, but no other American composer (not even Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland) has this quality. The Three Preludes (originally five) are basically jazz-oriented (or, if you prefer, pop-oriented) classical dances and songs for the piano. The first, snappy number, plays off a blue-note riff. The second, one of the marvels of solo piano literature, turns the same riff into a slow blues lullaby. The third, called "Spanish" by its early listeners, seems to blend Caribbean rhythms with jazzy harmonies. Wow!
Copyright © 1996 by Steven Schwartz.