Rhapsody In Blue — animated graphical score

Composed by George Gershwin
Scored by Ferde Grofé
Performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra
Animated graphical score by Stephen Malinowski ← VIDEO
Historical/background/reference/educational materials for Rhapsody in Blue


(overview of graphical score)

George Gershwin started composing Rhapsody In Blue on January 7th, 1924,
and on January 25th Ferde Grofé started orchestrating it for Paul Whiteman's
ensemble in time for a concert on February 12th.

For the recording made later that year, a lot of the piece was cut, but while
subsequent versions of the orchestration are richer, and later recordings are
more complete and more polished, the first time I heard the 1924 original, it was
instantly my favorite, and it's what I'm using in my animated graphical score.



(label of 1924 original 78 RPM phonograph record)

Is the animated graphical score accurate?

In a word, no.

Before I started working on the animation, I had several versions of the score,
including ones for solo piano, piano duet, and full orchestra (with added saxophones),
but none of them matched the 1924 recording.

When I found a facsimile edition of the "Original Jazz Band Version" for sale at
Sheet Music Plus, I thought my problems were solved, but that was overly optimistic.
Here's a typical page from the facsimile ...

In addition to it being only marginally legible,
and not reflecting the cuts made for the 1924 recording,
there are other places ways that it doesn't quite match.

I hoped that the version for full orchestra would be more helpful,
but it turned out to be even less like the recording than the others.

In the end, I took the two-piano score as a starting point, from which
I added, removed and changed things to match what I was hearing,
using the facsimile for hints.

The result is that my animated graphical score is only a rough approximation.

After I'd nearly completed the first version of the animation, I learned that a new
edition of the piece
had been produced as part of the University of Michigan's
Gershwin Initiative. What to do? Start over? In the end, I decided to use the
new edition to help fill in a few details and correct a few mistakes, but to otherwise
publish the first version as-is. Maybe in the future I'll make a second version,
based completely on the new edition.

What do the color/shapes mean?

I'm using color to show pitch class (C, C#, D, ... B) using a system I call
harmonic coloring because it reveals changes in harmony and tonality
(described further on this page).

I usually assign the blue to the home key (tonic), which in this piece is B-flat,
so the score is also "in blue" (though, as you can see in the overview at the top
of this page, the piece is only solidly in the home key at the beginning and end.)

I sometimes use shape to indicate instrument, but in this case, I wasn't always
sure which instruments were playing which notes, so many of the shapes only
reflect my guesses, and in some cases they indicate nothing at all. The
exceptions are the notes of the piano, violin, bells, and crash cymbal,
which are consistent throughout.

That said, there are some conventions that I tend to follow. The brass instruments
are often ellipses, the clarinets are often octagons (which look pretty much
like rectangles), and the saxophones are often rhombi.

Other graphical conventions

In addition to conventions I employ all the time, this animation uses:

  • mouth shapes for the notes that imitate the human voice
  • a glissando effect for the portamento notes in clarinet, trumpet, and trombone
  • time stretching to emphasize syncopated notes (shown as equal length until sounding)
  • fake notes (that disappear when they arrive at the now position)
  • Comparison (first 4 measures: full score, graphical score, piano solo)





    Historical / background / reference / educational materials for Rhapsody in Blue

    Rhapsody in Blue Listening Guide by Judy Meyer Hays is suitable for all ages

    Rhapsody in Blue Wikipedia page

    Rhapsody in Blue new (2018) critical edition of the jazz band arrangement used in 1924 recording,
    edited by Ryan Paul Bañagale. This is a rental score, but there's an online preview of the publication
    that includes lots of background material, including performance notes, photographs, facsimiles of
    pages from the original manuscripts, and analysis.

    Rhapsody in Blue Score Reduction and Analysis is an excellent guide to the (first part of the) piece from a music theory perspective.


    — Stephen Malinowski, June 12, 2022