George Gershwin: Preludes, transcribed by Jascha Heifetz
George Gershwin; born Jacob Gershwin (1898–1937) was an American composer and pianist, whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs Swanee (1919) and Fascinating Rhythm (1924), the jazz standards Embraceable You (1928) and I Got Rhythm (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935), which gave birth to the hit Summertime. Three Preludes are short piano pieces by George Gershwin, which were first performed by the composer at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1926. Each prelude is a well-known example of early-20th-century American classical music, as influenced by jazz. In 1942 Jascha Hiefetz arranged the prelude for violin and piano. Heifetz, (1901–1987) was a Russian-American violinist. Born in Vilna (Vilnius), he moved as a teenager to the United States, where his Carnegie Hall debut was rapturously received. He was a virtuoso since childhood—Fritz Kreisler, another leading violinist of the twentieth century, said on hearing Heifetz's debut, "We might as well take our fiddles and break them across our knees."[He had a long and successful performing career. However, after an injury to his right (bowing) arm, he switched his focus to teaching and had a distinguished career at the University of Southern California. The second and third preludes are featured in this performance.
The second Prelude, in C-sharp minor, also has the distinct flavor of jazz. The piece begins with a subdued melody winding its way above a smooth, steady bassline. The harmonies and melodies of this piece are built on thirds, emphasizing both the interval of the seventh and the major/minor duality of the blues scale. In the second section, the key, tempo, and thematic material all change; only the similarity of style binds the two sections together. The opening melody and bass return in the final section, more succinct but otherwise unchanged, and the piece ends with a slow ascent of the keyboard. Gershwin himself referred to the piece as "a sort of blues lullaby."
Gershwin himself called the Prelude in E-flat minor "Spanish", but modern ears may find the description puzzling. After a brief and dramatic introduction, the main theme is revealed: two melodies that together form a question-and-answer pair. This theme is used throughout to provide harmonic structure. The "question" is harmonized using E-flat minor chords, the "answer" by E-flat major chords. After a brief, highly syncopated middle section, the melodic pair returns assertively in octaves, causing a battle between major and minor. Major wins, and the piece concludes with a flourish.