THE PIANO CONCERTO IN F was originally intended to be titled “New York Concerto”, as it was composed for the conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Walter Damrosch. Damrosch had been present at the February 12th , 1924 concert arranged and conducted by Paul Whiteman at Aeolian Hall in New York City titled An Experiment in Modern Music which became famous for the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in which the composer performed the piano solo. The day after the concert, Damrosch contacted Gershwin to commission from him a full-scale piano concerto for the New York Symphony Orchestra, closer in form to a classical concerto. Gershwin undertook to study various examples of the piano concerto by classical and contemporary composers, but, busy at the same time working on three different musicals for Broadway, he did not manage to sketch ideas until May 1925, after his trip to London. The work was completed on November 10th that same year, and for the first time he did the orchestration himself and hired an orchestra of 55 musicians to perform his work at the Globe Theatre.
Premiered on December 3rd 1925 at Carnegie Hall, Gershwin played the concerto with the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch. Audiences applauded the work; however, the reviews were mixed, with many critics unable to classify it jazz or classical music. Igor Stravinsky considered it brilliant, while Prokofiev did not like it. Either way, the work revealed a serious development in Gershwin’s compositional technique, especially with the original orchestration, much admired by the great English composer William Walton. Not only has the concerto made its way into the repertoire of major contemporary performers, but excerpts from it have also found their way into film productions. In his own words Gershwin wrote a description of the concerto: The first movement employs the Charleston rhythm. It is quick and pulsating, representing the young enthusiastic spirit of American life. It begins with a rhythmic motif given out by the kettle drums…. The principal theme is announced by the bassoon. Later, a second theme is introduced by the piano. The second movement has a poetic, nocturnal atmosphere which has come to be referred to as the American blues, but in a purer form than that in which they are usually treated. The final movement reverts to the style of the first. It is an orgy of rhythms, starting violently and keeping to the same pace throughout.