We might have been playing An American in Paris wrong for 70 years

An American in Paris is one of the most famous compositions written by George Gershwin and one of the most famous pieces in American music but, beware, we might have played it wrong all along!

Gershwin loved inserting non-canonical musical instruments in his compositions, from the Cuban clavés in Cuban Overture to the banjo in Rhapsody in Blue, and, in his symphonic poem An American in Paris, he employed the Taxi Horn to render the soundscape of the Ville Lumière as seen through the eyes of a Yankee.

The taxi horn, indeed, is now at the center of a “philological” debate regarding the score of An American in Paris, the New York Times reports: the notes that have been heard in concert halls and in the musical by the same name are, allegedly, not what Gershwin intended. This is what the upcoming critical edition from the University of Michigan is trying to prove.

Of course, Mark Clague, the editor of this critical edition expects musicians to be “put out by this whole conclusion,” as per The New York Times. In fact, while all sources agree that those notes are accented eights, the upcoming critical edition casts doubt on what was thought to be Gershwin’s original notation: we see circled letters A, B, C, D on the original manuscript next to the taxi horn part, and, ever since Toscanini directed the symphonic poem in 1945, those have been thought to be the pitches. The new critical edition, by contrast, claims that those letters merely indicated which horns to play: Gershwin personally picked taxi horns during a trip in Paris in 1928, and 1929 recording supervised by Gershwin himself features those taxi horns producing a dissonant sound (A flat, B flat, higher D, lower A).

Music experts, we need your opinion: have orchestras been playing Gershwin wrong for 70 years, since Toscanini established the standard of An American in Paris?


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