Sounds of the City: Rhapsody in Blue

This is the first in a collection of posts about music that is either representative of or explicitly about cities. 

Introduced to the world in 1924, Rhapsody in Blue remains one of the most import pieces of music in the American cultural canon. It “took jazz off the street, dressed it up, and brought it to the concert hall.” Composer George Gershwin produced a piece of music that is incredibly representative of the American experience. This includes the melting of cultures, a broad embrace of jazz, and the powerful draw of the big city.


Rhapsody in Blue, written on a train from New York City to Boston and inspired by the rhythmic motion of rail travel, just sounds like an urban piece. The appropriation of jazz and dance music elements, the way the music rolls together evokes by its very nature the chaos of big cities: the crowds, movements, coincidence, and possibility.

The piece captures the emotions that come with city life beautifully: Living in a city can be exhausting and the draw of the city is historically rooted in the pursuit of opportunity, which too frequently comes with failure. But ultimately cities are incredibly energized exciting places where we can dream and find opportunity, even in ways unexpected. While the piece honestly evokes the ups and downs of city life, it really seems to applaud what the city is and should be–a place for people. Rhapsody in Blue brings a humanity to the city I think is often overlooked.

Rhapsody in Blue is, to me at least, what the city sounds like.

The drama, energy, joys and sorrows, and ultimately hope that cities give us is all there.