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An American in Paris Main Themes and Structure
Transcript of An American in Paris Main Themes and Structure
An American in Paris is often described as a tone poem. This form, developed in the nineteenth century usually refers to a large-scale composition for orchestra whose structure is based on a story, or ‘programme’, notable exponents of the form being Liszt and Richard Strauss. It implies a somewhat loose form, containing musical passages that are descriptive rather than developmental in nature. However, composers such as Sibelius proved that tone poems could be both descriptive and tightly structured.
An American in Paris is programmatic in a general way, with Gershwin himself stating, “As in my other orchestral
compositions, I’ve not endeavored to present any definite scenes[...] The rhapsody is programmatic
only in a general impressionistic way, so that the individual listener can read into the music such episodes
as his imagination pictures for him”. This absence of a programme is borne out by the music: the most that
can be inferred is that the first part of the work uses a French-influenced style of music and the second part a
predominantly American style.
The work is bound together mostly through its melodic material.
All of the material is based on memorable melodic ideas which are repeated, developed, combined and juxtaposed in different ways.
The work can be divided into two main parts (‘A’ and ‘B’) each with its own separate melodic material, and a coda that draws together material from both parts.
Section ‘A’ has five main themes (A1–5) and section B has two (B1–2). Some of these are used more often than others (notably A1, A4 and B1): A1 functions as a sort of rondo theme binding the whole piece together.
Other motives unify the piece and are often used for transitions:
‘x’, part of A1,
‘chro’, a chromatic idea,
‘arpegg’, an arpeggio idea,
and ‘osc’, an idea that oscillates between two notes.
There are also several ideas that appear as countermelodies or are heard between the phrases of a main theme, such as ‘sync’, which is heard several times in the ‘B’ section.