Henry Doktorski
Organist Accordionist Composer Conductor Author Educator
The Accordion and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue has been performed by many great accordionists.

Mario Perry -- born to Italian parents on June 19, 1900 -- was one of the violinists in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, but he also frequently doubled on accordion, as seen in this undated photograph. In addition, he played in the "Palace Trio" and made several records for various companies such as Victor, Brunswick, Pathé and others. Perry died in a car accident in 1929.

The legendary American concert accordionist, Anthony Galla-Rini (b. 1904) said, "The Rhapsody was (and still is) extremely popular among accordionists; I began playing it myself soon after the first piano and orchestral reduction score was published."

The Rhapsody was performed in dozens of recitals by other virtuoso accordionists. Accordion World magazine listed performances by artists such as Anthony Galla-Rini (October 1936), Frank Gaviani (Zordon Hall in Boston, October 1936), Andy Arcari (Musician's Hall in Philadelphia, April 1937 and Rivoli Theater in Toledo, April 1938) and Rosamund (Carpathia Park in Detroit, June 1938). Domenic and Anthony Mecca played their own duet version of the Rhapsody at the historic Charles Magnante Accordion Recital held at New York City's Carnegie Hall on April 18th, 1939.

Mort Herold (b. 1925) played the entire Rhapsody in recital at the Chicago Civic Opera House on November 15, 1947 to an audience of 3,500. Accordion World Magazine called the concert, "one of the year's outstanding accordion events."

Accordionists also recorded the Rhapsody, beginning with the duo of Basil Fomeen and Nick Hope on the Victor Record Company label in 1928. (The only other recording of the Rhapsody available at this time was the Victor two-record set of George Gershwin with the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra.)

Most accordion performances of the Rhapsody (including the recording by Fomeen and Hope) were abridged solo arrangements -- only the most popular sections were included -- but a few accordionists actually played the complete work with orchestra. Edwin Davison wrote in The Golden Age of the Accordion, "In 1939 Arthur Metzler [b. 1915] appeared in concert at Kimball Hall [in Chicago] where he played the complete 31 pages of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with a symphony orchestra under the direction of his teacher Andy Rizzo. The performance was a tremendous success."

Perhaps one of the greatest accordionist to perform the complete Rhapsody with orchestra was Cornell Smelser. Lester Sims wrote in the February 1938 issue of Accordion World, "I met Cornell Smelser (a truly great genius) many times, and heard him play. He once played Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in its entirety [italics by Sims] on the accordion; something I doubt any living accordionist has ever attempted."

C. Hilding Berquist expressed his appreciation of Smelser in the July 1947 issue of Accordion World, "Probably the first time in radio history of an accordionist's appearance with an outstanding orchestra occurred on the evening of April 20, 1931 (16 years ago) when Cornell Smelser played the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin in its entirety on the Gold Medal Fast Freight Program over WJZ and the NBC national network, accompanied by the Ohman-Arden Orchestra of some 40 musicians.

"Of special note was the fact that Cornell was the only accordionist given permission by Gershwin himself to play it over the ether. Also, the only other musicians permitted to broadcast it at that time was Paul Whiteman's Orchestra and the organist Jesse Crawford, with Gershwin himself at the piano."

Berquist wrote later in the July 1950 issue of Accordion World, "Cornell Smelser was born on August 7th, 1902, in Budapest, Hungary. Piano was his original instrument and he received his musical education at the Conservatory of Music in Budapest. . . He came to New York in 1920.

"First appearing as an accordionist on the jazz scene somewhere in the late 1920's, he blazed across the jazz firmament like a meteor, only to vanish -- in mid-1931 -- as quickly as he had first appeared. . . This is because . . . illness, tuberculosis, . . . prevented continuance of his career."

Doktorski's recording with the Duquesne Chamber Players is the very first recording of the complete unabridged Rhapsody with accordion and chamber orchestra.

From "The Accordion and Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue," by Henry Doktorski,
published in Music Theory: Explorations and Applications.

Listen to excerpts from this CD
Sound File Page

Back to Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue CD

Back to The Homepage of Henry Doktorski