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A Harmonic Comparison Between :
George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”
Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”
Jessica Auxillos, Keanna Corley, Nicholle Nagaitis
George Gershwin
born on September 26, 1898 in Brooklyn,
New York
one of the most significant American
composers of the 20th century
known for popular stage and screen
numbers and classical compositions
left school at age 15 to pursue a musical
one of the most sought after musicians in
America, composed jazz, opera and
popular songs for stage and screen; many
of his works are now standards
began to experience troubling symptoms,
discovered he had developed a malignant
brain tumor, died at age 38 during
surgery to remove tumor
Synopsis of “An American in Paris”
“An American in Paris” is Gershwin’s most extended
cohesive orchestral work. In 1928, Gershwin went on a
social visit to Europe. There, he composed this tone poem
loosely based on his experiences in Europe. It premiered
on December 13, 1928 by the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra and was an instant success. It found its way into
the orchestral repertoire and was made into the score of a
1951 film.
Gershwin’s An American in Paris
● Diatonic harmony
any stepwise arrangement of the seven “natural” pitches (scale degrees) forming an
octave without altering the established pattern of a key or mode—in particular, the
major and natural minor scales.
● Enhanced with influences from 20th century
classical music and jazz.
Found in Gershwin’s Harmonic Writing
Augmented chords
‘Wrong note’ harmonies (unresolved dissonances)
„ Bitonality
Added-note harmonies (e.g. 6ths, 7ths, 9ths) „
Parallel movement
Major/minor chords (major/minor thirds)
Also to note in Gershwin’s Writing
● Always a very clear sense of key
● and changes throughout piece
○ Perfect cadences
■ meaning he doesn’t choose to stay in a key for
too long.
Gioachino Rossini
February 29, 1792 - November 13, 1868
Italian composer known for his operas
(The Barber of Seville, Cinderella,
Semiramide, and Petite messe Solennelle)
noted for his operas (comic operas)
spent entire childhood in theater
voice broke, unable to continue singing,
became an accompanist and then a
conductor, realized the importance of
the German school of composition
composed operas,choral music, chamber
music, piano pieces
went into semi-retirement, wrote little
for the rest of his life; broke this silence
only for two sacred choral works, Stabat
Mater (1842) and Petite Messe Solennelle
Synopsis of “Petite Messe Solennelle”
Rossini’s mass was very solemn, the last of his Péchés de
vieillesse (sins of old age). He dedicated it to the
Countess Louise Pillet-Will and given its first performance
at her private chapel in March 1864. Originally scored for
two pianos, harmonium and 12 solo voices. Irony of the
title: the use of the word ‘Petite’ in the work’s titlealthough the work is about 80 minutes long, he felt it was
somewhat lightweight in tone compared with major mass
settings of other composers.
Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solenelle”
● Harmonies ghost the Classical Period,
○ not so much the strong tonic-dominant
● Chords and progressions are similar with
○ passes through unexpected keys.
More of Rossini’s Harmonic Styling
Unusual sequences:
● number of repetitions of the sequential
○ above three is comparatively rare
● typically you would move from fourths or
fifths Rossini moves by thirds
Unusual Sequences
Rising by semitone,
Falling by semitone,
Rising by a tone,
Rising/falling a minor/major third
Rossini’s Harmonic Styling
● Repeating chords/ chord progressions with
chromatic alteration
Also found in his writing
„Diminished seventh chords
Half-diminished chords
Augmented sixth chords
Quoniam bar
„Augmented triads
„Dominant seventh chord
„Neapolitan harmonies
Qui Tollis
Major chords followed by minor and vice versa
What are some similarities and differences
between Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”
and Rossini's “Petite Messe Solennelle” in
terms of harmony?
diatonic harmony, but
enhanced with influences
from 20th century classical
music and jazz.
very clear sense of keycreated by strong perfect
cadences: new sections are
often preceded by the
dominant of the new key
parallel movement
Similarities between both
augmented chords
major/minor chords
typical of the Classical and
early Romantic period „
based on Classical period, but
often passes through
unexpected keys.
Unusual sequences,
repetitions of the sequential
pattern, the interval each
phrase moves by (moving up
or down by one step or by a
fifth or fourth is usual),
overall interval travelled from
the beginning to the end of
the sequence.
Works Cited