An American in Paris is a symphonic tone poem by the American composer George Gershwin, written in 1928. Inspired by the time Gershwin had spent in Paris, it evokes the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920s. It is one of Gershwin’s best-known compositions.
Gershwin composed the piece on commission from the New York Philharmonic. He also did the orchestration (he did not orchestrate his musicals). Gershwin scored An American in Paris for the standard instruments of the symphony orchestra plus celesta, saxophones, and automobile horns. Gershwin brought back some Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition, which took place on December 13, 1928 in Carnegie Hall, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic.
Gershwin collaborated on the original program notes with the critic and composer Deems Taylor, noting that: “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” When the tone poem moves into the blues, “our American friend … has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness.” But, “nostalgia is not a fatal disease.” The American visitor “once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life” and “the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”