Beep, beep, beep: what pitches should the taxi horns play in “An American in Paris”?

Posted on: March 1, 2016

George Gershwin’s An American in Paris “is one of the most famous pieces of American music—but for 70 years orchestras may have been playing one of its best-known effects wrong,” writes Michael Cooper in Tuesday’s (3/1) New York Times. “The effect involves … French taxi horns, which honk in several places…. A coming critical edition … being prepared at the University of Michigan will argue that the now-standard horn pitches … are not what Gershwin intended…. Gershwin’s score labels the four taxi horns with a circled ‘A,’ a circled ‘B,’ a circled ‘C’ and a circled ‘D.’ … The new critical edition will argue that Gershwin’s circled letters were merely labels specifying which horns to play, not which notes. [Mark Clague, editor in chief of the critical edition and] an associate professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, … pointed to the evidence of a Victor recording of ‘An American in Paris’ that was made in 1929, under Gershwin’s supervision [with] a more dissonant set of notes: A flat, B flat, a much higher D, and lower A.” Says Clague, “George would have saved everybody a lot of trouble if he had just numbered them ‘1,’ ‘2,’ ‘3,’ and ‘4’ rather than ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ ”

Posted March 1, 2016