It’s my pleasure to share an extract from Rhapsody, the upcoming novel from Mitchell J Kaplan, due for publication on 2nd March 2021.
Gershwin lowered himself to the Steinway shoving his tails behind the bench. Whiteman raised his baton and that klezmer clarinet embarked upon its crazy discourse, complaining, wheedling, sulking. A hush fell over the audience. They had never heard anything like this.
At first, Katharine was not quite sure what to make of it. Then she realized she was holding her breath and wondered why she was doing so during a piano concerto, or whatever this was. How many concertos had she heard performed on this very stage? She could hardly count them. She exhaled. She inhaled again, and repeated the exercise until it felt natural. As natural as… as breathing. Or almost.
Gershwin played like a self-taught virtuoso. Everything was wrong, his posture, his fingering, the distracted expression on his face. But when Katharine closed her eyes and set aside all she had learned since early childhood about the code-bound ways in which individual notes, rhythms, melodic figures, and harmonic progressions were supposed to cavort with each other — when she allowed the music to justify itself — somehow everything sounded right, too. How could that be? She opened her eyes.
His fingers tapped the keys repeatedly; scurried up and down, passing each other; meshed together; flew apart to opposite corners of the keyboard. Swaying, smiling to himself, Gershwin appeared not to be thinking about his hands or the sounds they produced. Yet despite his apparent mindlessness each note sounded confident, even the phrases that conveyed wistfulness, longing, and sorrow. At times Katharine wondered whether Gershwin was improvising or performing passages he had meticulously composed.
She failed to notice the moment when the music persuaded her to stop thinking and just listen. What she heard then was a man pouring his heart out to the world. At the height of the soaring, lyrical passage two-thirds of the way through, Katharine forgot about the funny parts, the exuberant parts, the piano-against-orchestra quipping and cajoling parts. The sadness and beauty of it enveloped her.
She closed her eyes again and leaned back. For no particular reason she imagined herself drifting in a rowboat. The wavelets softly smacking its sides. Ribbons of undulating moonlight.
That was the moment when Katharine Warburg, née Katharine Faulkner Swift — and still Katharine Faulkner Swift deep inside — realized that something was lacking in her marriage. She tried to ignore the absurd claims of her heart. She did not know George Gershwin or what he intended to communicate with his music. This was lunacy. By all accounts, her husband was an extraordinary man.
One evening in 1924, Katharine “Kay” Swift–the restless but loyal society wife of wealthy banker James Warburg and a serious pianist who longs for recognition–attends a concert. The piece: Rhapsody in Blue. The composer: a brilliant, elusive young musical genius named George Gershwin.
Kay is transfixed, helpless to resist the magnetic pull of George’s talent, charm, and swagger. Their ten-year love affair, complicated by her conflicted loyalty to her husband and the twists and turns of her own musical career, ends only with George’s death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.
Set in Jazz Age New York City, this stunning work of fiction, for fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, explores the timeless bond between two brilliant, strong-willed artists. George Gershwin left behind not just a body of work unmatched in popular musical history, but a woman who loved him with all her heart, knowing all the while that he belonged not to her, but to the world.