About this Recording
8.573228 - GRAINGER, P.: Saxophone Music (Griggs)

Percy Grainger (1882–1961)
Music for Saxophones


“Around 1904, Balfour Gardiner and I heard our first saxreed (a tenor) …and I knew then and there that I was hearing the world’s finest wind tone-tool—the most voice-like, the most man-kind typed.” – Percy Grainger in a letter to friends

Percy Grainger’s musical output is significant for its diversity of genres, time periods, and instrumentation. Grainger composed or arranged hundreds of works for ensembles, solo instruments, and voice, and many of these have nearly infinite ensemble configurations. His saxophone chamber works though, until now, have remained relatively unexplored. The fifteen selections found on this album provide a rich collection of works that display Grainger’s promotion of “Democratic Polyphony,” music that contains melodic interest in all parts not just what Grainger calls the “high-end” (i.e., violin/melodic) instruments.

Grainger’s enthusiasm for the saxophone resulted in his arranging a significant number of works for saxophone ensembles. Those listeners familiar with Grainger’s orchestration tendencies know he utilizes a technique called “elastic scoring” through the employment of tone strands. Grainger’s use of tone strands and elastic scoring allows a single musical arrangement to be re-configured to the performers’ desired instrumentation. The pieces heard on this album are special in that these selections are arrangements for which Grainger specifically noted saxophone ensemble as one of, or its only, configuration. Most of the arrangements that include saxophones were completed between 1933 and 1942. All of the works are drawn from Grainger’s experiences as a pianist, folk-song collector, and early music proponent.

Grainger arranged several of these works for saxophone ensembles when he was teaching at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. Grainger stated in a letter to family and friends: “I got tone-fun out of the Sax-reed [sic] group at Interlochen this summer. Yet it has taken from 1904 to 1943 to have my hopes of sax-reed team-work fulfilled.” Grainger found the saxophone family’s range quite unique in that it conformed to the vocal range of the human voice. Grainger recognized that the saxophone ensemble could easily perform “the entire polyphonic vocal works of the thirteenth century up to and including Bach.”

The selections included in this recording may be divided into four, broad categories: 1) the music of J.S. Bach, 2) folksongs Grainger collected in England and Norway, 3) polyphonic instrumental and vocal music from the medieval and renaissance periods, and 4) original composition. Each category represents facets of Grainger as a concert pianist, composer, educator, and early ethnomusicologist.

Grainger’s earliest musical experiences began as a pianist. As a twelve-year old, Grainger left Australia for Germany where he studied at the Hoch Conservatorium and as a young adult, Grainger performed extensively throughout Europe and Australia as a concert pianist.

Grainger’s admiration for the music of J.S. Bach extended beyond performing his piano works. Grainger’s adoration of the music of J.S. Bach resulted in two arrangements for saxophone consorts (Prelude and Fugue No. V, from the WTC Book II, and the Fugue No. IV, from WTC Book I). The listener can hear the full complement of the saxophone family being utilized in Grainger’s arrangement of the Fugue No. IV. The instrumentation includes soprano, alto, tenors (2), baritone, and bass saxophone. The Prelude and Fugue No. V gives us the only arrangement for saxophone quartet, the most common configuration of saxophone ensembles one can hear today.

Additionally, in 1946, Grainger arranged the March in D Major from Four Pieces for Anna Magdalena Bach, H.1. This saxophone arrangement was inspired by an adaptation previously completed by Arnold Dolmetsch. Given the lack of scholarly research at the time, both men attributed this composition to J.S. Bach “BWV Anh.122.” More recent scholarly work correctly acknowledges C.P.E. Bach as the composer. A comparison of the original score to Grainger’s arrangement will immediately reveal a rhythmic change from Bach’s duple rhythms to the Dolmetsch inspired dotted rhythm. This rhythmic alteration provides a more buoyant interpretation of the work.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Grainger settled in London. In 1905, he gained formal membership to the Folk-Song Society, an organization whose members included Lucy Broadwood. Grainger collected more than 500 folksongs during his trips into the English and Norwegian countryside. He recorded folksingers using an Edison phonograph with wax cylinders. Grainger meticulously studied the recordings to ensure an authentic representation of the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic notations sung by the folksingers. His careful attention to nuanced details and unadulterated reconstruction of these songs set his transcriptions apart from other folk-song collectors of the time. Rather than attempting to “correct” the folksinger’s inaccuracies, Grainger preserved the irregular rhythms and melodic structures in his folk-song transcriptions.

This album contains two folk-song examples, with Når jola kjem (When Yuletide Comes) set as a trio, but in two different keys and instrumentation. It is unclear from Grainger’s notes as to why he orchestrated Når jola kjem; however, both settings were included in this album so as to provide the listener with two distinct settings of this tune. The high-key setting incorporates the soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone whereas the low-key utilizes the alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone.

The beautiful and lyrical Norwegian tune (When Yule- Tide Comes) stands in contrast to the more dance-like Lisbon. Perhaps one of Grainger’s most famous tunes (aside from Country Gardens), Lisbon can be found in several configurations and arrangements—including as the first movement of the famous 1937 wind band piece, Lincolnshire Posy. This arrangement of Lisbon for saxophone quintet was completed at Interlochen, Michigan in 1943. Grainger reproduces the syllabic contour of the original song by using an alternation of long-short rhythms in each phrase of his instrumental settings of Lisbon. The instrumental arrangement follows a typical song form of AA’BA.” This quintet arrangement employs the soprano, two altos, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Grainger packs a spritely dance into just 90” from start to finish, and interjects a second folksong (The Duke of Marlborough).

After immigrating to the United States in 1918, Grainger continued to enjoy a career as a concert pianist. However, his musical interests expanded beyond that as the solo artist. Grainger began writing music for the wind band and teaching at universities and summer programs. In the early 1930s, after meeting Arnold Dolmetsch and Dom Anselm Hughes, Grainger became infatuated with the revival of early polyphonic music. Grainger took steps to publish some of these early works as part of two substantial collections of early polyphonic music—the Dolmetsch Collection (instrumental) and the English Gothic Music (vocal). Other works were often labelled as part of Grainger’s self-designated “Chosen Gems.”

Half of the music contained on this album originated from early vocal or instrumental polyphonic works from the medieval and renaissance eras. Grainger found the instrumental works to be particularly well suited for modern-day instrumental consorts. As homage to Dolmetsch, Grainger planned to release two editions of eleven works, one that maintained the original Dolmetsch instrumentation and one for modern instrumentation. By 1944, Grainger had published only three of the intended eleven works under the title The Dolmetsch Collection of English Consorts, Eleven Fantasias, Airs, Pavans, Galliards, Almains, etc. by 16th and 17th Century Composers. Grainger later arranged three of the previously published works for a variety of saxophone ensembles, including, Ferrabosco’s Four Note Pavan, Jenkin’s Fantasy à 5 No. 15 in D Major, and the 6-Part Fantasy by William Lawes. The Lawes’ Fantasy provides this listener with an example of a large saxophone choir, which can produce such intense sonorities it may easily be mistaken for an organ. The saxophone choir employed for this arrangement of Lawes’ Fantasy comprises two sopranos, alto, tenor, two baritones, and bass saxophone.

Occupying as much of Grainger’s musical interests during this period of time was the early vocal music from the medieval period. Not long after meeting Arnold Dolmetsch, Grainger was introduced to Dom Anselm Hughes. Grainger travelled to Nashdom Abbey in England to work with Hughes on a modern edition of medieval music. With Grainger’s encouragement, and financing, Hughes and Grainger embarked on a collaboration to publish sixteen pieces as part of the English Gothic Music collection. Hughes copied the text and music from the original manuscripts while Grainger made all the musical editorial decisions such as instrumentation, dynamics, and articulation. As with the Dolmetsch collection, the full project never came to fruition. Only twelve of the sixteen works were prepared, and ultimately only seven were published. Only two of the works found within the English Gothic Music collection are documented as having been later arranged by Grainger for saxophone consort; of those two, only the manuscript for Angelus ad Virginem has been located. It is believed the original work dates to the 13th century, making this one of the oldest works within the collection. Angelus ad Virginem can be heard on the final track of this album. As a true tour de force, Grainger scored this version for soprano, two altos, two tenors, baritone, and bass saxophone.

The last area into which the selections on this album may be categorized is original compositions. Two of Grainger’s original compositions heard on this album include the opening selection, Immovable Do and The Lonely Desert-Man Sees the Tents of the Happy Tribe. Grainger scored these works, and others, including, La Bel’Aronde, Machaut’s Ballade No. 17, and La Bernadina in such a manner that they may be performed in a number of ensemble configurations, and not just in the configurations heard on this recording.

For more information about the music and possible instrumentation, please read Teresa Balough’s book, A Musical Genius from Australia: Selected writings by and about Percy Grainger and A Complete Catalogue of the Works of Percy Grainger. Furthermore, Joyce Griggs’ edited scores of these works are available through RBC Publishers, Inc. This recording was partially funded by a generous grant from the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois.

Joyce Griggs

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