About this Recording
8.573679 - GRAINGER, P.: Wind Band Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Engeset)
English 

Percy Grainger (1882–1961)
Complete Music for Wind Band • 1

 

Recording the complete music for wind orchestra by composer and pianist Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882–1961) has truly been an inspiring experience for everybody involved, enjoying the diversity and detailed originality inherent in these scores. We have used the instruments Grainger asks for, be it the Hammond organ, tin whistles, Swiss hand bells, bass saxophone or the steel marimbaphone. We have also enjoyed listening to the lively, free and exuberant musical energy, and the unique style of performance he conveyed in his recordings as a pianist.

Grainger’s close connection to Edvard Grieg, artistically and personally, dedicating many of his works to Grieg, is of course well documented in Norway. Grainger toned down Grieg’s ‘Norwegian-ness’ and rhetorically asked: ‘Is it not more realistic to view Grieg as a strictly cosmopolitan sophistication that entered into and enriched Norwegian music through the agency of one man?’ The two met late in Grieg’s life, in 1906, while preparing a planned performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The performance never materialised due to Grieg’s death in 1907. Grainger said in a letter that ‘of all the composers who have ever existed, Grieg and Bach are the ones I love most’. Also, Grieg formulated his admiration for Grainger in a letter: ‘I really care for you! For your refreshing and healthy view of art and for your unspoiled nature, not yet corrupted by “High-life”‘. Grainger sometimes mentioned the strong influence Grieg had on his own style. Also interesting, but at the same time potentially embarrassing for us Norwegians, is Grainger’s intensive focus on the Nordic, being it Norway or other Nordic countries. This is not so surprising given that his wife Ella Viola Ström was Swedish. But Grainger’s ‘Nordic-ness’ went further: He expressed the hope that America and Australia would be re-Scandinavianising themselves: a return to the ‘affirmative life-worship and robust selfhood so characteristic of Scandinavian art’.

Born in Melbourne in 1882, Grainger left Australia for Europe with his mother when he was only 13, at first studying piano and composition in Frankfurt, but soon touring as a concert pianist. Even though he composed for many instruments and ensemble formations—for example solo piano, choirs and the symphony orchestra—his special love for the wind orchestra was already present in his youth. It is said that during his stay in London in 1901, he went to the Boosey & Hawkes shop regularly, always taking home with him a different wind instrument that he then taught himself to play. From 1914 Grainger served for two years in the American Army as a bandsman, at Fort Hamilton. After settling in White Plains, USA, he composed several works for the American Band Masters Association and for the Goldman Band. He often expressed his dedication to the wind band medium: ‘As a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems to me unrivalled.’ He also considered the wind band to be a much more suitable and well-balanced medium for the transcription of early music than the symphony orchestra. Twenty-three transcriptions for wind orchestra were published as a series entitled Chosen Gems for Winds, an idea connected with his teaching at Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan during 1937–44. In the 1930s Grainger met specialists on early music such as Gustave Reese; Arnold Dolmetsch and Dom Anselm Hughes, inspiring many of these settings of music by others, ranging from the Medieval, through to Bach, and on to modern composers such as Fauré and Franck. Many of these arrangements were first performed at the musical summer camps at Interlochen, with Grainger using his idea of ‘elastic scoring’ which made it possible to perform the music with almost any combination of winds. Typical of his wind band sound is the inclusion of ‘tuneful percussion’—he even had some special melodic percussion instruments made in co-operation with the Deagan company.

Grainger was a pioneer in experiments of electronic music. At a late stage in his life he was developing a special, hard to grasp, concept of ‘free music’, involving ‘free music machines’. He became increasingly focused on freeing music from regular rhythms and pitches. Unconventional as he was, Grainger was looking to the future while at the same time returning to the basic roots of music. Early in his career he became interested in studying and collecting folk music, and could be described as an early Ethnomusicologist. He collected British, American and Danish folk music and a large part of his music for wind orchestra is based on such folk tunes.

Grainger was indeed an innovative composer—for example, his early work Hill-Song No. 1 from 1902, is full of new scales, changing irregular meters, new concepts of form and free polyphony. He also invented his own English vocabulary for his scores, with terms like ‘reedy’, ‘gracefully’, ‘angrily’, ‘feelingly’, ‘clingingly’, ‘louden/soften’, etc.

His more personal and private eccentricities can be difficult to come to terms with, easily drawing attention away from, and obscuring, his music. Grainger’s character could be described as a contradictory mix of universalism with prejudice. He was a strong believer in the supremacy of Nordic races, preferring Nordic and Anglo-Saxon cultures over anything Mediterranean or Teutonic, but at the same time being a supporter of Afro- American rights in the US. He believed in music as a uniting universal language, interested, as he was, in the music of all people and periods. Still, he expressed other prejudiced views which have been documented elsewhere—but the notion that these ideas are expressed through his music is questionable.

Grainger’s music is often full of energy and generosity, but also conveys a certain darkness and melancholy, focusing on themes from sombre folk song texts. We have, not least, been fascinated by the works inspired by nature: the world of the hills, the sea and the sands. We have, through this recording project, realised that this eccentric musician offers us an original, remarkable spectrum of musical expression.

 1  Molly on the Shore
The first version of this key piece to Grainger’s popularity was given as a birthday present to his mother in 1907, scored for four strings. After making many different versions he scored it for band in 1920, with the dedication: ‘Lovingly and reverently dedicated to the memory of Edvard Grieg’. The tempo markings in the different versions are very fast—a challenge to any group of musicians. In addition to the Irish Reel ‘Molly on the Shore’ Grainger used another Irish reel from Cork, ‘Temple Hill’. Grainger found these two tunes in The Petrie Collection of Ancient Irish Music (edited by Charles Villiers Stanford) as numbers 901 and 902. Characteristically the sections based on ‘Temple Hill’, a tune with a Dorian flavour, are the most interesting harmonically. There are some unique uses of ‘tuneful percussion’, including the Grainger/Deagen instrument, the steel marimbaphone.

 2  Bell Piece (ramble on J. Dowland’s ‘Now, O now I needs must part’)
This is a ‘free ramble’ on John Dowland’s song Now, O now, I needs must part. During his last years, Grainger is said to have sung this song every night before retiring to bed. In the programme note of Grainger’s piano version of the song he writes: ‘John Dowland was born of Irish stock and probably in Ireland, in 1562, and died around 1626. In addition to being one of the greatest song writers of all time, he was famous in his lifetime as a singer and lute player, and as such was attached for some years to the court of Christian IV, King of Denmark. […] My piano piece is based on a transcription by Mr Sidney Beck of Now, O now I needs must part as it appears in a copy of the 1597[?] edition of John Dowland’s The First Booke Of Songs Or Ayres Of foure parts with Tableture for the Lute in the possession of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California.’

After the song itself Grainger added a substantial and harmonically rich ‘tail-piece’ with an independent Swiss bell part written for his wife Ella to play. The first performance of the setting for band was given at South Broward High School, Hollywood, Florida on 9 April 1953, with the composer conducting.

Now, O now I needs must part,
Parting though I absent mourn,
Absence can no joy impart,
Joy once fled can not return.
While I live I needs must love,
Love lives not when life is gone,
Now at last despair doth prove,
Love divided loveth none.

(Chorus)
Sad despair doth drive me hence,
This despair unkindness sends,
If that parting be offence,
It is she which then offends.

 3  Marching Song of Democracy
The quite freely moving polyphony of this work was intended by Grainger to be a ‘musical counterpart of individualistic democratic tendencies’. The initial inspiration came during Grainger’s visit to the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, where he suddenly, unexpectedly stood in front of the statue of George Washington. He later wrote that this random occurrence somehow galvanised in him ‘a definite desire to typify the buoyant on-march of optimistic humanitarian democracy in a musical composition in which a forward-striding host of comradely affectionate athletic humanity might be heard chanting the great pride of man in himself, the underlying urges to be heroic but not martial, exultant but not provocative, passionate but not dramatic, energetic but not fierce, athletic but not competitive’. The work was also inspired by In a Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads (Leaves of Grass) by Walt Whitman and thus dedicated ‘For my darling mother, united with her in loving adoration of Walt Whitman’. The composition process began in the summer of 1901, but the scoring for chorus, orchestra and organ was not finalised until 1917. In 1948 he scored the version for band, premiered that year by the Goldman Band. His original plan was to write for voices and whistlers only, and have the song performed by a chorus of men, women, and children singing and whistling to the rhythmic accompaniment of their tramping feet as they marched along in the open air. Even though he later decided to score the music for the concert hall, he insisted that ‘An athletic out-of-door spirit must, however, be understood to be behind the piece from start to finish.’

 4  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): O Mensch bewein’ dein’ Sünde gros, BWV 622
Grainger created this setting of Bach’s Chorale Prelude, BWV 622 sometime between 1937 and 1942, as part of the series entitled Chosen Gems for Winds. The prelude O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde groß (‘O, Man, now weep for thy great sin’) is taken from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein collection (1713–15). In our performance, we also included four melodic mallet instruments, adhering to Grainger’s concept of ‘elastic scoring’.

 5  Let’s Dance Gay in Green Meadow ‘Faeroe Island Dance’
The version for band of the Faeroe Island Dance was finished on 21 February 1946. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Grainger’s friend, the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent, who loved the Faeroe Island music. Grainger was fascinated by the unique unity of dance and song in this folk tradition. In a programme note Grainger pointed out a typical ‘tireless keeping-on-ness’ in the traditions of Faeroe Island dance-folksong. He wrote: ‘This attitude is mirrored in my setting of Let’s Dance Gay in Green Meadow, which does not end with the finality usual to most modern compositions, but just stops abruptly in mid-dance, ready to be succeeded immediately by another dance.’

 6  Country Gardens (second version)
This work is based on an English Morris Dance tune collected by Cecil J. Sharp. The first rough sketch made in 1908 was written for ‘two whistlers and a few instruments’. In a version for piano (1919) this became probably the most often played composition by Grainger. He scored it for band as late as 1951–53, making it one of his last pieces for wind band. This very creative and original late setting was based on a symphonic version scored in collaboration with Leopold Stokowski in 1950, preparing a recording of some music by Grainger. It contains some strange well-placed ‘wrong notes’, and can be heard as having quite an ironical flavour. Grainger stated that ‘The typical English country garden is not often used to grow flowers in; it is more likely to be a vegetable plot. So you can think of turnips as I play it.’

 7  William Lawes (1602–45): Six-part Fantasy and Air No. 1
Grainger became fascinated by the old so-called ‘English intimate music’, and particular works for viols by English composers. He saw this as ‘the highest summit of pure music’. In the six-viol Fantasy and Air in G minor by William Lawes (1602–45) Grainger saw the qualities of ‘broad flow of form, complexity of polyphonic and harmonic texture, emotional poignancy, harsh discordance, surging sonority and strong personal originality’. Dolmetsch had published the original in Volume 3 of The Dolmetsch Collection of English Consorts under the title Six-part Fantasy and Air No. 1, and Grainger included it in his 23 Chosen Gems for Winds. Our rendering of Grainger’s arrangement for winds is a world premiere recording.

 8  Hill-Song No. 2
Grainger wrote two Hill-Songs, the first in 1902 and the second in 1907. Hill-Song No. 2 is in many ways a short and more practical version of the quite revolutionary concept found in Hill-Song No. 1, which was composed for a large group of double-reed instruments. Grainger wrote a note in the edition of Hill-Song No. 2 for two pianos (four hands) providing information on the origin of this work: ‘Hill-Song No. 2 is the result of a wish to represent the fast, energetic elements of Hill-Song No. 1 as a single-type whole, without contrasting types of a slower, more dreamy nature. To this end the bulk of the fast, energetic elements of Hill-Song No. 1 (composed in 1901 and 1902) were used together with about the same extent of new material of a like character composed in London in April 1907.’

The main intention of the Hill Songs was ‘to sound wild and fierce rather than grand or forceful’. They are both in a very polyphonic style, without Classical repetitive form-elements. Grainger said he wanted to convey ‘the nature of the hills themselves—as if the hills were telling of themselves through my music, rather than that I, an onlooker, were recording my “impressions” of the hills’.

Hill-Song No. 2 was written for 23 solo wind and brass players and dedicated to Balfour Gardiner. In the score Grainger gave the instruction that all the double reeds should be played with a soft reed, so as to produce a wild, nasal, ‘bagpipe’ quality of tone.

 9  Eugene Goossens (1893–1962): Two Ballades, Op. 38 – No. 1, Folk-Tune
The transcriptions entitled Chosen Gems for Winds included mostly works by older composers. However, the pianist, conductor and composer, Sir Eugene Goossens, (1893–1962), was a friend and contemporary of Grainger’s. The wind band version of Goossens’ piano piece was finished by Grainger on 31 August 1942. Goossens had published this folk tune as the first of Two Ballades, Op. 38. The folk tune is Rosebud in June, written down in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, collected from William King by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, 1904. This popular sheep-shearing song was also used at the beginning of Gustav Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody.

Now, O now I needs must part,
Parting though I absent mourn,
Absence can no joy impart,
Joy once fled can not return.
While I live I needs must love,
Love lives not when life is gone,
Now at last despair doth prove,
Love divided loveth none.

(Chorus)
Sad despair doth drive me hence,
This despair unkindness sends,
If that parting be offence,
It is she which then offends.

 10  Shepherd’s Hey
Like Molly on the Shore, Shepherd’s Hey is dedicated ‘reverently to the memory of Edvard Grieg’. Most listeners would maybe describe the piece as ‘fun’. But surprisingly, Grainger thought pieces like this are good ‘because there is so little gaiety and fun in them’. He further stated that ‘My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.’ This English Morris Dance tune was collected by Cecil J. Sharp from the playing of the fiddlers of the Bidford Morris Dancers (1906), J. Mason (Stow on the Wold), W. Hathaway (Cheltenham) and William Wells (Bampton). The tune of Shepherd’s Hey is quite widely found throughout England. The word ‘Hey’ denotes a particular figure in Morris Dancing. Still, Grainger marked the score ‘This setting is not suitable to dance Morris Dances to.’

 11  Room-Music Tit-Bits – No. 3, Walking Tune
Grainger described the exact background of this composition: ‘I composed the little tune on which this piece is based as a whistling accompaniment to my tramping feet while on a three-day’s walk in Western Argyleshire (Scottish Highlands) in the summer of 1900. At that time—I had just turned 18.’ A London critic stated in 1907 that an ‘out-door’ quality was quite typical in Grainger’s playing: ‘His piano playing is always marked by a strong individual note, which has for its chief characteristics and open-air freshness and great exuberance of spirits.’ Grainger scored Walking Tune for the symphonic wind section of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during a round-trip between New York City and Birmingham, Alabama in October 1940, on the suggestion of the principal conductor of the Cincinnati orchestra, Eugene Goossens. Goossens conducted the premiere on 1 November 1940. Grainger’s recorded performance of the piano version work is quite inspiring to listen to, with musical phrasing and flexibility in a quite active tempo, pinpointing what he meant by the words over the first bar, ‘gently flowing’.

 12  Spoon River
Grainger writes in the published score: ‘A Captain Charles H. Robinson heard a tune called Spoon River played by a rustic fiddler at a country dance at Bradford, Illinois (U.S.A.) in 1857. When Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology appeared in 1914, Captain Robinson (then nearly 90 years old) was struck by the likeness of the two titles—and he sent the Spoon River tune to Masters, who passed it on to me. The tune is very archaic in character; typically American, yet akin to certain Scottish and English dance-tune types. My setting (begun March 10, 1919; ended February 1, 1929) aims at preserving a pioneer blend of lonesome wistfulness and sturdy persistence.’ Above the first page of music Grainger repeated this character: ‘sturdily, not too fast, with “pioneer” keeping-on-ness’. The work bears the following dedication: ‘For Edgar Lee Masters, poet of pioneers.’ Grainger explores how 16 bars can be repeated in always new harmonisations and colours, not least with the use of ‘tuneful percussion’: bells, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, etc.

 13  Katharine Parker (1886–1971): Four Musical Sketches – No. 2, Down Longford Way
Katharine Parker (1886–1971) was an Australian pianist and composer. In 1909 she went to London to study with Percy Grainger. Grainger described Parker as one of the most gifted piano pupils he ever had: ‘She did everything by nature (or out of the good teaching she had at the Melbourne University Conservatorium) and I felt a fool trying to teach her.’ In 1930 she sent Four Musical Sketches to Grainger, the second of which is the piece for which she is best known, Down Longford Way, written in 1928. Grainger orchestrated this piece in 1935.

 14  Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924): Two Songs, Op. 3 – No 2, Serenade toscane (‘Tuscan Serenade’)
Grainger met several of his French contemporaries, like Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré and also made transcriptions of their music. When Grainger played his own English Dance for Fauré the senior composer is reported to have said. ‘It’s as if the whole country were a-dancing!’ Grainger later published a collection of piano transcriptions, Free Settings of Favourite Melodies, where he included the Fauré’s songs Après un rêve and Nell. In 1937 he transcribed another Fauré song, this time for band: Sérénade toscane, Op. 3 No. 2, an early Fauré work dating from 1865, published in 1878. The text is a setting of an anonymous Italian poem, translated into French by Romain Bussine:

O toi que berce un rêve enchanteur,
Tu dors tranquille en ton lit solitaire,
Éveille-toi, regarde le chanteur,
Esclave de tes yeux, dans la nuit claire!

Éveille-toi, mon âme, ma pensée,
Entends ma voix par la brise emportée,
Entends ma voix chanter!
Entends ma voix pleurer, dans la rosée!

Sous ta fenêtre en vain ma voix expire,
Et chaque nuit je redis mon martyre,
Sans autre abri que la voûte étoilée,
Le vent brise ma voix et la nuit est glacée;

Mon chant s’éteint en un accent suprême,
Ma lèvre tremble en murmurant, je t’aime,
Je ne peux plus chanter!
Ah! daigne te montrer! daigne apparaitre!

Si j’étais sûr que tu ne veux paraître
Je m’en irais, pour t’oublier, demander au sommeil
De me bercer jusqu’au matin vermeil,
De me bercer jusqu’à ne plus t’aimer!

[O you who are lulled by a magical dream,
you sleep peacefully in your solitary bed,
wake up, look upon the singer,
a slave to your eyes, on this clear night!

Wake up, my soul, my thought,
hear my voice borne by the breeze,
hear my voice as it sings!
Hear my voice as it weeps amid the dew!

Beneath your window my voice dies away in vain,
and every night I retell my suffering,
my only shelter the starry vault above,
the wind cracks my voice, on this frozen night;

My song fades away on one final word,
my lips tremble as they murmur, I love you,
I can sing no more!
Ah! deign to show yourself! Deign to appear!

Were I sure you had no wish to appear,
I should go on my way, to forget you and beg sleep
to lull me until the rosy glow of morning,
to lull me until I love you no more!]

Grainger’s transcription was completed at Interlochen as one of his Chosen Gems for Winds. The beginning and end of the song is played by euphonium solo, with characteristic figures of harp, piano and marimba accompaniment throughout.

 15  César Franck (1822–90): Three Chorales for Organ – No. 2 in B minor, M.39
César Franck’s organ chorales, Three Chorales for Organ, was one of Franck’s last works, composed in 1890, the year of his death. We know from several sources that Grainger had a fondness for Franck’s music. The second organ chorale’s strong connection with the chaconne form must have inspired Grainger, who in the 1930s and 1940s had become deeply interested in music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The possibilities that such a form could provide for exploring the changing variations of colour in a wind band must also have triggered him. He conducted the premiere of his arrangement, one of his 23 Chosen Gems for Winds, with the Interlochen band on 12 July 1942. The experience of conducting Franck’s first chorale with the same band five years earlier, in an arrangement by his friend Ralph Leopold, was probably also a source of inspiration. The second chorale shares some themes with Franck’s Symphony in D minor, his Heroic Piece for organ, the Violin Sonata and the settings of the Christ motive in The Beatitudes. The Chorale was originally in B minor, but Grainger chose the darker G minor for his setting for band. He is not trying to copy the organ sound, but has created a unique and colourful reading using the possibilities of the wind instruments to full effect. Still, where Franck asked for ‘Voix humaine et tremulant’ Grainger wrote ‘dolcissimo, tremolando’ for two sections of the work, including the very ending. It is fascinating how beautiful this effect sounds with winds when the players really have the courage to play with a fairly quick and quite unusual sounding vibrato. The score includes instruments like bass saxophone and contrabassoon, giving a specific reedy colour to the bassline at many moments.

Bjarte Engeset


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