About this Recording
8.573681 - GRAINGER, P.: Wind Band Music (Complete), Vol. 3 (Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Engeset)
English 

Percy Grainger (1882–1961)
Complete Music for Wind Band • 3

 

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?’¹ 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.’² 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”.’³ 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.’4 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] The Lads of Wamphray March

This march was originally written by Grainger in 1905. It is based on a Scots Border Ballad setting composed a year earlier for his mother’s birthday which was scored for double men’s chorus and orchestra (or two pianos). The text in that early setting was drawn from Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, but musically no folk song material was used. The poem celebrates a bloody skirmish between two clans in 1593:

For where eer I gang, or eer I ride,
The lads o Wamphray’s on my side.
For of a’ the lads that I do ken,
The lads o Wamphray’s king o men.

This was Grainger’s first large work for wind band, and it was tried out later the same year (November 1905) by John Mackenzie Rogan and the Band of His Majesty’s Coldstream Guards. It was subsequently reworked over a long period with the final version being performed together with A Lincolnshire Posy at the 1937 convention of The College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) in the US, as the answer to a commission of two works for that specific convention.

[2] Angelus ad Virginem (Anonymous)

Angelus ad Virginem (Gabriel, From Heaven King Was To The Maide Sende) is a carol from the 13th century by an unknown author, maybe of Franciscan origin. It is preserved in several medieval manuscripts, so it was probably quite popular at that time. The text is a poetic elaboration on the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel, telling the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Christ. Grainger orchestrated three stanzas in 1942, using different scoring for each of them: brass, woodwinds and tutti. Grainger asked for it to be played ‘Lively, with dance-like lilt’, not totally unlike the first movement of A Lincolnshire Posy. The transcription was published as part of the series entitled Chosen Gems for Winds.

[3] The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart

This is one of Grainger’s last compositions for wind orchestra, commissioned in 1947 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers and also the 70th birthday of Edwin Franko Goldman. Grainger had problems with the deadline for the commission, so he decided to re-score a work for the occasion. His working on The Power of Rome had begun in 1918, and in 1943 he had scored it for full symphony orchestra and organ. He explained his decision in the following way: ‘As it takes me about 20 years to finish a tone-work, the best thing I could do was to fix up my Power of Rome so it could be played without strings.’ The setting from 1947 is also his largest work for winds. It calls for an organ to supplement the large wind orchestra, and there are important parts for harps, pianos, and ‘tuneful percussion’. The organ is defined as a ‘Pipe or Electric Organ’, and he provided Hammond organ registration in the organ part. Further, he expressed in the score that ‘Throughout the piece plenty of vibrato should be used on the organ, producing somewhat “theatrical” sonorities and conveying a feverish emotionality.’ He underlined that a ‘churchy’ impression was not intended.

Grainger has described the anti-authoritarian idea of this composition in detail himself:

‘Just as the early Christians found themselves in conflict with the Power of Ancient Rome so, at all times and places, the Individual Conscience is apt to feel itself threatened or coerced by the Forces of Authority. And especially in war time. Men who hate killing are forced to become soldiers. And other men, though not unwilling to be soldiers, are horrified to find themselves called upon to fight in the ranks of their enemies. The sight of young recruits doing bayonet practice, in the First World War, gave the first impulse to this composition, which, however is not in any sense programme-music and does not portray the drama of actual events. It is merely the unfoldment of musical feelings that were started by thoughts of the eternal agony of the Individual Soul in conflict with The-Powers-That-Be—as when the Early Christians found themselves at strife with the Power of Ancient Rome.’5

Grainger opposed strongly what he called ‘the Roman Empire conception of life’ (a privileged elite served by slaves).6 On the contrary he quite often expressed strong sympathies for a ‘Nordic way of life’. In the score, two of the main themes are identified as ‘the lonely man theme’ and ‘the Power of Rome theme’, the first in a rubato character, the latter more menacing, always growing in force. At the end of the work, Grainger concludes in a very sincere atmosphere by quoting the second theme from his setting of the folk song The Power of Love from his Danish Suite. He counted The Power of Rome to be one of his best compositions, but also once said that ‘It simply is grouchy. It simply grumbles at the sad condition of tyranny and torturing.’7

[4] The Nightingale and The Two Sisters (Nattergalen og de To Søstre)

In 1922, the veteran Danish folksong collector Evald Tang Kristensen and Percy Grainger met with the folk singer Mrs Ane Nielsen Post of Gjedsø, Tem Sogn, Jutland, Denmark. With a phonograph they recorded her singing The Nightingale and The Two Sisters. The following year Grainger combined these two songs as the third movement of his Suite on Danish Folksongs. Both folksongs have texts with quite dark fairy-tale like subjects. The lyrics of The Nightingale begin as follows:

I know a castle, built of stone,
Appearing so grand and so stately;
With silver and the red, red gold
Bedecked and ornamented ornately.

And near that castle stands a green tree—
Its lovely leaves glisten so brightly:
And in it there dwells a sweet nightingale
That knows how to carol so lightly.

The nightingale is, in reality, a maiden who has been turned into a nightingale by the spells of a wicked stepmother. At the end of the dramatic tale the spell is broken through the help of a knight. The first verse of The Two Sisters:

Two sisters dwelt within our garth,
Two sisters dwelt within our garth:
The one like sun, the other like earth.

(Refrain) The summer is a most pleasant time.

The verses that follow unfold the troubling story of the elder sister (dark as earth) who drowns her younger sister (fair as sun), because she wants the young man to whom the younger sister is betrothed.

[5] The Immovable Do (or The Cyphering C)

Grainger got the idea of this work one morning in 1933, playing the harmonium. Because of a leakage in the instrument, a high C sounded throughout, whatever he played: An ‘immovable Do’. Turning something bad to good he then composed this piece, containing ‘the most long-held pedal note in all music’. Six years later, in 1939 he scored it for wind band. Typically, he stated that the instrumentation was not the most important compositional choice: ‘From the very start (in 1933) I conceived the number for any or all of the following mediums, singly or combined: for organ (or reed organ), for mixed chorus, for wind band or wind groups, for full or small orchestra, for string orchestra or eight single strings. It seemed natural for me to plan it simultaneously for the different mediums, seeing that such music hinges upon intervallic appeal rather than upon effects of tone colour.’8

[6] Antonio de Cabezón (1510–1566): Prelude in the Dorian Mode

This transcription is also one of the series entitled Chosen Gems for Winds, but contrary to many of the other arrangements, this piece is fully written out, not really using Grainger’s typical ‘elastic scoring’. The specific arrangement was made in 1937–1941, based on Tiento del Segundo Tono by Antonio de Cabezón. Originally written for organ, it is quite an expressive example of late Renaissance polyphony. Grainger’s interpretive dynamics fascinatingly corresponds to historically informed performance practices in our time. In the published score, Grainger described Cabézon as ‘one of the 16th century’s greatest keyboard performers and composers. Blind from infancy, born of noble parents, he became composer and organist to the court of Charles and Isabella. He later served Philip II, with whom he travelled throughout Europe.’

[7] Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon

It was Robert Burns (1759–1796) who in 1791 wrote the poem Ye banks and braes to fit the old Scottish folk song, The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight. Here is the first stanza:

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair;
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary, fu’ o’ care!

Grainger’s first setting, from 1901, was written for chorus, single voices, whistlers and harmonium or organ ‘at will’. More than 30 years later, in May 1932, he reset the work in an ‘elastic scoring’ for ‘school orchestra’ or band with optional harmonium (or pipe organ). The dedicated version for wind band was completed in 1937.

[8]–[13] A Lincolnshire Posy

Grainger summed up the background of this very famous composition for band in the following way: ‘This bunch of “musical wildflowers” (hence the title A Lincolnshire Posy) is based on folk songs collected in Lincolnshire, England (one noted by Miss Lucy E. Broadwood; the other five noted by me, mainly in the years 1905–06, and with the help of the phonograph), and the work is dedicated to the old folk singers who sang so sweetly to me.’9 Building on many sketches for various mediums from 1905 to 1934, Grainger started the wind band version in 1934, finalising the work in White Plains, New York, during the first months of 1937. The six movements were premiered on 7 March that year, at the American Bandmasters Association Annual Grand Concert, with Grainger conducting the Milwaukee Symphony Band. Grainger had worked hard to preserve the originality of the folk songs by recording and taking notes on individual performances. Thus, this work is also a celebration of the specific performance style and creative personality of each singer, composed in deep respect of them and their often troubled and unhonoured life.

Grainger wrote the following, in his programme note, about the singers of the two first movements:

‘The first number in my set, Lisbon Bay (Lisbon, Dublin Bay) [8], was collected under characteristic circumstances. In 1905, when I first met its singer—Mr Deane, of Hibbaldstowe—he was in the workhouse at Brigg, N.E. Lincolnshire. I started to note down his Dublin Bay, but the workhouse matron asked me to stop, as Mr Deane’s heart was very weak and the singing of the old song—which he had not sung for 40 years—brought back poignant memories to him and made him burst into tears. I reluctantly desisted. But a year or so later, when I had acquired a phonograph, I returned to get Mr Deane’s tune “alive or dead”. I thought he might as well die singing it as die without singing it.’

‘Mr George Gouldthorpe, the singer of Harkstow Grange [9] (born at Barrow-on-the-Humber, North Lincolnshire, and aged 66 when he first sang to me, in 1905) was a very different personality. Though his face and figure were gaunt and sharp-cornered (closely akin to those seen on certain types of Norwegian upland peasants). In recalling Mr Gouldthorpe I think most of the mild yet lordly grandeur of his nature, and this is what I have tried to mirror in my setting of Harkstow Grange (The Miser and his Man—a local Tragedy).’

The third movement, Rufford Park Poachers [10] is based on notation of a phonograph record of the singing of Mr Joseph Taylor on 4 August 1906, printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, No. 12 (May, 1908). The text narrates events around the poaching of game at a private hunting estate. The singer’s free style led Grainger to score the song in constantly changing metres. Grainger put two versions of the first 50 bars, A and B, in the score, and stated that he preferred version B, as long as an accomplished player of the soprano saxophone was available for the main solo of the section. If not, version A with flugelhorn solo could alternatively be played. Grainger hailed the sound of the soprano sax several times: ‘the supreme importance of this lovely instrument—to my ears the most exquisite of all the saxophones.’10

The Brisk Young Sailor (Who Returned to Wed His True Love) [11] was recorded by Grainger from the singing of a Mrs Thompson on 3 August 1906 in Barrow-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. The folk song deals with the return of a sailor, revealing who he is by showing the love-token he was given when he left many years earlier. In 1919 Grainger had made sketches for a choral version accompanied by horns and strings.

Grainger described the singer of Lord Melbourne [12]: ‘Mr George Wray had a worldlier, tougher and more prosperously coloured personality. He, too, was born at Barrow-on-the-Humber, and was 80 years old when he sang to me in 1906. […] He used to be a great dancer. (Yet, in spite of this association with strict rhythm, his singing was more irregular in rhythm than any I ever heard.) Lord Melbourne (actually about the Duke of Marlborough) is a genuine war-song—a thing rare in English folksong.’ Grainger wrote many of the passages of the movement in phrases without bar lines, instructing the conductor ‘to vary the beat length with that rhythmic elasticity so characteristic of many English folk singers, giving free reign to rhythmic fancy.’ The melody is a variant of The Duke of Marlborough, which also appears as a counter melody in Dublin Bay. The movement was first sketched for unison chorus, organ and a few brass instruments in 1910.

About the last movement Grainger wrote: ‘The last number of my set (The Lost Lady Found) [13] is a real dance-song—come down to us from the days when voices, rather than instruments, held village dancers together. Miss Lucy E. Broadwood, who collected the tune, writes of its origins as follows, in her English Traditional Songs and Carols (Boosey & Co.): Mrs Hill, an old family nurse, and a native of Stamford (Lincolnshire), learned her delightful song when a child, from an old cook who danced as she sang it, beating time on the store kitchen-floor with her iron patterns. The cook was thus unconsciously carrying out the original intention of the ‘ballad’, which is the English equivalent of the Italian ‘baletta’ (from ballare, ‘to dance’), signifying a song to dance-measure, accompanied by dancing.’ This movement was originally set for mixed chorus and roommusic (12 or more instruments) in 1910. The melody is repeated many times, always in new instrumentation. To really crown the ending we had four musicians playing Swiss hand bells in the final variation, in addition to the other percussion instruments in the score.

[14] Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300–1377): Ballade No. 17

This transcription is again one of the series of 23 arrangements entitled Chosen Gems for Winds. Grainger orchestrated this particular Ballade by Guillaume de Machaut in 1937. His source was the publication Alterer Musik (Ed. Friedrich Ludwig), I. Jahrgang, I. Teil, Leipzig 1926. Grainger stated that ‘Guillaume de Machaut is one of the most inspired composers of all time. In Ballade we hear a deeply romantic dreamy, love-lorn mood that recalls Chopin and Cyril Scott.’11 Grainger also underlined this poetic character by using the tempo marking ‘Lyrically, with a slow, gentle lilt.’ We have used Grainger’s ‘elastic scoring’ to vary the instrumentation in the different sections of the piece somewhat, since it really is music for only three parts.

[15] John Jenkins (1592–1678): Five-Part Fantasy No. 15

In this Fantasy, Grainger used his ‘elastic scoring’, making it possible to perform the music with almost any combination of winds. Grainger used a score made by Arnold Dolmetsch (1858–1940) as his source. Dolmetsch had based his score on the original viol manuscript of A Five Tone-Strand Fantasy for Viols by John Jenkins. This is yet another edition from the series Chosen Gems for Winds.

[16] Hill-Song No. 1

The original scoring of Hill-Song No. 1 was for two flutes, six oboes, six English horns, six bassoons and double bassoon. Grainger himself described the ideas behind the quite revolutionary aesthetics of Hill-Song No. 1 in great detail:

‘I consider Hill-Song No. 1 by far the best of all my compositions. But the difficulties of conducting its highly irregular rhythms are almost prohibitive. At the time of composing Hill-Song No. 1 (1901–02, aged 19–20), wildness and fierceness were the qualities in life and nature that I prized the most and wished to express in music. These elements were paramount in my favourite literature—the Icelandic sagas. I was in love with the double reeds (oboe, English horn, etc.) as the wildest and fiercest of musical tone-types. In 1900 I had heard a very harsh-toned rustic oboe (piffero) in Italy, some extremely nasal Egyptian double-reeds at the Paris Exhibition, and bagpipes in the Scottish Highlands. I wished to weave these snarling, nasal sounds (which I had heard only in single-line melody) into a polyphonic texture as complex as Bach’s, as democratic as Australia (by “democratic”, in a musical sense, I mean a practice of music in which each voice that makes up the harmonic weft enjoys equal importance and independence—as contrasted with “undemocratic” music consisting of a dominating melody supported by subservient harmony). In this way I wished to give musical vent to feelings aroused by the soulshaking hill-scapes I had recently seen on a three days tramp, in Western Argyllshire. I was not in favour of programme-music. I had no wish to portray tonally any actual scenes or even to record musically any impressions of nature. What I wanted to convey in my Hillsong was the nature of the hills themselves – as if the hills themselves were telling of themselves through my music, rather than that I, an onlooker, were recording my “impressions” of the hills. (In this respect, my purpose in Hill-Song No. 1 differed radically from Delius’s in his Song of the High Hills.)’ […] ‘Under the influence of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the chamber music arias and recitatives in Bach’s Passions, I developed the idea of “large chamber music” around 1898.’ […] ‘No thematic or melodious material is repeated in Hill-Song No. 1, except immediate repetition within a phrase, as in the case of bars 393–397. I view the repetition of themes as a redundancy—as if a speaker should continually repeat himself. I also consider the repetition of themes undemocratic—as if the themes were singled out for special consideration and the rest of the musical material deemed “unfit for quotation”.’ […] ‘As music does not stand complete at any one moment (as architecture does) but unfolds itself in time—like a ribbon rolled out on the floor—I consider a flowing unfoldment of musical form to be part of the very nature of music itself. Therefore, in such a work as Hill-Song No. 1, I eschew all architectural up-buildment and try to avoid arbitrary treatments of musical ideas and the stressing of sectional divisions. My aim is to let each phrase grow naturally out of what foreran it and to keep the music continually at a white heat of melodic and harmonic inventiveness—never slowed up by cerebral afterthoughts or formulas. In other words, I want the music, from first to last, to be all theme and never thematic treatment.’12

Bjarte Engeset

¹ The Grainger Society Journal, IX/1 (1987).

² Letter from Percy Grainger to Karen Holten, 18 May 1906.

³ Letter from Edvard Grieg to Percy Grainger, 30 June 1906.

4 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on A Lincolnshire Posy. Reprinted in Thomas P. Lewis (Ed.): A source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger.

5 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart.

6 Frank Hudson: Liner notes for the recording Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Percy Grainger, University of Illinois Band Series Nos. 74 (24089) and 75 (24090).

7 An interview with Percy Grainger, 15 May 1946, printed in Tempo, Vol. 61, Issue 239, January 2007, pp. 18–26.

8 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on The Immovable Do. Reprinted in Thomas P. Lewis (Ed.): A source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger.

9 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on A Lincolnshire Posy. Reprinted in Thomas P. Lewis (Ed.): A source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger.

10 Percy Grainger’s programme notes in the score of The Lads of Wamphray.

11 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on Ballade No. 17. Reprinted in Thomas P. Lewis (Ed.): A source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger.

12 Percy Grainger’s programme notes on Hill-Song No. 1. Reprinted in The Grainger Society Journal, I/2 (1978), pp. 14–23.


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