A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger
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|Table of Contents to Source Guide|
|1. Biographical/Artistic Vignettes|
|4. Program Notes|
1. BIOGRAPHICAL/ARTISTIC VIGNETTES, continued
"Much of what Grainger was writing in the first decades of the twentieth century was in advance of its time rather in the way that Ives' music was. Cyril Scott, a close musical associate of Grainger's, said that Grainger, while still in his teens, began to 'show a harmonic modernism which was astounding.... and at times excruciating to our pre-Debussyan ears.'Richard Franko Goldman, "Percy Grainger's Free Music", The Juilliard Review, II/3 (Fall 1955), 39.]
"Grainger and Ives had more than a little in common, both of them working with great individuality, anticipating later practices to a degree that amounted in their time and place to eccentricity. Rhythmic problems attacked by Ives occuped Grainger at about the same time (before the turn of the century), as did the concept of completely independent polyphony. Seen in a historical perspective, Grainger and Ives experimented with juxtaposed tonalities and rhythms long before these devices emerged with fa nfare in the works of Stravinsky and other twentieth-century giants.
"Both Grainger and Ives conceived of symphonic writing so complex, and orchestral forces so vast as to require more than one conductor to amalgamate the various musical components into a cohesive whole. Two examples come immediately to mind--Ives's Fourth Symphony, completed in 1916, and Grainger's The Warriors, subtitled 'Music to an Imaginary Ballet', an early work that was composed during 1913-16. In these works, Grainger and Ives experimented with expanded orchestral scoring, using instr uments that are usually not called for in conventional orchestration. To a fairly regular orchestra in The Warriors is added a gamelan percussion section comprised of xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, steel marimba, steel bells, tubular bells, cele sta, two harps, and three pianos. Ives in his Fourth Symphony employs such formidable forces as chorus, piano (two players), solo piano, organ, celesta, optional theremin, and a full-scale percussion battery of five timpani, snare drum, military drum, tom -tom, bass drum, cymbals, light and heavy gongs, high and low bells, and triangle. In The Warriors, various subgroupings are required at certain places in the score to play in conflicting rhythms, and, for this reason, three conductors are necessar y. Similarly, the Ives Fourth Symphony requires two associate conductors--one at the rear of the stage, to lead a small choral group required in the first and last movements, and the other to stand next to the main conductor at the front of the stage t o help out when the rhythmic complexities are such as to require more than one conductor. Both works call for offstage ensembles--Grainger uses a group of brass instruments, and Ives, a distant ethereal chamber ensemble of harp and solo strings.
"The parallel between Grainger and Ives can be carried still further. Grainger even shared elements of Ives' musical background, for the period during which Grainger grew up in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century was one particularly rich i n American influences: the ballads of Bret Harte, the songs of Stephen Foster, and the black-faced minstrel troupes were fast becoming a common heritage. Both Grainger and Ives felt a oneness with nature, being of a Whitmanesque cast of mind, and they att empted to find an equivalent freedom in their musical language. Ives' interest in microtones (parallel to Grainger's pre-occupation with gliding tones) was a direct outgrowth of his musical attempts to simulate nature.... Ives' experiments with micro-inte rvals include a quarter-tone piano (with two keyboards, the upper one tuned a quarter-tone sharp) for which he wrote a set of three pieces.
"Both Grainger and Ives shared a deep love for folksong, as well as an unselfconscious zest in seizing upon whatever musical materials lay nearest to their own experience and background, no matter how homely or sentimental they were, and in using them in their own compositions. Ives skillfully, often blatantly, interwove American patriotic songs, hymns, and folktunes into his complex symphonic assemblages, while Grainger collected English folksongs for their uniqueness and to help preserve them, trans cribed some for instrumental combinations. These transcriptions were always accomplished with fine musical taste, and Grainger always took pains to preserve the character of the folksinger from whom he learned a particular song, in a musical portrait, so to speak .... Both Grainger and Ives loved the refreshing spontaneity and artistry of the folk performers. Ives particularly admired the country fiddler with his occasional, unexpectedly delicious out-of-tune notes; he considered this style of playing an art in it self. In his turn, Grainger loved the folk singer whose artistic imagination brought a varied interpretation to each different stanza of a particular song....
"Another line of comparison may be drawn between Grainger and Harry Partch (born 1901, in Oakland, California). The story of Partch's gropings and explorations towards a tonal language, true to the facts of musical experience as he viewed it, forms an interesting complement to Grainger's Free Music experimentation.
"Since 1930, Partch has been working with a scale of forty-three tones to the octave. This opens up for him a new range of melodic resources, a new series of tonality relationships, and a new perspective on consonance and dissonance. Partch explains the underlying reasons which led to his adoption of such a system:
Some seventeen years ago I abandoned the traditional scale, instruments, and form in toto and struck out on my own. (I had begun to abandon them as early as 1923.) I came to the realization that the spoken word was the distinctive expression my constitutional makeup was best fitted for, and that I needed other scales and other instruments.... Having decided to follow my own intuitive path, I began to write music on the basis of harmonized spoken words, for new instruments and in new scales, and to play it in various parts of the country. Later, drawing on my experience as a wanderer, I wrote music exploiting the speech of itinerants (Bitter Music), hitch-hiker inscriptions copied from a highway railing (Barstow), a cross-country trip (U.S. Highball), and newsboy cries (San Francisco), generally using an ensemble of my own instruments. [Harry Partch, Genesis of a Music, 5,6.]"Partch's composition The Letter (1943) is a fine concentrated example of his attempt to write music on the basis of harmonized spoken words. This study in speech rhythm and intonation is a setting of a letter that Partch received from a hobo p al in 1935. Much earlier, in 1899, Grainger was involved in a similar project. The impetus for his Love Verses from 'The Song of Solomon' for voices and chamber orchestra came from his asking friends to recite the verses aloud. Noting the speech rh ythms accurately, he attempted to give the melodic declamation the same rhythmic elasticity as the recitation. This he tried to do through a pattern of irregular barring of the type that is now commonplace, but which was quite radical at the time. He wrot e passages in which the meter shifts in such patterns as 2/4, 2-1/2/4, 3/4, 2-1/2/4, 3/8, 2/4, 2-1/2/4, 3/4, 4/4. Apart from its unusual juxtaposition of time-signatures, Love Verses from 'The Song of Solomon' belongs firmly to its period. It is in teresting to note that the emancipation of rhythm and intonation as suggested through speech patterns is not unrelated to Grainger's Free Music thinking. [Discussed elsewhere in the present volume; see e.g. Ch.4, Program Notes, below. (Ed.)]
"Like Grainger, Partch felt strong urgings of Wanderlust; both men were seasoned hikers, Grainger to the extent of hiking from concert to concert, while Partch spent several years living the life of a hobo. Both shared a love for exotic, tribal music; Partch collected many chants from Indian tribes (e.g. from the Zuni Indians of New Mexico and the Cahuilla Indians of the southern California desert) and incorporated them into his compositions....
"Both men were instrument builders, seeking new means for a practical realization of their music when existing conventional instruments had become painfully obsolete for them. The following statement by Partch best sums up the situation:
It is inherent in the being of the creative art worker to know and to understand the materials he needs, and to create them where they do not exist to the best of his ability. I am not an instrument builder but a philosopher music-man seduced i nto carpentry. [Op. cit., 57.]
"Partch started building his instruments around 1910. They include adapted violas, adapted guitars, kitharas, chromelodeons (reed organ instruments), harmonic cannons, and an array of percussion: California deer-hoof rattles, glass chamber bowls, and marimbas made of various materials. While Partch was involved in building performing instruments requiring specially trained performers for their manipulation, Grainger was involved in developing composing instruments capable of directly creating the soun ds of his Free Music without the intervention of the middleman, the performer.
"Grainger's experiments with sound, particularly in the realm of 'tuneful percussion' (the term he used to describe all percussion instruments with clear intonation and thus capable of playing melodies), is worthy of mention. His innovative ideas tapp ing the wealth to be found in percussion instruments provides an interesting corollary to work in the field by other pioneers such as Bartók, Varèse, Partch, and Cowell.
"The Balinese gamelan percussion orchestra fascinated Grainger when he first heard it at the Paris exposition in 1900. Aside from his own original compositions in which percussion plays a major part (e.g. in his In a Nutshell suite for orchestr a, the piano and Deagan percussion instruments are prominent, Bell Piece features tuneful percussion instruments as soloists in a band setting, and The Warriors includes a gamelan percussion ensemble), Grainger also transcribed for western p ercussion, exotic Balinese compositions from recordings in the Musik des Orients series. [A series of ethnological recordings chosen by Dr. Erich von Hornbostel, eminent German musicologist, in the early decades of the twentieth century.]... Among Grainger's tuneful-percussion transcriptions is his setting of Debussy's Pagodes from Estampes for piano solo. Debussy wrote the piece after hearing a Javanese gamelan orchestra in Paris in 1888. Grainger justifies his transcription on the ground that he was 'merely returning it [Pagodes] to the sound-type from which it originally emerged.'
"Henry Cowell has always been known as a pioneer in experimenting with the soundboard of the grand piano. His work has led to discoveries in tone color and sound effects that have become undeniable acquisitions to the orchestral palette. Nicholas Slonimsky says that 'as an orchestral instrument, Cowell's string and percussion piano ought to be used whenever a masculine harp tone is required and for new battery sounds not obtainable on drums and cymbals. [Henry Cowell, ed. American Composers on American Music, 59.] Cowell's use of glissando and pizzicato directly on the piano strings--e.g. in The Banshee and Sinister Resonance--produced sounds, in the 1920s, that were to appeal to composers when produced electronically more than twenty-five years later. The entire gamut of percussion conjured up from the pianistic entrails, with or without the application of additional devices, constitutes a taking-off point for Cage's explorations in music for 'prepared piano'.
"Grainger had, as far back as 1913, introduced unorthodox ways of manipulating the piano--e.g. in The Warriors he requires that at one point the three pianos be played directly on the strings with marimba mallets. In 1935, he transcribed for tuneful percussion some Balinese religious ceremonial music, in as near an approximation as western notation would permit. In simulating as closely as possible the particular timbre of the Balinese gamelan instruments, he instructed that, in the piano pa rt, the keys of the notes should be held down by the left hand and the piano strings struck by a mallet held in the right hand. The resultant sounds were to be allowed to ring on without dampening.
"Bartók's role in promoting percussion instruments to their present equality with other instrumental families has been exhaustively dealt with by Bartók authorities. I would merely like to add that both Grainger and Cowell shared with Bartók a common view in recognizing the piano as a member of the percussion family and consequently exploited its potential along these hitherto uncharted lines of development.
"Cowell's name is invariably associated with the invention of the tone cluster, this phenomenon first appearing in 1911 in his early piano music. In 1923, Cowell took his music to Europe, whereupon certain ideas in his works proved at once contagious among the more advanced of the European composers, among them being Bartók and his adoption of the tone cluster (Bartók was so considerate as to ask Cowell's permission before using it himself). Cowell, however, does not claim to have invented the device, although he arrived at it before he knew of its use by others. Harold Schonberg comments that 'around 1900 Percy Grainger was causing quite a stir by the near-tone cluster in such works as his Gumsuckers March. Whether or not Henry Cowell heard Grainger, he did carry Grainger's innovation one step further by introducing actual clusters played by fists, elbows, and forearms.' [Harold Schonberg, The Great Pianists, 395.] Grainger, however, was well aware of Cowell's work and often included The Tides of Manaunaun, the most widely performed of Cowell's early tone-cluster pieces, in his concert programs for several years.... [Henry Cowell had been, for a time, Grainger's guest at the latter's home in White Plains, New York. This White Plains house, an "American Victorian" structure built in 1893, is maintained by the Percy Grainger Society as a cultural/historical landmark. Alongside Percy's three pianos in a modest "music room" are photos from Grieg and others; one is reminded of Leopold Stokowski's working sessions with Grainger in the living room; photographs survive of the Vaughan Williamses greeting Percy and Ella Grainger on the latters' front porch. Even the bamboo pole is still in place, over the entrance to the modest living room--from which Percy used to swing, touching the ceiling with his toes. Visitors are welcome by appointment. (Ed.)]
"In American Composers on American Music, [Op. cit., 44.] much credit is given to Cowell and [Edgard] Varèse for their rhythmic innovations--to Varèse, particularly for the independent expressiveness of his rhythmic writing 'so much like the speaking rhythms of Indian and African music, resulting in a texture of polyphonic voices seemingly independent of each other' and for his introduction of irregular metrical markings of 3/4-and-a-half, 1/4-and-a-half, and so forth. Grainger had w ritten music along both these innovative lines in his Love Verses from The Song of Solomon of 1899, a fact that is unknown to many a chronicler of music history....
"It is an interesting fact of historical timing that, for the most part, Grainger's and Varèse's creative lives occurred in the period preceding the advent of electronic music. Both men settled in the United States about the same time, VarŠse in 1915, and Grainger in 1914. Their explorations of the potential to be found in percussion instruments, their rhythmic innovations, their experiments in instrumental color and timbre are all representative of their attempts to stretch conventional means as far as possible. During the last decade of their lives (Varèse died in 1965), they saw the birth of electronic music and the opening up of whole new vistas in musical expression. Varèse's Poème Électronique, created directly on magnetic tape in 1958, represents a milestone in his creative career. Here, to quote his own words, he was at last able to realize, through the electronic medium, 'whole symphonies of new sounds which have come into the modern world, and have been all our lives a part of our daily consciousness.'
"With the advent of the RCA synthesizer in 1955, all those qualities inherent in Grainger's Free Music seemed at last capable of full realization, yet Grainger [now in his seventies] chose to remain aloof from the mainstream of electronic music experi mentation at the Columbia Princeton Center.
"Grainger, Ives, Partch, Cowell, and Varèse, widely divergent musical personalities that they are, nevertheless share in common the fact that, being true innovators, it was virtually impossible for them to belong to any pre-established school of compositon. [However] although Grainger's thinking shares some features in common with that of other composers concerned with rhythmic and intervallic problems, in one crucial aspect [his] ideas stand apart: the intervals and rhythms of his Free Musis are not governed by rigid mathematical laws. The gliding intervals of his Free Music imply no scale and embrace all intervals from the tiniest micro-interval to the widest leap. In this respect he parts company with Partch and his forty-three-note scale, Busoni w ho conceived the idea of an eighteen-note scale, and the composers interested in quarter-tones. Similarly, Grainger's free-rhythm concept differs from Cowell's preoccupation with more accurate mathematical means of notating all rhythmic divisions and subd ivisions. All the composers mentioned tally greater intricacy with increased mathematical complexity, but Grainger... believed that emancipation lay not in the direction of greater sophistication, but, on the contrary, in a harking back to the unbridled f reedom of nature as expressed in Free Music."--Margaret Hee-Leng Tan.
"Grainger himself had no doubt that 'by far the best' of his original compositions was the first of the two Hill Songs (1902-07), originally scored for wind band but recast in several forms, pianistic and orchestral. The composer's pa rtiality no doubt sprang from the music's empiricism; the Hill Songs were his ultimate attempt at 'aboriginality', making music from the spontaneous overflow of feeling, independent of a priori rules and regulations. They are basically tonal because tonality is an acoustical fact of Nature; but the flow of the lines grows chromatic and polymodal, while the rhythms are so flexible as to be barely notatable. That Grainger tried to notate them, changing the time signature almost every bar and i ndulging in half no less than whole beats, looks alien to the music's spirit; yet that he did so bears on his later attempts to re-produce the spontaneity of folk music, including the Highland bagpipes that were the immediate trigger to the Hill Songs . In these pieces Grainger encouraged wind players to revel in a nasally raucous tone and to allow the intertwining strands of melody to flow of their own volition, without scrupulous regard for ensemble. The lines' freedom and coexistence were manifes tations of musical democracy--though paradox is of the essence, since the overflow of personal feeling is identified with subservience to Nature. Grainger claimed to be making a music of 'the hills themselves', though he can hardly have succeeded since hills don't speak our language. He must have meant that he hoped to be a seismograph to Nature's murmurings, as did a composer of another New World, Charles Ives, in pieces like Central Park in the Dark and The Housatonic at Stockbridge. Ives, however, leaves us in no doubt that although man and Nature coexist, they cannot be identical. Whether Nature seems benign or minatory, it is always other than us; it is we who are 'aware' of it. [The views and commentaries of Wilfrid Mellers (the present author) are always stimulating and revelatory, however if another voice may be heard from here is it not equally so that we (human beings) are nature... too... and so are not, precisely, "opposed" to nature? In fact I should be suspect of any definition or understanding of "nature" generally which excludes human nature, or the natural aspect of human beings, or indeed one's interpretations of nature as, indeed, a legitimate part of "nature" itself... merely in order to accommodate a particular bit of argument. (Ed.)]
"Grainger could have learned this not only from Ives, but also from the composer whom (with one exception to be mentioned later) he admired above all others, Frederick Delius. Although a valedictory artist of Europe's twilight, Delius was also inspired--in his most perfectly realized work, Sea Drift--by the New World's Walt Whitman [the American prophet of free enterprise whose omnivorously demotic 'Song of Myself' Grainger relished, along with his sexual ambivalence]; and created, a deca de later than Grainger's Hill Songs, a choral and orchestral masterpiece in his own Song of the High Hills. Questioned by Percy, Delius bluntly replied that he was not concerned with 'the hills themselves' but with the effect of their solitudinous spaces on a human being, himself. Though Delius rejected his native Bradford and modern industrial society, he was still a European, with (Wagnerian) standards of reference. But Grainger, making his hill songs ab ovo, needed to be eve n more 'inspired' than was Delius, if his empiricism were to convince. He wasn't, and it doesn't, quite; his Hill Songs are not great music, as is Delius's work. Even so, the audacity of the first Hill Song may still take the breath away, if it is powerfully performed in the freely interlaced textures and wild sonorities of the fuller orchestral version....[In the present essay, Mellers also compares Grainger, to the former's discredit, with Stravinsky; however, while it may be important t o introduce and maintain various critical standards, once again I wonder if it is so very necessary to impose standards or criteria which may be relevant to one sort of subject, upon some other subject? Speaking personally, I have no doubt that Str avinsky and Delius (and, indeed, a great many others) possessed a "greater" talent than Percy Grainger's; and I also wonder if I very much care. Comparisons, it seems to me, are valuable only insofar as they illuminate a given subject, or subjects ; are less so on the level of whether e.g. eggs are "better" than bread. (Ed.)]
"That [Grainger's] Colonial Song is an original [composition] that pretends to be folk or pop music takes us to the central body of Grainger's work which, for all his self-vaunting aboriginality and his identification with nordic outsiders like Delius, is concerned with communal rather than personal consciousness. His ultimate paradox is that he needed to lose the self in order to find it. Related to the fact that he abortively sought Nature not anthropomorphically but 'in herself' is the fact that his ultimate favourite composer was not Delius but Bach, who is in some ways Delius's polar opposite. As a child, Percy played Bach with unflagging enthusiasm, and his devotion was life-long, even though Bach was a composer of the Christian Cross, wh ich Grainger abominated, along with such human fallibilities as conscience and guilt. What he found in Bach was, simply, an affirmation of life--the 'sense of flow' which, according to Delius, was 'the only thing that matters'. For Grainger, Bach was t he antithesis of the egoism and wilfulness of the Viennese classics; Bach carries us on the pulse and heart-beat, while his textures are democratic in being polyphonic--'many voiced', with each part accorded equal rights. Whereas Viennese sonata was 'a bout' selfhood, Bach effaced it; and there were other ranges of music that did the same, without calling for Bach's technical and experiential complexity. Hence the importance for Grainger of folk songs, which are bigger than the self if not as big as Bac h. Grainger's 'dishings up' of folk or folk-style dances--including Country Gardens and Shepherds Hey, which kept him in relative affluence through much of his life--owe their potently affirmative qualities and their durability to the Bachian elements in their technique: the continuity of the beat, the consistency of the figurations, the polyphonic independence of the lines that cohere in the sturdy harmony. The essence of Bach's technique lies in its equilibrium between melodic rhythm and harmonic metre, between the music's horizontal and its vertical dimensions. Although Grainger's dances are not music of the calibre of Bach's concertos, their liveliness has qualities in common with his.
"That the bulk of Grainger's work is not original composition but arrangements of or meanders around traditional folk material is not a consequence of deficient invention, but rather of the fact that for Grainger, a Global Village composer, old worlds had to be reborn, in the process 'making it new' far more convincingly than a deliberate exercise in demotic immediacy like The Warriors. One might even say that the best of Grainger's folk-song arrangements are an answer to the subterranean violence of that extraordinary Pastoral from [his suite] In a Nutshell. ["Existing in three versions, [the] Pastoral [movement] is as 'serious' a piece, lasting nine minutes, as Grainger ever created; indeed it may be his most persona l testament. Beginning as modal monody in a lilting triple rhythm, it flows into Delian pastoral chromatics, but it is then subjected to spasmodic polymodal and polymetrical metamorphoses. The spontaneity and immediacy of the Hill Songs are distill ed into a revelation of ecstatic heights and neurasthenic depths--including, perhaps, the sexual desperation that Grainger usually banished from his public image. If the piece is more convincing than the Hill Songs it must be because it doesn't pretend that men and Nature can be identified; the music's melodic definition and (however contrarious) direction might, in this case, be called [an] 'inspired' [baring of the soul]."] Even the more neurasthenic contrarieties of human passion may be a nnealed in being absorbed into communal experience; in that context the loneliest loner need not be totally alone. This may be manifest in any of the three categories into which Grainger's arrangements fall: straight arrangements for voice or voices; dish ings up for piano; or more ambitious dishings up for 'room-music' [i.e. chamber music] groups with or without voices, often using instruments common to bars and dance-halls rather than to the concert hall. [Liszt, of course, similarly created (1) "straight" arrangements for voice or voices; (2) comparatively "faithful" arrangements or transcriptions for piano which, nevertheless, are much cleverer than at first they may appear; and (3) elaborate fantasies etc. for various combinations, which almost and perhaps sometimes do constitute a kind of "original" composition after all. Liszt, too, was a musical democrat, whose aesthetic shows less concern with distinctions of authorship per se than with making music. Finally Liszt was, nonetheless, an original, who voiced an ummistakeable personality and fingerprints in everything he touched, or (musically) thought. (Ed.)] Among the first group the version of Brigg Fair for tenor solo and chorus might cl aim to be the most heart-rending arrangement of a folk song ever made. The haunting tune soars unsullied, while the sensuous chromatics of the accompanying parts add a justifiable nostalgia for the Old England that is gone. Despite the density of the harm onies, all the parts sing, twining around the tune, and it is this 'harmonic polyphony' that effects re-creation as well as recreation. Grainger collected this melody in Lincolnshire in 1905, handling his arrangement on to Delius, who in turn made from th e tune his wondrous 'orchestral rhapsody'.
"Many of the vocal versions of folk songs include a piano part which reinforces rather than dilutes authenticity, since the piano invokes the composer's intrepid presence. Just as the chromaticism of the slow settings is renewal as well as nostalgia, so the energy of the piano part in the quick songs, working in conjunction with or in opposition to the voices, reanimates the spontaneity of the originals in terms appropriate to us. In this way the version of Six dukes went afishing, for instance , becomes modern music: not to mention the magnificent, scarily thrilling version of Shaller Brown, with the notorious tremolo accompaniment, in playing which Grainger used almost to swoon in self-intoxication. The melodrama inherent in the old tal e is re-enacted as we listen, for this is no longer concert music but, strictly speaking, a Making New valid for us now, as it had been for them then. This bears on Grainger's attitude to folk-song collection, which for him was not an archaeological pursu it, as it was (he believed) for genteel Cecil Sharp. The genuine folk-song collector should attempt to record the music as it sounded, since its distonations of pitch and irregularities of rhythm were intrinsic. Nowadays, most people accept this and, with the advent of magnetic tape, there is no longer a technical problem. Even so, the significance of Grainger's stand at the time can hardly be over-estimated; the finest tribute one can pay to his arrangements is to recognise that they provide substitutes for, if not equivalents to, the 'careless rapture' of folk performance.
"Most of Grainger' vocal arrangements were dished up by him for solo piano: in which form they are remarkably effective, perhaps because their personal re-creation is directly manifest in this one-man band. Grainger as pianist-showman functioned throu gh his hands and body on his own instrument; what comes across parallels the effervescence manifest in the original folk-activity, for even when slow and gentle, this is music to be involved in, not passively listened to. Especially beautiful are the pian o versions of Lizzie Lindsay, Died for love, The Sussex Mummers' Christmas carol, One more day, my John, and My Robin is to the greenwood gone; while the piano version of Irish tune from County Derry (which contributed greatly to the renown now enjoyed by this marvellous melody) is even more heart-easing than the original version for wind band. The parts added around the tune, all songfully independent yet harmonically sumptuous, dovetail to create a new entity that does not destroy the old.
"In his instrumental arrangements of folk dances Grainger was influenced by his third cultural hero, Grieg--a lesser figure than Bach or Delius,Here we go again! (Ed.) but one even closer to Grainger in his nordic temperament and spiritual innocenc e. Most of Grieg's folky pieces combine modal meldoy with chromatic harmony in Delian style; but the works that most affected Grainger were the versions of hardanger dances and fiddle tunes that Grieg published as his opus 66 and opus 72. These still star tling pieces anticipate Bartók in finding pianistic equivalents for the raw and raucous sounds of folk instruments, and Grainger adapts similar techniques not merely to his 'Jutish' suites but also to English, Scottish and American material. In its solo p iano version the extended Scotch Strathspey and Reel (updated in 1937 from an original of 1901) becomes a virtuoso piece that, in its exuberant, beyond-bounds, tipsily untrammelled textures, reanimates communal activity. We hyper-selfconscious mode rn folk, released from inhibition, embark on a riotous binge; and there's a similar communal rebirth, more mysteriously poetic, in the beautifully-spaced two-piano version of Spoon River, a rehash of American fiddle tunes. In Dahomey (1903-09) doesn't use real folk tunes but is based on American minstrel show music, cakewalks and 'coon band contests'. Ear-boggling in virtuosity, this rip-roaring fiesta is corporeal action, which needs a generous sprinkle of wrong notes for maximum effect.
music, however, is to be found in his more extended 'meanders' around
folk themes, scores for various (often alternative) groups of voices
and/or instruments. A version of Willow, willow for voice, harp
and muted strings preserves the vernality of the poignant tune, evading
sentimentality, but not sentiment, as the strands of chromatic harmony,
sensitively spaced, let in air and light. A version of Shaller
Brown for solo voice or unison chorus with piano, clarinet, bas soon,
horn and viola is even more dramatically startling than the version with
piano; while the room-music version of My robin is to the greenwood
gone becomes an extended elegy for wind instruments, relatively
detached from the hurlyburly of the m oment, recollected in
tranquillity. Such pieces are poised between past and present, reality
and dream: as is the extended passacaglia on Green Bushes
(1910-25), which embraces folk material within a classical baroque
convention. "Grainger's ultimate masterpiece in this vein is
probably A Lincolnshire Posy, a suite of six Lincolnshire folk
songs arranged for wind band, but also existing in a version for two
pianos. Here the folk past and the immediate present are inextr icable,
art and action being transcended. The 'pastness' of the tunes becomes
unpredictable, and old music proves newly fertile: especially in the
heroically bitonal Harkstow Grange, the large-scale, dramatically
developed Rufford Park Poachers , and the grandly rhetorical
Lord Melbourne. A Lincolnshire Posy was composed in 1905,
before Grainger became an American citizen; but it is a harbinger of his
last years in that it so brilliantly syphons new wine into old
bottles--as well as being scored for that American institution, the
collegiate wind band."--Wilfrid Mellers.