By Maci Bianco. On Saturday, January 21 I attended a volunteer orientation at the Percy Grainger Home & Studio. Part of my introduction, as a new volunteer, was to tour the entire house. I was invited to walk through each room, with the other volunteers, and to choose several things in each room to learn more about. This would provide a focus in for my tours (thereby building my confidence) and I would be able to explain why certain objects were important to the Grainger’s in order to tell their story.
In the dining room, the first thing I noticed was the large cabinet filled with record albums. The record collection is extensive. I was told that Percy himself had set up the storage unit, covering it with the same wallpaper as in the room, to make it fit in. Since Grainger’s death in 1961, the collection in this cabinet has changed--additional albums have been added and others removed. I decided to choose a few samples and see what I could learn.
The recordings I was most curious about include: The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919), Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Vaughn Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country; and The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger Vol. 1.
The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919) Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was the first album that caught my attention. It was released in 1978. The album is an interesting compilation of Grainger’s compositions, as well as reproducing some of his piano rolls. The player piano reached its height around the 1920s. Grainger made recordings with the Aeolian Company: the US manufacturers of the Duo-Art reproducing pianos.
This album also features the recording of Grainger playing the Grieg “Piano Concerto in A Minor”. There is a photo of Grieg in the music room at 7 Cromwell, and it was fascinating to learn why the relationship was important to both men. When the Grainger visited Grieg at the composer's home at Troldhaugen, Norway (the visit captured in the photo), Grieg was impressed with Grainger’s musicianship and later stated:
"I had to become sixty-four years old to hear Norwegian piano music interpreted so understandingly and brilliantly. He breaks new ground for himself, for me, and for Norway. And then this enchanting, profound, serious, and childlike naturalness! What a joy to gain a young friend with such qualities!"
As a pianist, Percy Grainger gave hundreds of performances of a dozen of Grieg’s works, most notably the “Piano Concerto” which he performed regularly during the year of 1960. He made gramophone and piano-rolls of popular Grieg works such as “To the Spring”, “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” and “Norwegian Bridal Procession”, in addition to Grieg’s “Piano Concerto”. Grainger also recorded many of Grieg’s lesser-known piano pieces.
My second choice from the cabinet was Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger were among the first to write for wind band in the twentieth century. There were also both folk song collectors.
Vaughan Williams’ initial inspiration to write this symphony came during World War I, after hearing a bugler practicing and accidentally playing an interval of a seventh instead of an octave. This ultimately led to the trumpet cadenza in the second movement. This piece has gained the reputation of being a subtly beautiful elegy for the dead of World War I and a meditation on the sounds of peace.
It is interesting to think of this piece in relationship to Grainger’s “The Warriors: Music to an Imaginary Ballet”. Composed between 1913 and 1916, and dedicated to Frederick Delius, the piece is considered a tribute to pacifism. “The Warriors” was first performed at the Hollywood Bowl, the same location where he and Ella married in 1928.
The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger, Vol. I was my third choice. It was compiled by Richard Hickox, a British Conductor, and since it is volume one, I wondered how many additional CD volumes were produced. I am new to Grainger’s work and I thought that this particular recording would be a good introduction. I look forward to checking to see how many of Grainger’s orchestra works were compiled by Chandos.
As with learning any new subject, each bit of information leads to further questions. It is certainly this way with my first choice of albums from the cabinet. I will listen to each selection as I begin to learn about the life and music of Percy Grainger.