Author Topic: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)  (Read 10599 times)

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Greta

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Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« on: March 31, 2008, 09:44:02 PM »
A composer who music is very near and dear to my heart, the incomparably unique Australian Percy Aldridge Grainger. I have wanted to make a thread like this for quite some time. :)

I have always felt Grainger is woefully underappreciated in the concert hall, seldom showing up on orchestral programs here in America, though his music was so finely crafted, imaginative, and heartbreakingly nostalgic and beautiful. We are lucky that he made his name in the wind world, because his works now form a large core of the band repertoire and have become widely known in that arena, but in the larger music world, it seems his genius gets often overlooked.

Besides being a wildly original composer, Grainger was also a concert pianist, conductor, folksong musicologist, inventor of free music machines, and even had an interest in making clothes of towels... He was a very, very interesting and "out there" fellow, shall we say. (If you have ever read anything about him, you will know what I am referring to...)

In his musical life as well as his private life, he was just as quirky, at least for the time period...along with Bartok and Kodaly, he was a pioneer of collecting folksongs, doing so with an early Edison wax cylinder in rural Lincolnshire in 1905-06, and faithfully notating every nuance, rhythm, and accent with notation that was very unpalatable in the time period. These folksongs later became the basis of his masterpiece for wind band and perhaps most famous work, Lincolnshire Posy. Only about 15 min long, but musically very dense, this piece did not just use folksongs as a basis - but set out to portray, or tone-paint the personalities and affectations of the singers who originally sang them.

He was a concert pianist, and a very popular one just before WWI, and was known for being a foremost interpreter of Grieg's Piano Concerto. He was good friends with Edvard Grieg, and idolized his clean "Nordic" writing. Other heady musical connections included a close friendship with Frederick Delius, who he shared a lot in common with, and Cyril Scott. After becoming an American citizen in 1914, he enlisted in the Army as a Bandsman, playing mainly oboe and saxophone, which contributed to his championing of the latter and led him to compose for winds.

A lot of his ideas were way ahead of his time, he was using notation that showed up in Stravinsky's Le Sacre a full 5-10 years before, and his idea of "Free Music" which should be like nature, ideas that predated electronic music by nearly a half century.  Another interesting and practical thing he advocated was "elastic scoring", in which there were multiple parts that would work with a huge variety of different instrumentation - such that he took to labeling his music simply "large-room" and "small-room".

Another very interesting quirk of his was that he labeled his scores completely in English, due to some hangups he had about other races he was determined to expunge the use of foreign terms in his music, and even in his correspondence. This makes for some fascinating descriptive terms in his music!

Grainger also seems to parallel Charles Ives in time and music, though this is still a relationship I'm figuring out. It's known the two had many scores of each other that were well-marked and dog-eared, but they didn't know each other well. However, they both came to similar points of view in composition from their disparate places.

Though I'm enamored with most all of his output I've heard, these works are my favorites:

Lincolnshire Posy
The Warriors (Music for an Imaginary Ballet)
Colonial Song
Shepherd's Hey
Irish Tune from County Derry
Children's March 'Over the Hills'
Handel in the Strand


Links, with lots of Grainger-related information:

http://www.percygrainger.net/
The Percy Grainger Webpage

http://www.percygrainger.org/
The International Percy Grainger Society

http://www.bardic-music.com/grainger.htm
The Percy Grainger Society (London)
(many links there)

Anyone else, your favorite Grainger works, and recordings? I noticed there is a full edition being completed of his output on Chandos, 19 CDs so far!
« Last Edit: March 31, 2008, 09:50:25 PM by Greta »

Offline david johnson

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2008, 01:03:58 AM »
'Lincolnshire Posy' - i've played it many times and conducted it, too.  fine and fun.

his 'Australian Upcountry Tune' is also a nice one.

dj

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2008, 01:11:03 AM »
Yes, a fascinating composer, with a very fascinating life. I read a biography about him a very long time ago. But I haven't listened to his music in a very systematic fashion, yet. The things I have heard, though, appeal to me very much (but don't ask me for titles and/or performances - Handel in the Strand was among them, that I know for certain). Being a Delian, I automatically can find much to appreciate in Grainger...
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Greta

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2008, 12:30:46 PM »
'Lincolnshire Posy' - i've played it many times and conducted it, too.  fine and fun.

his 'Australian Upcountry Tune' is also a nice one.

dj

Yes, it is...I'm conducting the "Horkstow Grange" from Lincolnshire for my final conducting exam in college, I think it's one of the loveliest things I've ever played.

I've been doing a lot of background research, hence finally starting this thread. I have a special love also for Colonial Song, in all its versions, wind, orchestra, piano - it's just an gorgeous, soulstirring piece.

I actually found his piano arrangement of it at our library, and have been trying to learn it, the way he uses effects on the piano to simulate that of a large ensemble is very cool.

I would love to have a great recording of the Grainger piano works, but there seem to be several out there, including one with Grainger himself - anyone have any recommendations?

The clips I heard from this sound fantastic:



« Last Edit: April 01, 2008, 12:32:43 PM by Greta »

Offline david johnson

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2008, 02:27:26 PM »
i recall that, when i was very tiny, all the girls wanted to play his 'country gardens' on my sisters' piano recitals.
i really only pay attention to his wind band stuff.

Rufford Park Poachers was on my final...i think you are lucky!  i did well enough that the prof said 'good job.  go back and show your old director how to do it.'  great laugh!

dj

Offline SonicMan46

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2008, 04:00:17 PM »
Greta - thanks for starting this thread, and for your excellent introduction & links; I started to become interested in Grainger a number of years ago, acquired the 2 discs shown below, but then went on to other composers - I MUST certainly reacquaint myself w/ this composer, esp. his wind & piano works - will keep a close look @ this thread:

 

johnQpublic

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2008, 07:20:33 AM »
I too have this disc & in fact it's playing on my computer here at work as I type these words



What I find wonderful about this composer his is unpredictability when it comes to voice leading and chord progressions. There are numerous surprises, so there's never a dull moment. And I love it when he decides to inject an extreme moment of playfullness (aka "humor") like the way The Shepherds Hey ends with all the players racing chaotically in all directions.

Greta

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2008, 10:40:41 AM »
Nice to see all the Grainger lovers! :D

Greta - thanks for starting this thread, and for your excellent introduction & links; I started to become interested in Grainger a number of years ago, acquired the 2 discs shown below, but then went on to other composers - I MUST certainly reacquaint myself w/ this composer, esp. his wind & piano works - will keep a close look @ this thread:

 

I absolutely love that Rattle/CBSO disc, that and the Reynish/RNCM wind music CD are I think two perfect introductions to Grainger's most important large ensemble works. I love that Rattle really taps into Grainger's quirky humor, his readings focus heavily on character and energy. I bet Grainger would have loved them! I think that is one of Rattle's finest CBSO recordings.

One work I listen to a lot on the Rattle CD that is not mentioned often is the 'imaginary ballet' called The Warriors, which I think is Grainger's masterpiece in the orchestral arena.

It was written around 1913-1916 for the Ballets Russes, but didn't get staged, hence the "imaginary" title. For orchestra, 3 pianos, plus 2 offstage groups and conductor, this work contains probably the headiest, zaniest music I know from Grainger, with totally infectious melodies and lavish orchestration, such as an exploded section of keyboard percussion. This is a piece that is really worth seeking out and getting to know. The last few soaring minutes are especially one of my favorite moments ever in his music.

Can't mention the piece without mention of the other absolutely outstanding recording of it as the pairing on Gardiner's acclaimed Planets disc:



From the Gramophone review -

"Grainger's magnum opus, much admired by Delius among others, was the 'music for an imaginary ballet', a commission set up by Sir Thomas Beecham for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, but one which failed to materialize. Grainger wrote it anyway of course, his imagination running riot with visions of a great tribal pageant, a 'wild sexual concert', the ghostly clans of all humankind spirited together in celebration of life's prime, 'an orgy of war-like dances, processions and merry-makings broken or accompanied, by amorous interludes'. Grainger bemoaned a world that he believed was 'dying of good taste'. The Warriors was his corrective, a symphony of dissolution. It is excessive, vulgar, as strange as it is beautiful - as witness the central love-in, a desolate serenade for hecklephone (bass oboe) - and ultimately it is inspirational. The rhythm of life strives for perpetual motion in the 'concertizing' of three grand pianos while swathes of tuned percussion pulsate their psychadelic way through the texture. Sublimation comes with an expansive moment just before the close (16'31"), where this outrageous promenade at last achieves a blazing majesty, strings outreaching themselves in an intense nobilmente, horns in opulent counterpoint.

I think that SA-CD is probably my favorite of all that I own in that format - the space and colors of the Philharmonia are so beautifully captured, and the playing phenomenal!
« Last Edit: April 12, 2008, 10:47:55 AM by Greta »

Offline SonicMan46

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2008, 04:01:02 PM »
Greta - thanks for elaborating on the Grainger discs mentioned - I need to give them another listen soon!  Hope for some more responses & comments to your thread -  :D  Dave

Harry

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2008, 10:29:52 PM »
Yes, he is a absolute favourite with me too. Pleasing as ever, to little is recorded of him, and to little is he noticed. Long ago, a musical friend of mine, from Sussex, when on visiting me, brought with him loads of tapes full with live recordings, from all places in the world, but mainly from England. Many Choir works, and lots of chambermusic, so we had good  times listening to Grainger with malt, and at that time fine cigars. Seemed to us the right environment for it.
He died alas some years ago, but left me the box of tapes. No tape recorder I have, so I assume they have to be silent forever, plus they are not played for decades so they must be glued together by now.

Offline jfmac

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2008, 03:39:39 PM »
I am at home now, but at school I have a CD that has included recording of the songs and singers he used as the "musical models" for Linconshire.  It's quite interesting.

Sean

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2008, 07:22:08 PM »
Nice post Greta. I'm also very persuaded by Grainger and the high level of intelligence simmering in the music, particularly the small vocal/ instrumental ensembles; I found the piano music/ piano music versions a little less interesting. The contrapuntal intrigue, colours, textures and often sheer originality are a feast for the serious listener. There's a recording with Peter Pears I particularly enjoyed...

Offline The new erato

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2008, 12:04:37 AM »


Grainger and Røntgen with Edvard & Nina Grieg at the Griegs home just a walk away from where I live.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2008, 12:33:56 AM »
Nice pic!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2008, 04:11:34 AM »
Hey, Greta. I share your love and admiration for Grainger. Here are some of my favorite CDs. The first two contain different arrangements of Irish Tune from County Derry but both are complex, wildly chromatic and contrapuntal; weird harmonies. The third CD contains the classic version of Lincolnshire Posy:









There is an interesting film biography of Grainger:



It doesn't make the mistake of trying to cover his entire life but instead focuses on one year, a critical year, 1914, and is as much a psychosexual as musical study of the composer. Not recommended for the prudish or squeamish: his sexual preferences were on the beaten path (there's probably a pun somewhere in that last phrase) and the sex scenes are graphic.

Sarge
« Last Edit: April 26, 2008, 04:15:54 AM by Sergeant Rock »
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Greta

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2008, 09:47:52 PM »


I was just listening to that disc while tooling around Friday. That has the strangest cover though! ;D The Hill Song No. 2 is such an interesting and odd piece, very freeform...and the rest of the works on there are very good. I especially like the Persichetti Symphony and the Walter Hartley Concerto is a little gem. Those Mercury Living Presence recordings are great.

Fennell recorded a lot of Grainger over his long career, especially Lincolnshire at least 5 times I think...all his recordings are uniformly extremely good musically and high in detail, but my favorite is this one, hard to find but SO worth it:



Frederick Fennell and the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra

I finally got to hear that one just a couple of weeks ago, and it's about as close to being my perfect recording as I could imagine, literally vibrating from within with warmth and personality, which I think is an important aspect of Grainger's writing.

BTW, we finally had our conducting symposium recently where we had our finals with our college band! After performing, we were critiqued in a 25 min workshop session with tips for improvement. It went great and we had an excellent clinician who had some neat insights on things to highlight in Grainger's writing - the more you dig into his scores, the more details you find.

Very few of his works are very long but there is so much in there and the writing so exquisite, distinctive and distilled, Sibelius comes to mind in this vein as well, and of course Grieg, not surprising with Grainger being an adorer of Nordic composition.

I was curious about the association with Delius, this is a composer I have never explored, but I have read that he and Grainger's writing are considered to have a lot in common. Would those who know both composers agree?

Quote from: Sarge
There is an interesting film biography of Grainger:

It doesn't make the mistake of trying to cover his entire life but instead focuses on one year, a critical year, 1914, and is as much a psychosexual as musical study of the composer. Not recommended for the prudish or squeamish: his sexual preferences were on the beaten path (there's probably a pun somewhere in that last phrase) and the sex scenes are graphic.

Oh man, there is definitely a pun in there I believe...did you mean to say on or off the beaten path...I think on is rather appropriate..  ;)  Me and a friend of mine have been on the lookout for that movie big time but haven't found anywhere to rent or buy it yet in the States - maybe I will see about ordering it from the UK, I read many good things about it, especially the faithfulness of Roxburgh's performance!

Offline SonicMan46

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #16 on: April 27, 2008, 06:01:35 AM »
I was curious about the association with Delius, this is a composer I have never explored, but I have read that he and Grainger's writing are considered to have a lot in common. Would those who know both composers agree?

Oh man, there is definitely a pun in there I believe...did you mean to say on or off the beaten path...I think on is rather appropriate..  ;)  Me and a friend of mine have been on the lookout for that movie big time but haven't found anywhere to rent or buy it yet in the States - maybe I will see about ordering it from the UK, I read many good things about it, especially the faithfulness of Roxburgh's performance!

Greta & Sarge - I'd love to see that film, also; but, can't find it on Netflix or listed on Amazon - maybe I'll send Netflix an e-mail to GET IT!  Probably will be of no help - came out in the late 90s, I see - Barbara plays his mother (hoping it was made 20 yrs earlier w/ her as the love interest -  ;) :P) -  :)

Greta - try this Delius Link - Sarge & I had both posted there - would recommend obtaining some Delius ASAP!  ;D

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #17 on: April 27, 2008, 10:18:44 AM »
Me and a friend of mine have been on the lookout for that movie big time but haven't found anywhere to rent or buy it yet in the States

Greta & Sarge - I'd love to see that film, also; but, can't find it on Netflix or listed on Amazon - maybe I'll send Netflix an e-mail to GET IT!  Probably will be of no help - came out in the late 90s, I see - Barbara plays his mother (hoping it was made 20 yrs earlier w/ her as the love interest -  ;) :P) -  :)

I read a review of the film several years ago but couldn't find it offered anywhere. I emailed the reviewer; he said it was available from Rare Licensed DVDs, a company that specializes in out of print, import, and hard to find DVDs.

https://www.rarelicenseddvds.com

And Dave, I've had a crush on Barbara Hershey since the late 60s. Yeah, it's too bad the film wasn't made 10, 20 years earlier so she could have assumed a different character. Still, she has aged very well, far better than most women her age, and it was a pleasure seeing her in this role.

Sarge
« Last Edit: April 27, 2008, 10:26:42 AM by Sergeant Rock »
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #18 on: April 27, 2008, 10:20:52 AM »
I was just listening to that disc while tooling around Friday. That has the strangest cover though! ;D

Doesn't it?  I assume that's an Armenian folk costume. Glad I was born in the U.S.A.  ;D

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961)
« Reply #19 on: April 27, 2008, 10:49:08 AM »
Greta - try this Delius Link - Sarge & I had both posted there - would recommend obtaining some Delius ASAP!  ;D

Delius is, perhaps, an acquired taste, but I personally only had any difficulty in acquiring that taste when I was still an intellectually rather aggressive adolescent, and he sounded a bit too 'beautiful'... Now I know and love his music. I had never come round to listening to his Songs of Farewell, though. A few weeks ago I did - and what a wonderful work it is!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato