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Percy Grainger

George Percy Grainger

8 July 1882 - 20 February 1961
A Look At Some Of His Easter Music

By Tim Reynish - Summer 2010

Just my luck - it's a barbecue summer yet again, and I am beginning to pack for 4 weeks in Australia to experience their winter. However, that is not too bad - the last time I was there at the height of winter, the barbecues were rife, the cold beers flowing, and what is especially great this year is that I can celebrate prematurely the fiftieth anniversary of the death of that great Aussie maverick, Percy Grainger, by conducting Grainger in Brisbane, visiting the Grainger museum in Melbourne, and dancing the Shepherd's Hey on his grave in Adelaide. But before that, I have to conduct Brigg Fair by Delius at The Sage, a work based on the folk song which Grainger had introduced to Delius, and which was premiered in 1908, with Grainger and Beecham in the audience.

Life is full of missed opportunities; I find it galling that in the fifties when I was at school and university, I missed the opportunity of seeing and hearing Percy Grainger. Now having recorded all of his original wind music, I can but programme as much Grainger as possible for next year, the fiftieth since his death, and urge all colleagues to introduce their players to the incredible if wayward genius that is Percy Grainger.

LONDON GRAINGER FESTIVAL 17 - 21 FEBRUARY 2011

An overview of his instrumental and choral music will be held at Kings Place, near Kings Cross and St. Pancras stations, from Thursday February 17th to Saturday the 20th, with final sessions in the British Library on Sunday 21st when a new book, The New Percy Grainger Companion, will be launched, edited by the celebrated pianist and Grainger expert, Penelope Thwaites and published by Boydell and Brewer.

Taking part in this mini-Festival will be the Band of the Royal Artillery, members of the West PointMilitary Academy and wind ensembles from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as well as pianists and choirs.

GRAINGER REPERTOIRE FOR BAND

A listing of his original wind band works may be useful, dividing them, perhaps arbitrarily, into four groups. The chronology is sometimes hard to divine, as Grainger frequently revisited scores, and many of these works are re-workings of earlier versions for chorus, piano/s or orchestra.

EASIER MUSIC

  • Bell Piece (Ramble on Now, O Now I needs must part by John Dowland) (1953)
  • Blithe Bells (Free Ramble on Sheep May Safely Graze by J S Bach) (1930-31)
  • Irish Tune from County Derry (1918
  • Let's Dance Gay in Green Meadow (1943)
  • The Immovable Do (1933-39)
  • The Merry King (1936-1939)
  • Ye Banks and Braes (1901-32)

MASTERPIECES

  • Colonial Song (1911-14)
  • Hill-Song No 1 (1901-21)
  • Hill-Song No 2 (1907-29)
  • Lincolnshire Posy (1937)
  • Marching Song of Democracy (1901-48)
  • The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart (1918-43)

CONCERT MARCHES

  • The Lads of Wamphray March (1905-37)
  • Children's March (1917-19)
  • The Gumsuckers' March (1905-42

LOLLIPOPS (not necessarily easy)

  • Country Gardens
  • Molly on the Shore (1907-20)
  • Shepherd's Hey (1913-18)

OUT OF MUSICAL DIAPERS

Like so many composers in the early years of the 20th century, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Hindemith and Tippett among them, Grainger passionately believed in writing music to involve less experienced players and singers. One problem in programming Grainger for less expert bands is that he sometimes carried his keyboard virtuosity into his own arrangements, so that cascades of chromatic scales, tricky passages for tongues and fingers, and extremes of range or of dynamics are frequently encountered. However, there are works well worth exploring by the tyro band. The late Frederick Fennell in his essay on the interpretation of The Immovable Do, Instrumentalist May 1983, writes 'Void of any technical difficulties and playable by almost any band out of its musical diapers, the music offers players the charm of innocent dissonances and the excitement of parallel harmonies.' The easiest works to tackle are undoubtedly an arrangement by Kreines ofIrish Tune from County Derry, the edition by Tom Clarke of Country Gardens, the versions of The Merry King and Grainger's last work, Ye Banks and Braes, in which you can invite the audience to hum or whistle along.

Of course, everyone wants to try Lincolnshire Posy; the less expert ensemble might consider tackling the opening movement Lisbon, the second movement Horkstow Grange, possibly No 4The Brisk Young Sailor with some faking, and the finale The Lost Lady Found. There are technical problems in all four movements, and the other two movements still present a challenge to the most expert ensemble, but those who are uncertain about trying, should recall Grainger's outburst in a Round Letter of 1943 when faced with a conductor and band unwilling to play the difficult movements.

GRAINGER ON TACKLING DIFFICULT MUSIC

'I hate forcing my will on the fold. But still more to I hate shielding-the-wind from all these milksops of sissified mother's darlings who sit there yawning in the band, thinking they've played everything& know everything. If they want me to do anything with them I'll jolly well see to it that they get something to chew on & taste some of the rocks on the rocky road of now-tiney tone-art. Not that that the young folks do want me to do anything with them, much. When Idraw near the wind-band or the string-wind-band I always think I hear soundless groans from the young folk & from their loving guides. Everyone (outcounting me) wants the young folks... to have so much joy in their tone-art... As I said to them at the last rehearsal of Lincolnshire Posy, anent the changing barrings: 'Don't mind if you play a few wrong notes; don't mind if you get the rhythms wrong. Please don't think I will suffer if you do. My job is to show you what modern music is like. These irregular barrings were started over 40 years ago, so its about time you begin to get used to them. I'd much rather hear you make a mess of typical modern music than to hear you tootle-ing forever at a lot of baby's stuff.'

EASIER MUSIC INCLUDING ARRANGEMENTS

Australian Up-Country Song Arr Bainum G Schirmer/Hal Leonard
Bell Piece (after Dowland) Bardic Edition
Blithe Bells (after Bach) Bardic Edition
Faeroe Island Dance Faber
Green Bushes Arr Daehn - Daehn Publications
Handel in the Strand Arr Goldman EC Schirmer
Harvest Hymn Arr Kreines Barnhouse
Immovable Do G. Schirmer/Hal Leonard
I'm Seventeen Come Sunday Arr. Daehn - Daehn Publications
Irish Tune from County Derry Southern Music
Irish Tune from County Derry Version 2 Bardic Edition
Walking Tune Arr. Daehn - Daehn Publications

CELEBRATE GRAINGER IN 2011

There are sound and sometimes excellent arrangements by editors of the calibre of Bainum, Daehn, Goldman, Kreines and Osman of a number of easier pieces, among them Australian Up-Country Tune, which uses some of the same material as Colonial Song, one of his 'Elastic Scores',Harvest Hymn, and a couple of British Folk-Music setting, one which was originally for chorus and brass band, I'm Seventeen come Sunday, and the other based on his Passacaglia on Green Bushes. More difficult is the splendid Goldman arrangement of the Room-Music Tit-bit 2, Handel in the Strand which together with Country Gardens was for many of us our first introduction to his music. Several of the ChosenGems work very well, and have the advantage of elastic scoring so that you can cover any missing instruments with alternatives or on organ or piano. Down Longford Way is a fine example, together with the Eugene Goossens Folk-Tune; there are several arrangements of music by Bach and earlier composers to add variety to programmes, but many of these have tricky written-out ornaments. The simplest is the March from the Anna MagdalenaClavierbuchlein II by Bach, now attributed to CPE Bach.Information on many of these, and editions published by Bardic, are available from Barrie Ould or on the Grainger Society website.

www.bardic-music.com

www.percygrainger.org