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Category Archives: Grainger-Percy

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Country Gardens is an English folk tune that Cecil Sharp collected in 1908 and passed on to Grainger, who played improvisations on it during his World War I tours as a concert pianist for the US Army.  According to Grainger, it is a dance version of the tune “The Vicar of Bray“.  Once published in its original piano form, the tune brought Grainger great success.  However, it was not among his favorite compositions.  To quote Keith Brion and Loras Schissel‘s score of the Sousa edition:

Later in life, despite the steady stream of income from its royalties, the fame of Country Gardens and the widespread public association of this work as being his best known piece, came to haunt Grainger.  Mentally, it became his albatross.  He came to think of his own brilliant original music as “my wretched tone art.”.  He once remarked, “The typical English country garden is not often used to grow flowers in; it is more likely to be a vegetable plot.  So you can think of turnips as I play it.”

When asked in 1950 by Leopold Stokowski to make a new arrangement for Stokowski’s orchestra, Grainger obliged with a wildly satirical version that literally sticks out its tongue at the success of the little tune.  In 1953, he rescored that arrangement for band.  Reflecting his mood at the time, it is a bitingly sophisticated parody that was to become his only band setting of the music.

Aside from that extremely worthwhile score which you should all read, you can see more about Country Gardens at Wikipedia, IMSLP (piano version), and Song Facts.

There are a great many different versions of Country Gardens, including at least four for band. Here is the bitingly satirical one from 1953 by Grainger himself:

There is another that John Philip Sousa arranged in 1925 with Grainger’s blessing:

And another that Brant Karrick arranged from Grainger’s piano version in 2013:

And yet one more arranged by Tom Clark in 1931 that is out of print and does not get played anymore.  As you can hear, all but Grainger’s treat the tune as a light romp.  But that is just the tip of this piece’s iceberg, lest we forget Grainger’s 1950 orchestral version:

Or his original piano version from 1918 (here played twice):

Or the Muppets’ 1977 four hands (paws?) piano version:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in the New York metro area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Two interesting Grainger articles at The Guardian and WRTI.

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Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Ye Banks and Braes O’Bonnie Doon is among Grainger’s many folk song settings.  He first set it for “chorus and whistlers” in 1903, and created the band setting in 1932.  The folk song comes from Scotland.  The melody first appeared in print as The Caledonian Hunts Delight in a collection of songs published by Neil Gow in 1788.  In 1792, it was paired with a poem by Robert BurnsThe Banks of Doon, and this pairing has been handed down through the generations.  The poem describes a love story around the River Doon, which flows through Ayrshire from Loch Doon in Scotland:

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

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o’ the happy days
When my fause Luve was true.

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o’ my fate.

Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o’ its love;
And sae did I o’ mine.

Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause luver staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.

Read more about Ye Banks and Braes at windband.org, the Wind Repertory Project, the Percy Grainger Society program notes page (scroll down to find it), the Internet Archive, and Contemplator.org.

The North Texas Wind Symphony plays Ye Banks and Braes:

The actual folk song recorded in a studio:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Grainger made several different settings of Shepherd’s Hey, which is based on a folk tune collected by the British folk song expert Cecil Sharp.  The first setting, for “room-music 12-some” (Grainger’s “blue-eyed English” phrase for chamber ensemble) first appeared in 1909.  The band version came in 1918.  This coincides with the end of Grainger’s stint in the US military, which appears to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in sparking his interest in band music.  The tune itself is a Morris dance, a centuries-old tradition of fluid, group dancing from England.  Still, Grainger insists on his 1913 piano solo score that “This setting is not suitable to dance Morris dances to.”  Ever the contrarian, Grainger also said that “where other composers would have been jolly setting such dance tunes I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.”

Read more about Shepherd’s Hey at the Percy Grainger Society, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the University of Wisconsin Music Department.  Also look at this extensive analysis of the piece at band-chat.net, and check out the solo piano score for free at Project Gutenberg.

The Cleveland Symphonic Winds play Shepherd’s Hey:

Among the many versions of this piece that exist, this pianola one is a highlight:

Here’s an actual Morris dancing troop dancing to the tune of Shepherd’s Hey.  The words: “I can whistle, I can sing, I can do most anything”:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyIrish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Colonial Song began life as a piano solo.  Grainger wrote it in 1911 as a gift to his mother, Rose.  It represents a comparatively rare instance of Grainger relying on an original melody rather than extant folk sources.  Grainger created versions of the piece for different ensembles, as small as piano trio and as large as symphony orchestra.  The military band version appeared as a result of Grainger’s time in the US Army bands.  See more about Colonial Song on wikipedia.

But why write about these 2 pieces together?  Grainger neatly sums up the connection between Colonial Song and 1914’s Gumsuckers March, as well as the significance of his original melody, in this tidy program note:

A “Gum-Sucker” is an Australian nick-name for Australians born in Victoria, the home state of the composer. The eucalyptus trees that abound in Victoria are called “gums”, and the young shoots at the bottom of the trunk are called “suckers”; so “gum-sucker” came to mean a young native son of Victoria, just as Ohioans are nick-named “Buck-eyes”. In the march, Grainger used his own “Australian Up-Country-Song” melody, written by him to typify Australia, which melody he also employed in his Colonial Song for two voices and orchestra, or military band.

This note comes from the Wind Repertory Project, and is attributed to Grainger himself.

Here’s Colonial Song in a rendition by the Royal Australian Navy band:

Now the US Coast Guard band plays Gumsuckers.  The Colonial Song theme should pop right out at you!

Percy Grainger was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyIrish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Handel in the Strand is one of Grainger’s early light orchestral pieces, written in 1911, before he enlisted in the US Army during World War I.  Grainger had no trouble allowing other musicians to arrange his music to suit their needs, so Handel in the Strand has existed in several different versions.  After its original massed piano and string orchestra setting came versions for full orchesra, piano (solo and 4 hands), organ, trombone choir, and two different settings for band (Goldman and Sousa).  Grainger gives an amusing anecdote on its origin:

My title was originally “Clog Dance”. But my dear friend William Gair Rathbone (to whom the piece is dedicated) suggested the title “Handel in the Strand,” because the music seemed to reflect both Handel and English musical comedy [the “Strand” — a street in London — is the home of London musical comedy] — as if jovial old Handel were careering down the Strand to the strains of modern English popular music.

Handel in the Strand on YouTube, performed by the North Texas Wind Symphony:

Program note on the orchestral version of Handel in the Strand from the Kennedy Center.

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Children’s March was written between 1916 and 1919, during the flurry of activity that produced several of Grainger’s miniature masterworks for winds.  The version for full band was premiered by the Goldman Band at Columbia University (yes, OUR Columbia University) in 1919.  As with most of his music, Grainger wrote and orchestrated Children’s March with a very specific vision, but also with a widely flexible instrumentation.  The piece could be played by ensembles as small as woodwind quintet with two pianos to those as large as a full symphonic band, or even a symphony orchestra (minus violins, violas, and cellos) without altering the existing parts.  While this flexibility is not unusual in Grainger’s work, two features the orchestration of Children’s March set it apart from his contemporaneous works.  First is the prominent inclusion of the piano, which was then unusual.  Second are the two 4-part vocal passages in the piece that are intended to be sung by the members of the band.  Furthermore, Children’s March is a rare instance of Grainger using original material.  Most of his other enduring works were based on existing folk melodies, but Grainger devised his own–possibly his most effective original tune–in this case.

These program notes from the Carson-Newman College bands elaborate on the instrumentation (and more) of Children’s March:

In Children’s March Grainger displays his quality skills for scoring in this light and carefree work. Scored for band in 1919, Children’s March had roots within a piano solo which Grainger had composed between 1916 and 1918. At the time it was rescored, Grainger was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Artillery Band and, thus, the march reflects an orchestration to take advantage of that group’s instrumentation. In composition, Grainger was of the opinion that it is in the lower octaves of the band (and from the larger members of the reed families) that the greatest expressivity is to be looked for. Consequently we find in his Children’s March a more liberal and highly specialized use of such instruments as the bassoons, English horn, bass clarinet and the lower saxophones than is usual in writing for military band. The march was first performed by the renowned Goldman Band in 1919 and was also recorded in its original form by the same band with the composer conducting. It was dedicated to “my playmate beyond the hills,” believed to be Karen Holton, a Scandinavian beauty with whom the composer corresponded for eight years but would not marry because of his possessive mother’s jealousy.

Here is a magnificent performance of Children’s March on YouTube by the North Texas Wind Symphony.  Listen for the piano and vocals:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Finally, I know this is already up on the other Grainger pages, but it’s just so good:

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, Children’s March and Molly on the Shore.

Lincolnshire Posy is considered to be Grainger’s masterwork for wind band.  It is based on folk songs that he and Lucy Broadwood collected in Lincolnshire in 1905-06.  He intended it as a collection of “musical wildflowers” reflective not only of the songs but of the singers who sang them to Grainger and their personalities.  Thus style plays a big role in each movement.  Grainger uses every compositional device at his disposal to great effect: harmonies move unpredictably, meter is unstable or absent, countermelodies creep in and out of prominence, melodies go willfully in and out of phase, all in service of the singer’s implied interpretation of each folk tune.  Grainger recorded each singer on wax cylinders, using those recordings as reference to faithfully recreate each tune.  He began the process of assembling the various tunes into Lincolnshire Posy in 1937.  It was premiered by the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer factory worker’s band in Milwaukee that same year on March 7.  This premier was incomplete: as is often the case today, the PBR band was not up to the challenge of the harder movements.

Lincolnshire Posy has its own wikipedia entry, which mentions quite a few fun facts about it.  This page used to host the lyrics to each of the original folk songs, but they have sadly disappeared.  Instead, you’ll have to turn to individual sites for each movement:

I. “Lisbon” and “Duke of Marlborough” (actually another version of “Lord Melbourne”)

II. “Horkstow Grange

III. “Rufford Park Poachers

IV. “The Brisk Young Sailor” (also known as “A Fair Maid Walking”)

V. “Lord Melbourne

VI. “Lost Lady Found

The score of the Frederick Fennell edition of Lincolnshire Posy features an extensive program note that is a true treasure-trove of Grainger-isms.  It can be found in its entirety, along with extensive bonus material, here.

There are an incredible number of performances of Lincolnshire Posy on YouTube.  Most of them are no good, but thankfully Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble and their classic recording of the piece have made their way onto YouTube:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Finally, I know this is already up on the other Grainger pages, but it’s just so good:

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyHandel in the Strand, and Molly on the Shore.

Irish Tune from County Derry is a setting of a now-famous tune from the Irish county of Derry in the north (also sometimes called Londonderry).  This classic arrangement features beautiful, delicate part-writing for both woodwinds and brass, highlighting each family in turn.  The Columbia Summer Winds performances of this piece in summer 2009 are dedicated to the memory of our departed friend, Daniel Tedlie.

References on various version of Irish Tune at percygrainger.com.

While this tune is widely associated with the lyrics “Danny Boy”, it in fact has rich history of lyric settings of which “Danny Boy” is a relative latecomer.  For one version of the full history, see wikipedia’s article on “Londonderry Air”, an alternate title for the tune.  The full lyrics of “Danny Boy”, which helped inspire the choice of dedication for this summer, are below:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Grainger’s setting may or may not have had any particular set of lyrics in mind.  Grainger’s first settings were published in 1918, whereas various lyrics date back to 1855 or earlier.  “Danny Boy” did not appear in print until 1913.  Even in vocal arrangements, Grainger used no particular lyrics – see below for the proof!

There is naturally much media available on this tune.  Here is just a tiny sampling:

A beautiful recording by the Cambridge Singers of Grainger’s (wisely) wordless vocal arrangement:

From YouTube, an unnamed band performs to images of Irish pride and patriotism:

Now your bonus video: The Muppet Show‘s three most articulate singers take on “Danny Boy”:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyIrish Tune from County DerryChildren’s March and Molly on the Shore.

Grainger originally wrote Molly on the Shore in a 1907 string setting as birthday gift for his mother (who exerted perhaps an undue influence on him during her lifetime).  The wind band setting is but one of many, and it appeared in 1920.  Two quotes about this piece illustrate the uniqueness of Grainger’s approach to music:

In setting Molly on the Shore I strove to imbue the accompanying parts that made up the harmonic texture with a melodic character not too unlike that of the underlying reel tune. Melody seems to me to provide music with an initiative, whereas rhythm appears to me to exert an enslaving influence. For that reason I have tried to avoid rhythmic domination in my music — always excepting irregular rhythms, such as those of Gregorian Chant, which seem to me to make for freedom. Equally with melody I prize discordant harmony, because of the emotional and compassionate sway it exerts.

And:

One of the reasons why things of mine like Molly on the Shore and Shepherd’s Hey are good is because there is so little gaiety and fun in them.  While other composers would have been jolly in setting such dance tunes, I have been sad or furious.  My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.

So what does the internet have to say about Molly on the Shore?  Plenty!

Molly on Wikipedia

David Goza’s informative essay entitled “Molly on the Shore: a Minor Miracle”.

As a novelty item, Molly arranged for band and 4 marimbas.

Version for alto sax and piano arranged by Paul Cohen, with excellent program note on the page.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Watch a video of a great performance in the meantime:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Finally, I know this is already up on the other Grainger pages, but it’s just so good:

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano: