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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.

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.

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

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The Second Suite in F was written in 1911, but not performed until 1922.  Each of its four movements uses one or more folk songs as its melodic material.

An unnamed band performs each movement of the suite, each in separate videos.  First, the “March”:

“Song without Words”:

The devilish “Song of the Blacksmith”:

Finally, “Fantasia on the Dargason” at a good, healthy tempo (I like this one fast!):

Holst largely repeated this movement in his St. Paul’s Suite for orchestra:

Holst also wrote a chorale version of the “Song of the Blacksmith”:

There is also a choral version of “Song without Words”, titled “I Love My Love”:

Great program note on Second Suite from the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra.

Second Suite on wikipedia (a rather poorly-researched article, I’m afraid!)

For those interested in singing along with some Holst, many of the folk songs used in the Second Suite have their lyrics published on the internet:

From the “March”: “Morris Dance” is an instrumental dance; “Swansea Town” starts with the euphonium solo; “Claudy Banks” is the 6/8 section. That link leaves out the chorus, which you can find in Bob Garofalo’s great resource book, Folk Songs and Dances in Second Suite.

“Song without Words” is actually “I Love My Love”

“Song of the Blacksmith”

“Fantasia on the Dargason”: The Dargason itself is an instrumental dance tune, related to popular melodies like “The Irish Washerwoman”.  This movement also includes “Greensleeves”, usually a sad-sounding song, as a rather joyous interlude and a powerful climax.

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

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:

From the CUWE program archive:

In 1910, Igor Stravinsky (b.1882 in Russia, d.1971 in New York) premiered The Firebird ballet with the Ballet Russe, and it became an international success.  Although he was not well known before this, Stravinsky became one of the most famous modern Russian composers.  He is also acclaimed for his ballets Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  Stravinsky received little early musical training, and it was not until he studied under the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov that his musical talents became ignited.  Stravinsky arranged three suites that highlighted excerpts from The Firebird ballet.  This afternoon, we will be playing the “Berceuse and Finale” from the suite.  Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebird tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

author unknown (not me), from the Spring 2004 “Russian” concert program.

That pretty much says it all.  Below are some links.  Bear in mind that this piece is performed so often that most links are advertisements for performances or recordings of the work!  I will do my best to omit those below.

Score excerpts from the ballet on Google Books.

The ballet and concert suites on Wikipedia.

The folk tale upon which the ballet is based, also on Wikipedia.

Program notes from Pomona College.

Extensive program notes on the ballet from the Kennedy Center.

Igor Stravinsky on Wikipedia.

Igor Stravinsky in the Time 100, remembering the greatest figures of the 20th century, by composer Philip Glass.

The “Lullabye and Final Hymn” (“Berceuse and Finale” as we know them) conducted by the man himself, Maestro Stravinsky at age 82!!  Things I love about this performance: Stravinsky’s minimal and nearly affect-less conducting; the endless tempo in the Lullabye section; Stravinsky’s only change of facial expression at the very end of the Finale; the comically short quarter notes in the final section (which we will not replicate!); the fact that Stravinsky walks with a cane, but does not need it when conducting.  Enjoy this true gem of a video!

The complete ballet, company and orchestra unknown:

This was a Senior Choice for hornist Justine Ordinario ’09.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is a figure of monumental importance in wind band circles.  His First and Second Suites for Military Band are two of the foundational pieces of the wind band genre.  But they did not make him famous in the wider world.  That distinction belongs to his massive orchestral suite, The Planets.  Written between 1914 and 1916 (during World War I), the suite depicts the astrological character of each planet.  It leaves out both Earth, which is not in our sky and thus has no astrological significance, and Pluto, which had not been discovered at the time and has since been relegated to dwarf-planet status.  The movements proceed as follows:

Mars, the Bringer of War
Venus, the Bringer of Peace
Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
Uranus, the Magician
Neptune, the Mystic

Clearly, these are not in actual planet order.  There are several possible explanations for this, including that the characters of the first four movements made for a better symphony-like form in that order, or that Holst went in order of proximity to Earth, or that he went in order of their astrological significance.

The Planets was such a hit that it took Holst by surprise, and he felt that its overshadowed the rest of his music.  He never again wrote a large-scale piece for orchestra.

The Columbia Wind Ensemble has played “Mars” and “Jupiter”, so the resources here will focus on those movements.

The quantity of web literature on this piece fits its blockbuster status.  Below is just a sampling of what’s available.  It’s all highly informative, so definitely read!

Wikipedia article

Preview of the full orchestral score on Google Books.

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Program notes on The Planets from Gustavholst.info.

Article on The Planets at Suite101.com, on online writers’ community.

A video interpretation of The Planets from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

An article tracing the musical influences and origins of The Planets.

A blog post that compares The Planets to other pieces, including Star Wars.  Also has audio excerpts of each movement.  Very informative!

Another informative article at BestStuff.com.

Now some videos:

Digital simulation of the Mars Rover’s journey with Holst’s “Mars” as the backdrop (not my favorite recording, for the record):

My favorite recording of Jupiter by Charles Duthoit and the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, with montage!

Another recording of Jupiter, this one LIVE by the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra.  A thrill to watch – I can’t recommend this highly enough!  Linked, because they don’t allow embedding.

What planet Jupiter REALLY sounds like (or, that is, what it’s electromagnetic waves sound like when converted into sound by NASA’s Voyager):

Now, the bonus stuff: info on the planets Mars and Jupiter themselves.  It sometimes amazes me to think that we live in a solar system so vast that our two next-door neighbors take months and years to reach.  The countless stars we see in the sky, none of which we have any hope of reach in one human lifetime, all belong to our same galaxy.  And we are just one of untold billions of galaxies out there, all so vast but so distant as to be nearly invisible from Earth.  Despite our wretched smallness and insignificance in the universe, music like The Planets exists as a testament to a small measure of our greatness.  And we are lucky enough to be able to experience it from the inside.

These movements were picked as 2009 Senior Choices by hornist and percussionist Jeff Petriello and hornist Margot Schloss.  “Mars” was clarinetist Liz Portnoy’s pick in 2004.

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:

Sousa wrote The Pathfinder of Panama in 1915.  According to naxosdirect.com:

Pathfinder of Panama was composed for the Sousa Band’s long residency at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition in the summer of 1915. The Sousa Band appeared alongside an all-star symphony orchestra conducted by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com.  Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Finally, a youtube performance by an unknown band.  Their articulation is great, but they consistently rush the dotted rhythms.  Listen carefully so that ours are better!

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”: