A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger
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|Table of Contents to Source Guide|
|1. Biographical/Artistic Vignettes|
|4. Program Notes|
4. PROGRAM NOTES, continued
NOTE: THIS ONLINE VERSION IS CURRENTLY "TEXT ONLY." MUSICAL EXAMPLES REFERRED TO IN THE TEXT HAVE TO BE SCANNED SEPARATELY AND WILL BE ADDED AT A FUTURE DATE.
Youthful Tone Works No. 1
"Through his life, the work of Percy Grainger was strongly influenced by the writings of Rudyard Kipling. Fisher's Boarding House is one of a small number of orchestral works ('Youthful Toneworks') written around 1899 when Grainger wa s a [16- or 17-year-old] student in Frankfurt-am-Main, and it was inspired by the 'Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House'. The piece has an interesting history. Percy's father John Grainger (architect and engineer) was at that time working on a number of impo rtant building projects in Western Australia. He was the architect for many well-known public buildings such as the Government House ballroom and the Supreme Court in Perth, the Fremantle Town Hall, the Town Halls and Post Offices in Kalgoorlie and Boulde r, as well as many other buildings on the goldfields. He was also Chairman of the Perth Amateur Orchestral Society and in this position wrote to his son requesting an orchestral work for the Society. Grainger senior requested a piece that was not too diff icult since the 'fiddlists are not all Joachims and only about second rate players so don't make it too difficult, that is if you are in the humour.' One wonders at the reactions of the amateur musicians when they first sighted Fisher's Boarding House, a demanding piece written in six sharps with many double sharps. Correspondence in archives shows they were delighted to receive the manuscript, although they found the key difficult, and the fact is that although they rehearsed the piece, it was apparently never performed in public!
"Fisher's Boarding House shows the most evidence of Grainger's highly individual musical thinking of all the Youthful Toneworks. However, although it bears the hallmark of all his later compositions, it is cast in a strictly 19th cent ury Teutonic form, and scored simply for double woodwind, two horns and strings, with none of the scintillating percussion and keyboard sounds which became integral to his later work. Much of the harmony and structure call to mind composers of the mid-19t h century, particularly Mendelssohn. His strict Frankfurt teachers would even have approved of the style of penmanship he used in his manuscript! Nevertheless, the angular themes and constant pushing onwards of the 17-year old Australian spirit is evident through the formal, traditional framework."--John Hopkins (Orchestral 5).
Russian folksong collected by Eugenie Lineva, edited by PG for 3 voices (soprano/alto, tenor, bass), 1934.
Grainger: "From Great-Russian Songs in Folk-Harmonisation (noted phonograpically from the improvised partsinging of peasants), edited by V. A. Fiodorov (Moscow, 1921). Madame Yevgeniya Eduardovna Lineva was one of the first (at the turn of the century) to sense the value of the phonograph in folkmusic collecting. Her notations threw much light on the instincts of musically untutored peasants who improvise polyphonic parts (podgolosok) around a given melody. It will be seen that their harmonic s ense (which tolerates only unison or octave at the close of cadences) is less developed than that shown in the English 13th century church music deciphered by Dom Anselm Hughes, in which the 5th is added to the octave for closes. (More advanced than eithe r of these musics is the traditional partsinging by musically untutored American Negroes that Natalie Curtis-Burlin has phonographically collected and so admirably recorded in her Negro Folk-Songs, Hampton Series, published by G. Schirmer, New York .) The songs Madame Lineva has preserved are always remarkable for their natural vocal style and effectiveness & often for their melodic complexity.
"Singers performing these numbers may evolve their own dynamics & expression marks (those I have provided may be taken as hints, merely) & may transpose into any suitable keys.
"[Headnote:] Slowly, languishingly, with somewhat exagerated expression."
"Ironically enough, it was what Grainger considered his only truly valuable and original contribution to music that has remained in the greatest obscurity. The concept of what he called 'Free Music' was one that had haunted him ever since he was a child. It was his dream that one day it might be possible to capture and control a kind of music in which the free play of sound could have something of the quality of the sounds of nature. In his words:
When I was six... and was taken boating on the Albert Park Lagoon [in Melbourne], I was fascinated by the movements and sounds of water lapping against the side of the boat. The wish to capture in music these nature sounds and irregular nature rhythms led me to conceive my Free Music, at which I have been working ever since.... In Free Music reigns complete freedom from scales, complete rhythmic freedom (each tone strand enjoying complete independence from all the other tone-strands), and compl ete freedom from what I call 'Harmonic morality'.... [Roger Covell, Australia's Music, 100.]
"In 1899, Grainger first clearly formulated his thoughts about the limitations of traditional western music and the western notational system in terms of pitch and rhythm. His early experiments with 'beatless music' were consequently begun in that yea r. Beatless music he defined as 'music in which no standard duration of beat occurs, but in which all rhythms are free, without beat cohesion between the various polyphonic parts.' He was convinced at this early date that the problems and limitations of r hythmic notation in western music required intensive thought and that new resources could be introduced into common practice. Much of his time from 1899 to the end of his life was deveted to developing these ideas.
"Free Music in Grainger's definition is free not only rhythmically; it is free also from the bondage of scales and fixed intervals. It implies no scale, but employs all intervals from the tiniest micro-interval to the widest leap. These, however, are not arranged in a predetermined or necessarily related manner--i.e., they help to create music of ideal curvilinear freedom and flexibility, lacking bar accents as well as tonal restriction. Also embodied in the concept of Free Music is 'non-har mony'--totally independent voices creating an immensely complex polyphonic web of sound that was, for Grainger's time, too intricate for human performance.
"Thus Grainger felt that the path of future musical development lay in the basic tenets of Free Music--the emancipation of rhythm, the use of gliding intervals (including by definition all gradations of the micro-interval), and the achievement of g reater dissonance through highly developed polyphony. This conviction, with the possible exception of Grainger's advocacy of gliding intervals, is rather widely shared today, but one must credit him with having arrived at it more than sixty years ago. A s tudy of some of Grainger's early and little-known scores [reveals his] experimentation concerning the first and third aspects of development. With regard to the exploitation of closer intervals, these have been until recent years the limitations of wester n notation and performing tradition. Nonetheless, Grainger sought an increasingly sinuous chromaticism to the point at which the intervals within the half tones must eventually become points of focus as well as points of passage. For that reason, Grainger became increasingly dissatisfied with the piano, and it was inevitable that his attention should be drawn to instruments capable of both true glissando and accurate control. In 1912, he became enthusiastic over the possibilities of an instrument that he referred to as the 'siren', the invention of a Dutchman in Hoom, but was never able to obtain the instrument as a forerunner of the theremin, an instrument with which he later experimented.
"In his Free Music, Grainger was actually striving imaginatively all his life towards the realization of an ideal--of a cosmic and impersonal music, continuously evolving and untrammelled by conventional formal limitations. Among his sketches for an articled called 'My wretched tone-life', is found the following statement:
My Kipling Jungle Book cycle, Hill-songs I and II, represent my protests against civilization. Almost the only part of my music that isn't doom-mooded is that part dealing with the mankindless world of the hills, the sea, the deserts.
With all this, I hope that I am not leaving an impression that the bulk of my music arises out of human feelings and mind-stirs. For that is not so. My music (tone-art) is at its best when it has naught or little to do with human stirs, longing s, and sorrows, and doubly best when it has nothing to do with folksong. My tone-art is at its best when it tallies the streaming, surging, seething forces of the non-human nature (as in Hill-songs I and II, Sea-Songs, Bush Music), or the wholly impersonal treads of mankind-as-a-whole (as in the Marching Song of Democracy). And then these more universe-mooded toneworks are merely a kind of rehearsal for my Free Music which will be my only ripe contribution to music.... [Typescript in the archives of the Percy Grainger Library Society, White Plains, New York.]
"In the realm of gliding tones, it was inevitable that Grainger's attention would be drawn to instruments capable of both the glissando and accurate control. From 1935, there dates a short piece for string quartet demonstrating gliding intervals. This example was used to demonstrate some of his Free Music ideas, during his Australian tour of that year. Later, he arranged it in graph form for four theremins, besides composing more extensive and complex pieces of Free Music for this instrument in collab oration with its inventor, Professor Leon Theremin. His Free Music No. 2, which was originally intended to be played mechanically on six theremins, [is to] be realized on Radio Stockholm's electronic-music equipment this year . The theremin, however, offered only a very partial solution to the realization of Free Music, since it could satisfy pitch requirements of gliding intervals and also dynamic control, but provided no resource for the solution of rhythmic problems.
"In 1932, Grainger became greatly excited over the 'Polytone', an instrument invented by Arthur Fickensher, an American composer with experimental tendencies. In the following excerpt from a letter [Dated Oct. 18, 1932, in the collection of Grainger letters, Music Division of the Library of Congress.] to Fickensher, Grainger waxes enthusiastic over the Polytone:
Since the days of Bach's 'well-tempered' tuning, no genuinely practical step forward has been made in the resourcefulness of the musical intervals at our disposal. Stravinsky has done much to liberate rhythm from the fetters of regularity. Arnold Schönberg has freed us from the inevitability of harmony. But it is obvious that 'Free Music'--the goal towards which all musical progress is striving, consciously or unconsciously, cannot arrive until musical intervals become free also. With your 'polytone' true intervallic progress can be made at last. It not only provides perfect (non-tempered) in-tune-ness as well as all hearable varieties of intervals by means of a practical and facile keyboard, but it also unites these qualities with great sensuous beauty of tone and wide possibilities of emotional expression. It is the ideal instrument for the composer's study and the concert hall.
Henry Cowell was aware of Fickensher's activities; in a letter to Grainger in 1941, Fickensher mentions that 'we are looking forward to a visit from Henry Cowell tomorrow regarding the Polytone.' Grainger's influence on Fickensher is obvious in Fickensher's piano quintet, dating from the thirties, which uses micro-intervals and gliding chords in the string writing.
"Grainger had attempted to come to grips with the rhythmic aspects of Free Music long before experimenting with its intervallic features. As far back as 1900, he had toyed with the notion of realizing irregular rhythms by a primitive method involving a revolving cotton reel. In 1907 he wrote a Sea Song Sketch using irregular barrings and highly complicated rhythms. Throughout his life, Grainger had always shown a deep love and fascination for the sea. This is reflected in his many sea compositi ons for traditional instruments. The sea was also the germinal factor in the creation of his Free Music concepts. The movement and sound of the waves against the side of a boat, the play of the wind on the water, the curve of a gull's flight--all these elements made him yearn to create an equivalent freedom in music. In 1933, he presented Sea Song Sketch in three different forms of rhythmic notation: (a) regularly barred music, (b) irregularly barred music (the original form of the piece), and ( c) beatless music. The first two versions were scored for strings, the last to be cut on a piano roll to be played mechanically on a reproducing piano or on a roll-operated organ. Grainger was trying to show the inadequacies of our rhythmic notational sys tem and to make the point that Sea Song Sketch as he actually conceived it could only be faithfully realized mechanically. Rendering it in a simplified version in simplified rhythmic notation for instruments was but a compromise.
"The possibilities of composing directly by patient measuring and perforation on player-piano rolls was one practical solution to handling the rhythmic problems of Free Music and furthermore of presenting it to audiences. Conlon Nancarrow has also car ried out experiments along these lines in his studies for player piano, the first of which were composed in 1948 (twenty-six years after Grainger had first experimented with the method). While Grainger's and Nancarrow's immediate aims were strangely ident ical--the realization of elaborate and precise rhythmic structures beyond human capability--Grainger did not, as Nancarrow did, compose almost exclusively for the player piano. As in the case of the theremin, it offered only a partial solution for t he realization of Free Music. (Grainger's subsequent Free Music apparatus, however, was developed along the lines of the roll technique.) Nancarrow carried the technique of composing directly for player piano to its utmost potential and refinement, creati ng some spectacular sonorities, and performances that would require the superhuman, if actual digital dexterity were involved. Dynamics and timbres could be controlled, the latter by modifying the material of which the hammers were made. In a broad sense, Nancarrow's player-piano studies and Grainger's Free Music experiments with player piano, which led him to harness three melanettes to a Duo-Art player-piano mechanism, are forerunners of John Cage's 'prepared piano' innovations. By composing directly on to piano rolls, both Grainger and Nancarrow were approaching the player piano in the light of a new potential. Previously, the instrument had been used to reproduce human performances; now, ironically enough, the reverse had occurred--the player piano was being used to create what human beings were physically incapable of executing. Grainger was amazed that no one else had thought of exploring the possibilities of the instrument in this fashion, when the player piano was enjoying the height of its popu larity during the first decades of the twentieth century.
"[In 1948, Grainger developed experimental mechanisms involving the piano-roll technique.] Shortly before, he had become acquainted with Burnett Cross, a young physicist who not only was much interested in Grainger's Free Music ideas but collaborated with him thereafter in the building of his Free Music apparatus. His explanation of this was:
Three melanettes (early keyboard electronic instruments) were tuned a third of a half-tone apart, i.e. a sixth tone apart. When such close pitches are activated in rapid succession, they produce the impression of a glide. The keys of the melane ttes were attached to the silenced keyboard of the player piano by pitch-control threads, so that, when the piano-key C was depressed, the pitch of C would sound on the first melanette. When C sharp was depressed, it would activate the sound of C on the s econd melanette tuned a sixth tone higher than C on the first melanette. Similarly, when D on the piano was depressed, C on the third melanette would sound, again tuned a sixth tone higher than the C on the second melanette. Thus the piano keys E, F, and F sharp would activate three different C sharps a sixth-tone apart on the melanettes to which they were attached, and so on.
Here, at last, intervallic and rhythmic patterns of Free Music could be cut on a piano roll and realized through the melanettes by way of the keyboard mechanism of the piano. Shortly afterward, Grainger did the same thing with three solovoxes (a solovox was a more sophisticated version of the melanette). On this mechanism, the tone quality could be regulated and a sustained tone capable of dynamic variation could be produced.
"In 1950, Grainger and Cross applied the principles of the piano-roll mechanism to what Grainger termed the 'Estey reed tone tool' or reed box. A thirty-six inch wide wrapping-paper roll with accurately measured perforations (similar to those of a pia nola roll) was passed at a constant speed over a kind of giant harmonica, whose reeds were tuned so as to produce four different subdivisions in pitch to the half-tone. By making the reeds overlap in pitch, a glide effect could be created at both slow and fast speeds. Volume control was possible to a certain extent, depending on the number of reeds that sounded at any given moment. Furthermore, up to four successive reeds, an eighth-tone apart from each other, would produce one definite average pitch when sounded simultaneously. Thus gliding chords of varying dynamic shape were possible. On this machine Grainger created his first planned gliding chords in 1951. A musical glide was, to Grainger, not only a means of getting from one note to another, but a p henomenon to be developed for its own sake. Premeditated glides and gliding chords of precise rather than of random musical shape were phenomena hitherto neglected and undeveloped in western musical thinking, though they have been brought more and more in to focus and called to our attention with the advent of electronic music.
"By having four reed boxes operating simultaneously, not only multiple gliding chords but also contrapuntal lines and irregular rhythms could be created. The main disadvantage of the Estey reed tone tool, however, lay in the fact that increased suctio n on the paper (which occurred when many reeds were simultaneously activated) not only made the machine play louder, but sometimes caused the paper to drag or tear.
"Grainger and Cross then designed a more ambitious Free Music machine in 1952. Like the reed boxes, this machine was essentially a composing machine as opposed to the theremin and player piano, which were performing instruments. This particular Free M usic machine involved a form of graph notation, which Grainger had first used in notating his Free Music for theremins. A description of the apparatus is given in Goldman's article on Grainger's Free Music and is reproduced here:
The machine consists of two parts, the first of which is basically a set of oscillators, each of which is set to produce a range of pitch covering about three octaves. The pitch is varied by the elevation of a control rod which follows a moving track. Volume is controlled similarly but independently; thus each voice has two controls: pitch and volume. The music is written in graph form, in rising and falling curves of varying depth and grade. On the present scale of operation, Grainger and Cros s are using large sheets of brown paper, with one-half inch representing a half-tone. This gives ample scope for minute measurements of 'drawing' and hence of pitch control: 1/16 inch equals 1/16 tone for example; decimal or other measurements may of course also be used.
The reader will see that rhythm can be easily calculated and controlled by horizontal measurements, and that any duration of sound, or combination of durations in various voices, can be achieved by simple linear measurements from left to right. Rests can be produced by the use of contact breakers. The speed of playing is at present controlled manually, but Grainger concedes that for a finished composition it would be well to have the machine run by a mechanism that would ensure ab solute evenness of performance at the speed designed by the composer. All the voices are of course fed simultaneously. At the present stage, the instrument will accommodate four independent voices. [Richard Franko Goldman, 'Percy Grainger's 'Free Music'', The Juilliard Review, II/3 (Fall 1955), 43-46.]
The total range of the eight overlapping oscillators resulted in a compass equalling that of the pianoforte. Phrasing was made possible by means of the volume-control graphs. The instrument produced a clear reedy tone somewhat like that of a clarinet. Its most obvious limitation was its inability to produce variations in the tone color. Grainger felt, however, that at this stage of his Free Music development, timbre was a secondary consideration.
"With this Free Music machine, then, it was at last possible for Grainger to realize rhythmic and intervallic aspects of Free Music simultaneously along with a total independence of voices. All of this could be accomplished in a more or less primitive fashion by the reed boxes. Prior to their adoption, however, Grainger had not thought it possible to handle all these aspects at once when working with traditional instruments and instrumentalists.
"While this particular Free Music apparatus was operated partly by mechanical means and partly by electronic means, Grainger and Cross created yet another Free Music machine, this one being solely electronic.
"With this machine great potential is offered to one with much imagination and aural ingenuity. One can compose a simple four-part chorale on it, or one can create a piece using gliding intervals, great dissonance, and free rhythms. In practice, someo ne completely unschooled might produce 'free music' accidentally on it without attempting to imagine in advance what the resultant sound might be like. On the other hand, any end may also be accomplished by intent, providing the composer can really hear m icro-intervals and can think in free rhythms.
"Grainger can be considered a pioneer in the field of electronic music, not only because of his machines and his premature creation of gliding chords and intervals, but also because of his uncanny foresight in anticipating the premises of electronic m usic in 1938. I have mentioned earlier that [in 1972] Grainger's Free Music No. 2 for six theremins will be realized on Radio Stockholm's electronic music equipment. The fact that Grainger's theremin graphs of the mid-thirties were actually potenti al material for electronic realization makes the interesting historical point that Grainger was unwittingly using a form of electronic-music notation almost two decades before electronic music came into being. Graph notation has also become one of the met hods of noting avant-garde instrumental music today.
"Grainger was fully aware of contemporary developments in electronic music during the mid-fifties and even attended the seminar on the RCA electronic music synthesizer given by Dr. Harry Olson and his associates at The Juilliard School in 1957. Yet tr ue to his uncompromising sense of individuality, he chose to proceed along his own independent path of discovery. Grainger emphasizes the fact that the electronic realization of his very early hopes is not an end in itself; his point of view about his Fre e Music is essentially a musical one, and the technique by which it is achieved is secondary. Electronic music as a phenomenon in itself did not hold great fascination for him; the fact that his Free Music concepts were most successfully realized through the electronic medium was only an incidental occurrence as far as he was concerned.
"For Grainger's Free Music, as for music composed directly on electronic equipment, there are no scores. Today the paper rolls on which are recorded or notated the manifestations of his Free Music are in the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, and so are the Free Music machines themselves. It is hoped that, in the not-too-distant future, Grainger will be given the recognition due to his restless inventiveness and that his Free Music apparatus will be reassembled and put in working order by some Australian c omposer with foresight, imagination, and an inclination towards electronic music. Perhaps such a musician will develop from Grainger's machines an apparatus and a tradition of composing with it that will rank as Australia's unique contribution to twentieth-century developments in electronic music."--Margaret Hee-Leng Tan.
"What Percy Grainger required of a machine to play his Free Music can be simply stated. Realizing these requirements was not so simple, of course, but their definiteness and straightforwardness were a great asset: we did not spend time devel oping features that would be of secondary importance to a composer. Grainger wanted a composer's machine, not one for the concert hall. As he said, he wanted to hear in actuality the sounds he had heard in his mind for many years, to determine whether the y had the effect he imagined, and to adjust them accordingly.[This is an especially important point, I think. At this point Grainger did not attempt to produce a performing (concert) device, but wished simply to explore the possibilities of the k ind of music he envisaged... with consequences not only aesthetically, i.e. with respect to the particular sounds of the music produced, but also structurally, i.e. with respect to one's understanding of musical structure itself (see, for example, the debate in 20th century music between tonally-based and atonal music). In this Grainger may be seen not merely as an anticipator of e.g. electronic synthesizers (as an ingenious promoter of new kinds of musical instruments), but as a pioneer in achieving grea ter musical understanding, for example with respect to relationships between tones or pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc. (Ed.)]
"The free music machine had to be able to play any pitch within its range. It was to be free of the limitations of speaking in half tones, or quarter tones or eighth tones for that matter. Any pitch (or group of pitches within the range of the seven voices planned for the machine shown) was to be available to the composer.
"The machine had to be able to go from pitch to pitch by way of a controlled glide as well as by a leap. It was to be free of the limitations of the usual methods of progressing from pitch to pitch.
"The machine had to be able to perform complex irregular rhythms accurately, rhythms much too difficult for human beings to execute. It was to be free of the limitations of the human performer, of what Grainger called `the tyranny of the performer.' Of course dynamics were to be precisely controlled as well.
"The machine had to be workable by the composer. It was not to require a staff of resident engineers to translate the composer's language into the machine's language or to keep the machine in working order.
"This last requirement produced, I think, the most striking feature of the machine developed. Grainger had worked out a form of graph notation for Free Music for many years. The Free Music machine [we] developed `reads' this graph notation, with very little modification required. The pitch control graph and the volume control graph are painted in the appropriate bands on the five-foot wide roll of clear plastic (see Figure 1, preceding page). Black plastic ink is used. By sliding the portion just pain ted across the pitch and volume control slits, the musical result is heard at once, and any adjustments can be made at once. In fact if one paints on the plastic directly over the pitch control slit, one can hear the pitch being formed. Happily the plasti c ink used is water-soluble, so erasure is easy.
"As the pitch-control graph moves across the pitch control slit, it causes the amount of light entering the slit to vary. This light (from the spotlight above) is reflected from a curved mirror to the pitch control photocell (see Figure 2, above). The photocell controls the frequency produced by a transistor oscillator: more light raises the frequency, less light lowers it, and no light at all produces the bottom note of the oscillator range. Thus variations in pitch are obtained.
"The output of the oscillator is sent to a common type of flashlight bulb, one that has a tiny filament and a built-in lens. The bulb changes the pulsating current from the oscillator into a pulsating beam of light. This beam is directed upward throug h the volume control slit, to strike the volume control photocell. The volume control graph varies the amount of light reaching this photocell, which is connected to a preamplifier-amplifier-speaker circuit. Thus the strength of the oscillator output can be varied and control of dynamics achieved.
"Imposing on the pitch control slit a musical scale of whatever sort is desired can be done with the filter and tuning sticks. How these are mounted above the slits, on the tuning bridge, is shown in Figure 3 (above). The tuning bridge rests on the me tal guide-rails that steer the flow of the plastic sheet from roller to roller. A close-up of a filter and tuning sticks is shown in Figure 4 (next page). By sliding pieces of exposed photographic film of different densities into the filter holder, the am ount of light reaching the pitch control slit can be crudely controlled and the range placement of the oscillator roughly established, for that particular voice. Then by moving tuning sticks in or out the effective width of the slit can be varied. Thus ha lf-tone reference points (for example) of the scale can be distributed evenly along the length of the pitch control slit. The narrower the tuning sticks, or in other words the more of them there are along the slit, the finer the adjustment can be. Thanks to transistors in the oscillator and other circuits, the scale imposed is stable enough. Trying to achieve stability with a vacuum tube circuit was a maddening and unsuccessful task. The vacuum tube model turned out to be a very sensitive device for detec ting changes in the characteristics of vacuum tubes by means of changes in a musical scale.
"Since the spotlights are running on AC it might be expected that an AC hum would be the principal musical output of the arrangement, but it turns out that this is not so. Apparently the filament of the spotlight is too massive to transmit 60 cycles p er second. The power supply for the flashlight bulb, however, has to be pretty smooth DC.
"The mirror is made of a strip of copper bent by hand to the desired shape (which was easier than working out the geometry of the thing) and then chrome plated. A sharp focus on the pitch control photocell is not necessary. Both photo-cells were shiel ded with lightproof black cardboard from stray light. The transistor oscillator circuit produces a reedy and not unpleasant quality: a wide range of tone colors could be produced by manipulating the electronics of the oscillator, but Grainger was not at a ll interested in this at this stage. Command of pitch, duration and intensity were what he wanted, and quality was unimportant.
"The feeder and eater rollers, as Grainger called them, are mounted on skate wheels, which allow a roller to move from side to side to compensate for irregularities in the plastic sheeting. Since the plastic sheet is constrained by the guide rails so that its position relative to the slits will not change, it must be allowed freedom at both ends of its path. An electric motor can be arranged to turn the eater roller by means of a belt, but turning the roller by hand is easy and safe."--Burnett Cross.
"[Grainger's solo piano transcriptions] were made for a variety of reasons, some for the purposes of publication--the success in print of the earliest, the Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky's Flower Waltz, had alerted Grainger to the comme rcial potential of such transcriptions--others, like the Lullaby from 'Tribute to Foster', had more personal associations. Certainly, Grainger believed in the value of piano transcription, an art which, in the days before the invention of gramop hone and wireless, was not only a practical necessity (and a skill often mastered by accomplished amateur musicians) but one elevated to the status of original compositon by the work of great composer/performers such as Liszt and Busoni.
"During 1903 Grainger spent some time in Berlin studying with Busoni. They worked on Busoni's Bach transcriptions and the result of Grainger's period of study can be heard in many of [Grainger's own transcriptions], though they all proclaim the indivi duality of Grainger's musical personality and are not slavish imitations of Busoni's piano style.
"The transcriptions tend to form three broad categories. Firstly, there are the straightforward arrangements in which the form and texture of the original are retained and the music is simply transferred from one medium to another (e.g. Nimrod Variation). Secondly, there are the arrangements which contain more elements of original composition and new counterpoints, doublings and harmonic inflections are added (e.g. the Dowland song 'Now, O Now, I Needs Must Part'). Finally, there are the paraph rases, or (Grainger's term) 'rambles', in which the material of a given piece may be reordered, reharmonised and generally varied in a free manner--frequently incorporating new material entirely by Grainger (e.g. the Tchaikovsky Waltz)....
"The transcription of the A minor fugue from Book I of The Well-Tempered Klavier began life in a version for four players at two pianos (to promote 'piano team-work'). The solo version is an attempt to realise the fugue in terms of the modern p iano and Grainger's original score is quite a sight to behold: it takes a printed version of the Bach original (intact for the first 20 bars) then Grainger's own manuscript alterations are added, literally stuck over the appropriate bars. As the fugure pr ogresses Grainger's additions (octave doublings, changes of register, etc.) become more prominent until, towards the end, the printed copy is entirely abandoned in favour of Grainger's own manuscript version--a remarkable insight into the working metho ds of this astonishingly original composer."--John Pickard (Piano 2).
(Balinese Ceremonial Music--transcr. for gongs, tom-toms and flute [Ms. copy courtesy Dana Perna. (Ed.)]
Grainger: "Balinese religious ceremonial music noted down by James Scott-Power (Hobart, Tasmania) and Percy Grainger (Jyly, 1935) from the gramophone record of the same name (Parlophone M.O. 105; being No. 12 of the album Music of the Orient issued by the Parlophone Co. Ltd., 102 Clarkenwall Road, London E.C.1) and arranged for European or American `Tuneful Percussion; group by Percy Grainger.
"This music is played during religious ceremonies--marriages, funerals, etc. Notice the long notes (in the lower octaves) so typical of all the musics (in Japan, Java, Bali, Siam, etc.) that have been strongly influenced by the ancient music of China.
"[Ms. scored for:]
[Strand A:] flute or piccolo (or both)(1 or 2 players); harmonium ad. lib. (1 player) @QUOTE 2 = [Strand B:] metal marimba or vibraphone or vibraharp (2 players)
[Strand C:] Chime Bells (handbells struck by marimba mallets) (2 players)
[Notes are also given for optional participation by:] 2 Tam-tams (1 lower in pitch than the other)(1 player); piano (2-4 players); double-bass (1 or 2 players, playing pizzicato throughout).
[Note on piano part:] Piano should play the notes written, & also add the 2 octaves below [given in score] if there are 3rd and 4th players. The keys of the notes should be held down by the left hand & the piano strings struck by a mallet held in the right hand. Let the notes ring on always (don't damp them)."
British Folk-Music Setting No. 12
Grainger: "Passacaglia on an English folk-song collected in Somerset (England) by Cecil J. Sharp (by kind permission of Mr. Cecil J. Sharp). (Kameraten Karen Holten kjaelighedsfuldt tilegnet, til Minde om Svinkl<179>vs Glaeder.) 1st Pianist at 1st Piano, 2nd and 3rd Pianists at 2nd Piano.
Grainger (1930): "PROGRAM-NOTE. Among country-side folksingers in England 'Green Bushes' was one of the best known of folksongs--and well it deserved to be, with its raciness, its fresh grace, its manly, clear-cut lines. The tune has also be en noted in Ireland (see Nos. 368, 369, 370 of the Complete Petrie Collection) and in the United States (by Mr. Cecil J. Sharp, in the Southern Appalachian Mountains).
"My Passacaglia was composed for small orchestra in 1905-1906, re-scored in January, 1921, for 22 single instruments or orchestra, in 1919 I arranged it for 2 pianos, 6 hands.
"My setting is mainly based, with Mr. Cecil J. Sharp's kind permission, on a version of 'Green Bushes' noted by him from the singing of Mrs. Louie Hooper of Hambridge, Somerset, England. To a lesser extent I have used a variant of the same tune that I noted from the singing of Mr. Joseph Leaning of Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, England.
"'Green Bushes' strikes me as being a typical dance-folksong--a type of song come down to us from the time when sung melodies, rather than instrumental music, held country-side dancers together. [See also Grainger's notes for Let's Dance gay in Green Meadow, below. (Ed.)] It seems to breathe that lovely passion for the dance that swept like a fire over Europe in the middle ages--seems brimful of all the youthful joy and tender romance that so naturally seek an outlet in dancing.
"An unbroken keeping-on-ness of the dance-urge was, of course, the first need in a dance-folksong, so such tunes had to be equipped with many verses (20 to 100, or more) so that the tune could be sung (of course without any break between verses) as lo ng as the dance was desired to last.
"In setting such dance-folksongs (indeed, in setting all dance music) I feel that the unbroken and somewhat monotonous keeping-on-ness of the original should be preserved above all else. To this end I consider the passacaglia form as fitting as I consider the variation form unfitting. My passacaglia-like settings of dance tunes are generally (and very ignorantly) described as 'variations'. Since most musicians seem to confound the variation form with the passacaglia form I will here state some of the basic differences between the two:
"1. In the variation form the theme is variated, but is not constantly repeated, in the passacaglia form the theme is constantly repeated (in all kinds of tone-heights) but is not variated.
"2. In the variation form there are generally pauses between 'verses' (variations), in the passacaglia form there are no pauses.
"3. In the variation form the key and speed and mood of the theme may be altered radically, in the passacaglia form such changes have no place.
"4. In the variation form the element of variety is provided by transformations of the theme into new guises, in the passacaglia form the element of variety consists solely in the voices and additions that are woven around the theme, which latter, con stantly repeated, remains unaltered. (In short, the only way to mistake the passacaglia form for the variation form is to know nothing about either form.)
"With the exception of a momentary break of passage work lasting 8 bars (bars 154-161) the 'Green Bushes' tune is heard constantly throughout my passacaglia from the opening of the work to the closing tail-piece, during which latter (bars 602-641) sho rt snatches of the folktune are substituted for complete statements of it.
"No key-note modulation at all is undertaken at any time with the folktune itself, which (barring an occasional passing accidental here and there) moves throughout in the mixolydian mode with F as its key-note, with the exception of its appearance in F major for 32 bars (570-601) just before the tail-piece. Though the folktune itself is thus heard throughout the entire work without key-note modulation of any kind, yet the harmonic treatment laid upon it covers a range of 7 or more different keys. This is made possible and natural by the somewhat neutral harmonic color of the mixolydian mode in which the folktune is cast. (The mixolydian mode is exactly like the major scale except that the 7th tone-step is flat in the former instead of sharp, as in the latter.)
"During the first 161 bars of my setting the entire texture remains virtually in F mixolydian, but at bar 162 the harmonic treatment shifts into E flat major, and from now on longish sections of the superimposed harmonic treatment (the folksong itself remains, of course, in F) consistently in E flat major, B flat major, F major, F minor and C minor (as well as quickly modulating passage embracing chords in further-off keys) become frequent--generously interlarded, however, with considerable stretch es couched in F mixolydian, in which key the tail-piece brings the composition to an end.
"The greater part of my passacaglia is many-voiced and free-voiced. Against the folktune I have spun free counter-melodies of my own--top tunes, middle tunes, bass tunes. The aforementioned key-free harmonic neutrality of the folksong's mixolydian mode opens the door to a wonderously free fellowship between the folktune and these grafted-on tunes of mine. One of these latter (the 3rd counter-melody)--carrying with it its entire harmonic background wherever it goes--is heard in E flat major, B flat major and F major in sundry parts of the work, while all the while the 'Green Bushes' tune is hammering away stubbornly in F (unchanged during the E flat and B flat episodes, but transposed from F mixolydian into F major and otherwise altered interv allicly during the F major episode).
"My 'Green Bushes' setting is thus seen to be a strict passacaglia throughout wellnigh its full length. Yet it became a passacaglia unintentionally. In taking the view that the 'Green Bushes' tune is a dance-folksong (a type created to form a continuous tone-background to group-dancing) I was naturally led to keep it running like an unbroken thread through my setting, and in feeling prompted to graft upon it modern musical elements expressive of the swish and swirl of dance movements the many-voiced t reatment came of itself.
"The work is in no sense program-music--in no way does it musically reflect the story told in the verses of the 'Green Bushes' song text. It is conceived, and should be listened to, as dance music (it could serve as ballet music to a ballet perform ance)--as an expression of those athletic and ecstatic intoxications that inspire, and are inspired by, the dance--my new-time harmonies, voice-weavings and form-shapes being lovingly woven around the sterling old-time tunes to in some part replace the long-gone but still fondly mind-pictured festive-mooded country-side dancers, their robust looks, body actions and heart stirs.
"ELASTIC SCORING. Room-music or orchestral combinations of almost any size or make-up may be formed by combining the version for 2 pianos, 6 hands (British Folk-music Settings, No. 25, Schott and Co., Ltd., London) with any or all of the orches tral parts of the orchestral version (British Folk-music Settings, No. 12, B. Schott's S”hne, Mainz). The piano parts of the 2 piano version (No. 25) may be massed to any extent."
"Green Bushes, a Passacaglia, is one of Grainger's most accomplished works and is based on a modal English folk-song incorporating one version collected by himself in Lincolnshire and another from Somerset found by Cecil Sharp. Though the tune is of English origin it has also been found in Ireland and America. George Butterworth used a variant of it in his tone poem The Banks of Green Willow as did Vaughan Williams in the Intermezzo from his Folksong Suite."--John Bird (Rambles).
British Folk-Music Setting Nr. 25
"In 1921, Grainger completed his passacaglia Green Bushes for 22 solo instruments, publishing a two-piano version the same year. The work shows his mastery at folk-settings, for the familiar tune of Ralph Vaughan William's English Folk-Song Suite (which incidentally dates from 1923) is here given as colourful and inventive a treatment as one could wish. The theme is heard completely some 36 times, interwoven with several counter-melodies. The closing pages contain a carefully graded acce lerando leading to a final statement of the theme with its inherent flattened seventh raised a semitone. A brilliant coda follows: swirling scales by all three pianists bring Green Bushes to an exciting conclusion."--David Stanhope (Piano 3) .
Room-Music Titbit 2
Grainger: "Composed for piano and 2 or more strings (or for massed pianos & string orchestra). Feb., 1911<196>April 13, 1912. Dished up for piano solo, March 25, 1930, Denton, Texas. To be played to, or without, clog dancing.
"Program note: 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 co medy (the 'Strand' is the home of London musical comedy). In bars 1-16 (and their repetition, bars 47-60 [John Hopkins has identified repetitions at bars 50-53 and 77-90. (Ed.)]) I have made use of matter from some variations of mine on Handel's 'Harmoni ous Blacksmith' tune."
Composer headnote: "Fast & merry, very rigid in time."
"Handel in the Strand dates from 1911-12. Grainger recommends the use of at least four pianos to get a 'good tonal balance', adding that 'as many as twenty pianos may be used to good effect'."--John Hopkins (Orchestral 1).
"The germ of 'Handel in the Strand' is a set of variations for piano which Grainger based on Handel's 'Harmonious Blacksmith'. Some material from these variations appears in the present work (subtitled 'Clog Dance') which he set for string 'two-some' and 'three-some' or string orchestra and piano (or massed pianos even!). Henry J. Wood's orchestration adheres well to the original structure of the piece, but remodels it to fit the needs of a symphonic orchestra or large chamber grouping. 'Clog Dance' w as Grainger's title, but that of 'Handel in the Strand' was suggested by William Gair Rathbone, the banker, arts patron and friend of the composer, [The two men had been introduced by John Singer Sargent. --Leslie Howard (Piano 1).] who felt that the work created an image of the jovial old Handel striding down the Strand (then the centre of the world of Music Hall) to the strains of English popular music of the time. Rathbone is the dedicatee of the work. For the energetic Grainger adds the remark tha t the piece is to be performed 'with or without Clog Dancing'."--John Bird (Rambles).
"Difficulty: medium advanced.
"Another of Grainger's delightful gems, exhibiting great zest and vivacity and effectively scored by Goldman. Requires considerable technical fluency and control, and effort in working out details of balance and precision, but well worth the effort--it is a sure-fire number on any concert program."--Joseph Kreines (GSJ IV/2).
British Folk-Music Settings
Grainger: "English folksong sung by Mr. James Hornsby (of Crosby, Scunthorpe, N.E. Lincolnshire, England). Noted down from his singing [on July 30] 1906 and freely set for voice and piano February 11-12, 1946, Victoria Hotel, Chicago.
"Grainger noted the folksong by ear at Crosby.... He had just cut his first phonograph cylinders a few miles away at Brigg but seems not to have used his equipment on the trip to Crosby.
"The song-setting was sketched between 1906 and 1914, according to a note on a short piano version made in 1932 for The Easy Grainger. The latter is a direct transcription of verse seven of the song, so it is clear that when he made the final v ersion for piano and voice, on February 11-12, 1946, one verse had been complete for at least 14 years. There is a compelling logic and unity to this final setting, together with an experimental inventiveness that marks it as one of Grainger's greatest cr eations. The fair copy was completed with a note of triumph and exhaustion at 3.40 am on February 16, 1946, in the Victoria Hotel, Chicago."--David Tall (Songs).
Grainger often allows the singer to go his own way as the piano plays an ostinato, at other times both participants move together in flexible irregular rhythms, and on other occasions each moves with his own rhythmic freedom.
Grainger: "The root-form of this tone-work is for Elastic Scoring (2 instruments up to massed orchestra, with or without voice or voices). All other versions (for piano duet, piano solo, and so on) are off-shoots from the root-form. Bars 1-1 7, sketched 1905, London, with title 'Hymny Tune'. Bars 18 to the end, July 30<196>Aug. 3, 1932, Segeltorp, Sweden and S. S. 'Kungsholm'. Elastic Scoring (2 instruments up to massed orchestra, with or without voice or voices), Aug. 4-5, 1932, S. S. 'Kungs holm'. Dished up for piano solo, June 5-6, 1936, Pevensey Bay, Sussex, England. Dished up for Piano Duet, April 15, 1938, Spokane Washington." [Edition for piano duet published by G. Schirmer, 1940. (Ed.)]
This elaboration of an early original melody called "Hymny Tune" represents the apotheosis of a hymn-like melody.
Harvest Hymn exists in versions from two instruments to massed orchestra, with or without voices. [Included among these] is the 'root-form of this tone-work' which is the version for 18 single instruments, and the noble version for large string orchestra. The first part of this, 'Hymn Tune' (bars 1-17), were sketched in London in 1905, bars 18 to the end being written in Sweden in 1932. Certainly the subtle harmonic changes from bar 18 show the composer at the height of his inventive imaginati on."--John Hopkins (Orchestral 1).
Composer headnote: "Heavily flowing. All small notes may be left out. All holds printed very small should be very very short."
"Composed 1905-32 for orchestra; piano version 1936. This short work features a simple tune, richly harmonized with stately chords and decorated counter-melodies. This transcription uses both orchestra and piano versions as its basis."--Joseph Kreines (Unknown).