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  • Thu, October 20, 2022 10:11 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    With the conservation and installation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the Percy Grainger Society fabricated 2 information panels which are now on display together with the free music machine in the dining room of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio.  What follows here is the text of the first panel, "Percy Grainger and Free Music", as written by Dr. Paul Jackson, PGS Board President.


    For Percy Grainger, Free Music drew its inspiration from the sounds of nature and was music free from the constraints of conventional rhythm and individual pitch. From an early age, he imagined music that would glide continuously across the pitch spectrum, without the need for metrical rhythms and, ultimately, without the need for a performer; the composers’ ideas would be translated directly into sound.

    ‘I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of eleven or twelve … it is my only important contribution to music.’ 

    Elements of Free Music can be found in much of Grainger’s instrumental and vocal compositions, where the use of sliding notes and irregular rhythms often feature. Between 1935 and 1937, Grainger wrote three short pieces – Free Music No. 1, Free Music No. 2 and Beatless Music – which further demonstrated his ideas in practice. Following a meeting with the Russian inventor Leon Theremin in 1932, Grainger composed the pieces for theremins, instruments able to produce continuously gliding tones without direct contact from the player. The works also called for a new method of musical notation, Grainger devising a system that used graph paper to indicate pitch contours and changes in volume. These pieces are among the earliest examples of pitchless music.

    Grainger regarded all of his music up to this point as merely a stepping-stone to the full development of Free Music, and he was to increasingly devote his time to this from the late 1940s onwards as his activities as a concert pianist began to decline. Using his White Plains home as a studio, he worked alongside his wife, Ella, and in close collaboration with a young physicist, William Burnett Cross. Together they designed and built machines that were able to produce Free Music without the involvement of a human performer. Grainger and Cross made audio recordings of their experiments and documented their work with a number of evocative photographs. Grainger, a talented artist, also produced color drawings of several of the machines, including explanations of their working methods.

    ‘Free Music … is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.’

    Most of the machines, which were given typically Graingeresque names such as the Hills & Dales Air-Blown Tone-Tools, the Side-Ridge Clothes-Line-&-Scotch-Tape-Tin Oscillator-Player, and the Kangaroo-Pouch Method of Synchronising & Playing 8 Oscillators, were constructed from wood, paper, cardboard, string, and other found objects scavenged from the house, local hardware stores and the immediate locale. The machines were in a constant state of flux and were often dismantled or repurposed as soon as sounds were recorded. The final machine, the Electric Eye, remained unfinished at the time of Grainger’s death, but was the most sophisticated and was able to produce seamless electronic pitch glides by ‘reading’ graphic notation painted on clear film. It is this machine that places Grainger’s experiments in electronic music squarely alongside other composers whose work in these areas has historically gained more attention.

    The conservation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network. This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Tue, August 30, 2022 3:18 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    “Can you talk about the significance of Lincolnshire Posy?” began Professor Laura Rexroth. She was addressing panelist David Waybright, Tom Leslie, and Myron Welch, each past presidents of American Bandmasters Association and each having many, various answers to such a question. Tom Leslie began by noting that he had conducted the work many times, as had his fellow panelist, but he learned the most by teaching it to his student conductors over the years—which he always did.  Myron Welch noted that he considered it one of the top works for band and is important for its scoring, as well as harmonies, mixed meters, and, of course, use of saxophones. Dave Waybright added that the work was so important that it advanced the medium of band altogether and it was difficult to underestimate the importance of such a seminal work. 

    So began the first of three discussion panels addressing the band work Lincolnshire Posy.  Considered by many to be Grainger’s masterpiece. The 16-minute-long work has six movements, each adapted from folk songs that Grainger collected on a 1905–1906 trip to Lincolnshire, England. The work first debuted on March 7, 1937, making 2022 the 85th anniversary of the composition. 

    Prof. Rexroth led the discussion by inquiring: Do you feel that the knowledge of the lyrics for the works affects your interpretations? And, as a conductor, how do your approach the score?  As you review the score, do you have surprises?  Each panelist answered thoughtfully, reflecting on their many performances, conducting students they had taught, and how much they learned—and continue to learn--along the way.

    Join us for the second and third roundtable discussions on Lincolnshire Posy.  On Thursday September 15, ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘The Brisk Young Sailor’ will be discussed.  On Friday October 14, ‘Lord Melbourne’ and ‘The Lost Lady Found’ will be the final two movements to be discussed.  Information and registration can be found on our event page.

    Roundtable Rambles will conclude the Grainger’s Society’s Celebration of Lincolnshire Posy.  The year began with a presentation of Col Jason Fettig and the performances of the President’ Own Band.  Midyear, Grainger Society President Emeritus Barry Ould addressed Granger’s method of collecting the folk songs. 

    The panel discussions can be found in the Members Only area of the Percy Grainger Society’s website. Additionally, recording of rehearsals by Fredrick Fennel and Col Jason Fettig can be viewed here:

    Frederick Fennell rehearses Lincolnshire Posy with the U.S. Navy Band - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mNMCX93jGA&t=18s

    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 1) - United States Marine Band – Movements 1 &2

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUfm6Adsbh0&t=1s 

    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 2) - United States Marine Band – Movements 3&4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcJjYhFXYYM&t=1s

    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 3) - United States Marine Band – Movements 5&6

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WltbrbnwusM&t=1s

    Field recordings of songs from Lincolnshire Posy

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbwtc1Frhng

    Roundtable Rambles is a cooperative project between the Percy Grainger Society and the American Bandmasters Association. 


  • Mon, August 01, 2022 12:57 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)


    Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the free music machine in the collection at the Percy Grainger Home and Studio, was created by Percy Grainger with Burnett Cross in February of 1950. Few of Grainger’s experimental music machines exist; the Percy Grainger Society is fortunate that the object was saved.

    Kept for many years in a storage room on the third floor, Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was dusty and incomplete with pieces of wood and parts stored on the table top. When pulled out of the storage room, it was obvious that the existing paper roll was not strung through the machine correctly.  Additionally, two paper rolls must have been removed at some point.

    The conservation treatment addressed both stability and aesthetic issues, so that Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders could be safely displayed as close to the original appearance as possible.  Placing the cut paper rolls back through the machine was just one element in a complex project.

    Thankfully, there are period photographs of the object detailing the path of the 3 paper rolls through the machine, under the rolling pins and over the slide whistle and recorders. The additional paper rolls had been rolled up and stored with the object.  One of the challenges of the conservation project, after cleaning and repairs to the paper, was to re-string the cut paper rolls through the machine. Following below are a few images documenting the process as each paper roll is placed back through the machine as per period documentation.

    The conservation of the free music machine was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by GHHN (Greater Hudson Heritage Network). This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.


  • Thu, June 02, 2022 5:35 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    “One of the things I love about being a conservator is that every piece is a puzzle to solve” says Kerith Koss Schrager.  “The free music machine wasn’t intended for people to appreciate it 100 years from now.  It was created for a moment in time. My challenge here is to recreate and preserve Grainger’s vision at that point in time—a point in time I really don’t have all the evidence for.”

    Ms. Schrager is the object conservator working on the conservation of our free music machine, “Gliding Tones on Whistle” created in February 1950. An objects conservator works toward the long-term preservation of three-dimensional works including stabilization, structural repairs and cleaning.

    Over the years, the Grainger Home and Studio has had several visits by different type of conservators. In September 2015, Kathleen Craughwell-Varda, a museum conservator sent through the Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s C2CNY Circuit Rider Program, visited and urged the board to consider the house and collection in light of our mission, her report noted:

    The role of the collections (furnishings, clothes, decorative arts, fine arts, musical instruments, etc.) should be considered once PGS (then, IPGS) has a board-approved mission statement.  What role do they play in illustrating the life and career of Percy Grainger?  What connection, if any, does the personal property and artworks of his wife Ella have to the new mission statement?  Is the care and maintenance of a historic house and its furnishings key to the mission of PGS?

    Great Hudson Heritage Network then arranged  a visit by Donia Conn, a book and paper conservator, to review and focus on preservation of the letters and books in the basement.  Again, the recommendation was to have a serious discussion about the role of the collection in the Society’s mission.

    The PGS board listened. The house and collection are now a major focus of the latest mission statement.  Volunteers and staff have sorted, inventoried, and organized many of the rooms and much of the collection. While the process is slow, often item-by-item, each small project is part of the stewardship of the entire collection and gives a greater understanding of the the unique genius of the Grainger family. Some items, like the free music machine, warrant special attention.

    In 2021, PGS again submitted a grant proposal, this time to the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Program.  The grant proposal noted:

    Conservation of “Cross-Grainger Experiment–February 1950” fits squarely into our mission to preserve the legacy, home and artifacts of Percy Grainger during his life in America. A significant and unique object in our collection, the Free Music machine model is currently in storage and cannot be displayed. Elements are misaligned and/or broken and there are tears in the aged paper rolls. Unattached components rest on the surface of the table. Heavy surface dirt and dust throughout magnify the risk of further deterioration. Conservation is essential for display and preservation.

    The review committee of GHHN agreed. A grant of $5220 was awarded and the conservation work has recently begun.

     “The free music machine played such an important role in Grainger’s life, and we are so glad it has been moved back to the dining room, the space where Grainger actually worked on many of his experimental machines. Restoring it and placing it on the first floor will go along way to making the house an even more interesting tour for house visitors,” says Susan Colson, long-time PGS board member and frequent docent. “We have told the story in various ways (for example, our YouTube video), but having the machine itself in place is central to its living history.” 

    The conservation of the free music machine was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by GHHN (Greater Hudson Heritage Network). This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.


  • Mon, April 18, 2022 3:25 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by William Garlette

    Our upcoming celebration of the 85th Anniversary of the premier of Lincolnshire Posy has generated several excellent queries. The one question I’d like to address in this blog is Grainger’s method of writing irregular or, what we call now, asymmetrical/composite meters and why he chose the notation he used. The question we get is why did Grainger write 2 1/2/4 and not 5/8? And then why does he use a mixture of both methods?

    To Bandleaders

    “Bandleaders need not be afraid of the two types of irregular rhythms met with in the “Lincolnshire Posy”; those conveyed by changing time-signatures in “Rufford Park Poachers,” and those (marked “Free Time”) left to the band leader’s volition in “Lord Melbourne.” Both these types lie well within the powers of any normal high school band. The only players that are likely to balk at those rhythms are seasoned professional bandsmen, who think more of their beer than of their music.” [1]

    In a short piece titled “The Specialist and the All-Round Man” written in 1943, Grainger commented on the dissimilar experiences he had had working with amateur and professional musicians:

             “A few years ago, I was asked to prepare a band composition for a bandmasters’ convention in Milwaukee. I never like to ‘sell a pig in a poke’; so I tried out the work on several student bands (among others, the superb student band of the Ernest Williams School of Music in Brooklyn) and on high school bands in Texas, New York state, and elsewhere. Two of the movements, in my work, presented unusual rhythmic problems, but none of the non-professional bands had any problem with them. But the professional bandsmen in Milwaukee could not solve these problems at all, and the two movements had to be left out.” [2]

    This composition was realized towards the end of Grainger’s compositional life. What he used in Lincolnshire Posy was a compilation of all he developed prior to 1937. Grainger’s use of these “irregular” meter signatures began in the late 1890s. The works he held most dear were Hill-Song No. 1 and No. 2. Both works were started between 1901 and 1907 and both have these types of meter signatures.

    In studying writings on Grainger, I’ve found many writers look at and question or write from the perspective of a 20th or 21st century commentator or observer. Too often a question is asked based on what we currently know without realizing the historical perspective. What was the state of music or society at the time of Grainger’s endeavors? What existed? What was acceptable or ‘the norm’?

    Prior to 1899, the use of irregular or asymmetrical/composite meters was not employed. With no historical precedent to follow, Grainger devised a metrical method that conformed to his rhythmic needs.

    “IRREGULAR RHYTHMS.  Studies in the rhythms of prose speech that I undertook in 1899 led to such irregular barrings as those in bars 69-74 of Love Verses from ‘The Song of Solomon’, composed 1899-1900, which (as far as I know) was the first use of irregular rhythms in modern times, though of course Claude Le Jeune (1528-1602), in his ‘non-metrical’ pieces, used rhythms quite as irregular.” [3]

    This quote speaks to another aspect that is not acknowledged enough: Grainger was a philologist. “A philologist is someone who studies the history of languages, especially by looking closely at literature. If you're fascinated with the way English has changed over time, from Beowulf to Beloved, you might want to become a philologist. Linguistics is the study of language, and a philologist is a type of linguist.” [4]

     He was fluent in many languages and, along with each language, he studied dialects of several of these languages. This study led him to understand the rhythms of speech, both prose and poetry, and then incorporate this awareness into his musical form. The ‘rhythm’ of prose is not symmetrical. Language is not always what is referred to as ‘sing-song’ - verse with marked and regular rhythm and rhyme. Language and prose are irregular and Grainger, as he did throughout his life, invented a way to translate life into music.

    Paul Jackson, President of the Percy Grainger Society (PGS), writes, “I imagine Percy used them because 2 1/2 over 4 is different to 5/8, in the same way that 1 1/2 over 4 is different to 3/8. The latter time signatures imply a certain stress pattern that the former doesn’t necessarily mean to. That is, 3/8 might be thought of a single rhythmic unit (1-2-3), whereas 1 1/2 is definitely one beat plus half a beat, and 2 1/2 is two beats plus a half beat. This would arise from Percy’s concept of irregular rhythms (again, 1 1/2 is irregular, whereas 3/8 is not). Of course, in practice, and to the listener, these distinctions may not be apparent. Also, I suspect publishers encouraged Percy to abandon this way of notating in favour of more standard versions (although he certainly wasn’t the only composer of that period to use irregular fractions, Carlos Chavez also used these signatures in his third Iano sonata of 1928).” [5]

    Another PGS Board member and Grainger scholar, Chalon Ragsdale, notes, “Grainger’s use of both (2 1/2/4 and 5/8) were at least partly suggestions as to conducting gestures. 2.5 over 4 would be conducted as 2/4 with a long 2nd beat. 3/8 would be conducted as 5 separate motions.” [6]

    So, the question remains one for discussion, but the uniqueness of Grainger’s music continues to be engaging and fascinating.

    [1] Score note to Lincolnshire Posy, Percy Aldridge Grainger, August, 1939.

    [2] Garofalo, Robert J., (ed.), Wind band/ensemble anthology folk songs & dances in wind band classics, vol. 4: Folk songs & dances in Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger, Silver Spring MD:  Whirlwind Music Publications,
    2008. p. 11 (full historical performance account p. 1 – 26).

    [3] Grainger, Percy.  “Percy Grainger’s Remarks about His Hill-Song No. 1 by Percy Aldridge Grainger (5-page typescript dated September 1949) located in Number 4 – 1st Edition 1982 – 2nd Edition 1997 - A Musical Genius from Australia – Selected Writings by and about Percy Grainger – Compiled and with Commentary by Teresa Balough, p. 85.

    [4] https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/philologist

    [5] Email correspondence with the author December 28, 2021

    [6] Email correspondence with the author December 30, 2021


  • Wed, March 09, 2022 2:12 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    What are the first colors of spring you notice?

    For me it is the chartreuse green of the weeping willow trees and the vivid green hues of moss that emerge as the snow finally melts away. Looking through images for this blog post I came across Percy Grainger's 1916 illustrated cover of Four Irish Dances, the obvious choice for this March edition. Grainger documented folk music arrangements preserving for posterity the legacy of these unique musical styles. Through Grainger’s music, letters, photographs, program notes, newspaper promotions, and reviews he leaves us ample documentation of his influence and legacy. With investigative work we can piece together a timeline, a progression. You can see the patterns of daily life over a lifetime and begin to contextualize his contributions. Seeing how one note led to the next. 


              

    Here at the Percy Grainger House and Studio I am helping to preserve the environment in which he created this work. As a graduate student working towards a master's in museum studies, I began an internship here last summer. My weekly visits to 7 Cromwell Place have been a delight in assisting with the work of uncovering, documenting, and cataloging the objects in the house. There is an intimate feeling here, like one of the Graingers might simply walk in the front door at any moment. I am learning how Percy and Ella lived and worked in the house over a span of forty plus years. This work is about peeling back the layers as much as it is about building an archive of information.

            

    There are many stories to tell here, and one of them can be told through examining the physical house the Graingers lived in at 7 Cromwell Place, in downtown White Plains, New York from 1921-1979. One of the first things I noticed was that the color green is everywhere in the interior design and architecture of the home. Popular in industrial and decorative designs from the 1920s through the 1950s, the color green was ubiquitous with the modern era home. McCoy Pottery, Fiestaware, linoleum rugs, textiles, kitchen utensils, and appliances, were all readily available in shades of green. 

       


         

    In the home there are several stained-glass windows and delicate tiffany-style lamp shades that evoke the earlier era of the home's construction sometime in the early days of the 20th century. There is the green detail on the “modern” gas stove and the assortment of dishes on the kitchen table that sit as if waiting in anticipation for the arrival of an afternoon guest. There are lamps made of pressed metal, Bakelite, and ceramic in varying shades of green; indeed, there is a lamp style for every occasion. In the living room a decorative detail on a rattan armchair, the quirky English-style Knole sofa, and the linoleum rug in the pantry all hint at variations on the theme. There remains a linoleum rug in the upstairs bathroom, a rose bordered green runner.

          


    So how did the Graingers live in this house? The home was both a retreat and a launching point, a creative hub for the Free-Music collaboration between Percy Grainger and Burnett Cross and the studio where Ella designed her tiles. As I have been cataloging photographs into the museum’s database or packing documents into archival storage boxes, I uncover images of the Graingers in their home. I look for clues, scanning the photos for a familiar lamp, a chair, or a window covering. We understand that the Graingers freely moved the furniture around the house to make way for creative endeavors such as the work on the Free Music machines or impromptu music concerts. 


    I recently helped Museum Coordinator Anne Ocone search the kitchen for a rolling pin, a replacement part needed for the Free Music machine slated to be restored this summer. In the cupboard we found a wooden rolling pin with green handles. Was this the one in the photographs? We assumed the handle was red, but with only a black and white photograph as evidence it was hard to tell. Was this one of the original rolling pins used? Maybe. Was it likely? Possibly. I can imagine Grainger walking around the house gathering materials for the Free Music machine.

    There is an art and science to museum work. You rely on primary source materials: photographs, letters, documents, objects, and piece together the sequence of events to craft a narrative about the totality of a collection. Ella and Percy Grainger filled their home with many objects the color green. There is something to this. I can’t know what its meaning held for them, but only observe that it was so. 

        

    Sometimes here at the Grainger home the process of uncovering and documenting their life and work is as much about determining what things are not as to what they are. What is here and what is not. Most of their belongings were shipped off to the Percy Grainger Museum in Melbourne, Australia. I assume that this was Grainger’s attempt at curating his own narrative. Fitting these pieces that remain into the puzzle supports the vision and mission of the Percy Grainger Society of “promoting a deeper understanding of the cultural, social, and economic context of his life and work” helping “to preserve it and interpret it for future generations” (1). The house is full of evidence of their life here in White Plains. Letters, photographs, sheet music, books, toolboxes, artwork, clothing, suitcases, furniture, musical instruments, and mementos all help to tell the story of who the Graingers were, and helps to celebrate a richer understanding of their life.


    Here at the Percy Grainger House and Studio, Green seemed the perfect musings for March as we await the outdoors to join in the chorus of green found inside 7 Cromwell Place. With the hope of brighter, lighter days ahead I look forward to the arrival of the yellow daffodils of April and the Spring Open House & Jazz concert here on April 10th. 

    Stewart Lee March 9, 2022

    (1) .www.percygraingeramerica.org





  • Fri, January 21, 2022 9:51 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)


    The collection at the Percy Grainger Home and Studio has many treasures, and highlighted here are a few of the images from a box of photos dating to 1941 when Grainger traveled and performed with the Gustavus Adolphus College Band on their two-week tour in Minnesota.

    Percy and Ella had developed a strong relationship with Gustavus Adolphus College and their band director Frederic Hilary.  They visited the college multiple times in the early 1940s. Percy gave lectures, taught, and performed. Judging by the photographs, he spent a lot of time with the students including traveled together with the band on the bus during the tour.


    Percy and Ella made friends wherever they traveled.  During the tour in March of 1941, they stayed at the home of friends Mr. and Mrs. Roy Hendrickson, at 819 Ella Avenue, Wilmar Minnesota.  Their son, Charles, age five at the time of the Grainger's visit, reported to the Percy Grainger Society in a September 2, 2001 letter: "Realizing that the lack of a piano did not present us as worthy for such a visit, my father ordered a Baldwin delivered to the house just in time for Percy to dedicated it.  I still have the piano."  The letter noted it was Fred Hilary, the then Gustavus Adolphus music director, that was responsible for bringing Percy to Minnesota for the tours. Charles Hendrickson (1935-2020) was the founder of the Hendrickson Organ Company.


    Like the Percy Grainger Society, Gustavus Adolphus College has a collection of Grainger photos as well as many stories about Percy and his time at the college.



  • Thu, December 02, 2021 4:32 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    This eight-minute video photo montage was first shown at the November 14, 2021 concert of Percy Grainger’s music by the Westchester Symphonic Winds, with Curt Ebersole as Music Director and performed at the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York.  The photographs were selected from the collection of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio in White Plains, New York by Barry Peter Ould, Susan Edwards Colson, and Anne Ocone.  The video was created by Matthew McGarrell.  The soundtrack is taken from a 1929 78 rpm disc recording of Percy Grainger playing his piano arrangement of Jutish Medley.

    Click here to watch the video

    Matthew McGarrell


  • Sat, October 23, 2021 11:00 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    By Dana Paul Perna

    Editor's Note: With Ray Davies, longtime frontman for The Kinks, confessing to an enduring interest in Percy Grainger's work ("The warm gentleness of his My Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone is joyful to behold") in a recent album, we thank Dana Perna for further drawing our attention to Grainger's influence on musicians in surprising ways.

    What an unexpected thrill in discovering that a new, thoughtfully conceived album has been devoted to music by four American composers you seldom encounter on orchestral programs anymore, if not ever. The new release of whence I write is by the Basque National Orchestra (Euskadiko Orkestra) under the baton of conductor Robert Trevino that appears on the ONDINE label, catalog number 1396-2. With the exception of one work, three of the titles have been recorded previously, yet each of them have been captured in truly glorious technicolor sonority, marking a most welcome inclusion to any record collection.

    During their lifetimes, these four composers were performed, esteemed and acclaimed, yet, alas, have fallen into a degree of undeserved neglect since their passings. While it is uncommon enough to find these masters sharing the same album, the conductor Robert Trevino has taken his exploration still further, into the recesses of their repertory – complete with a Hanson piece, “Before the Dawn”, op. 17, that has had to wait a century for this, its premiere recording. Since all four of these composers knew Percy Grainger, and visa versa, it seems wholly appropriate to make mention of this release to Grainger enthusiasts specifically.

    Based on a play by Maeterlinck, “La Mort de Tintagiles”, by the Alsatian-born Charles Martin Loeffler (1861–1935), opens this release. Completed during the summer of 1897, this impressive 25-minute orchestral work features a solo part for viola d’amore that is performed on this recording by Delphine Dupuy. “La Mort de Tintagiles” is a richly orchestrated treasure of an opus that Loeffler and Franz Kneisel premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January 1898  - as originally scored for TWO viola d’amores and orchestra. Loeffler revised the work, prepared the featured parts for one viola d’amore, receiving its premiere in that final form in 1901; the version presented on this release. (For motion picture buffs, some of you may recognize the viola d’amore’s presence amidst the score for “On Dangerous Ground” by [Grainger’s student] Bernard Herrmann. One of Loeffler’s own viola d’amores [he owned 2] was gifted to Isabella Stewart Gardner on 14 August 1903, and is currently on display at the library named for her in Boston, but, I informatively digress). While he is often referred to as being an “American Impressionist,” that would not completely define Loeffler’s identity as a composer, nor to generate a picture as per the late-romantic richness, color, depth and dramatic nature that one shall comprehend upon encountering this major opus among his catalog. The sumptuousness of Loeffler’s orchestration, alone, is worth stating as remaining paramount to this unique work among the symphonic repertory; viola d’amore, orchestral, or otherwise.

    Despite having completed only a little more than an hour’s worth of music over the course of his 95 years, Carl Ruggles (1876–1971) remains among the very greatest of America’s “maverick” composers. His “Evocations” exists both as versions for solo piano and orchestra, respectively, the orchestral version of which appearing on this release. In four relatively brief movements, his treatment of the symphonic idiom being a bit more forward-looking than the other works on this release demonstrates the Basque National Orchestra’s ability in performing a diversity of styles.

    Howard Hanson (1896–1981) remains one of the major figures in American music. As well as being a composer and conductor of distinction, under Hanson’s leadership, he established the Eastman School of Music to world-renowned status. (His piano piece “Clog Dance” is dedicated to Percy Grainger). Prior to winning the Prix de Rome in 1921, Hanson had already written 20 compositions, including an orchestral work, “Before the Dawn, Op. 17”, that receives its premiere recording via this release. It remains a mystery as to why Hanson hid this orchestral work in his archives, although it is highly likely that, due to his schedule of multi-faceted activities, he may simply have forgotten about it, or, he may have dismissed it due to his consideration of it as having been a product of juvenilia. Imbued with a lavish orchestral palette, these Basque forces render Hanson’s richly melodic hidden gem with the proper panache it truly deserves.

    The album concludes with “Variations for Orchestra” by Henry Cowell (1897–1965), of whom Jerome Moross (who “informally” studied with Grainger) stated to me that “America will never fully pay the debt it owes to Cowell for his contribution to its culture.” Is this a step in the right direction - by way of sunny Spain, no less? I certainly hope so, but, let me think for a moment. When the last time I encountered an orchestral composition of Cowell’s on a major US orchestra’s subscription program?……..…thinking…..…… still thinking……….thinking……..NOPE, not coming to me – let alone this nearly 20 minute winner from 1956. Being one of the more exceptional titles to have flowed from Henry’s brilliance, and vast output, it is a pleasure to note that it has finally received the representation it justifiably deserves in superior audio quality, coupled with a first-rate performance... and, of course, Grainger enthusiasts will well know about the long relationship Cowell had with Percy, and Percy’s wife, Ella.

    With the exception of Hanson’s opus that will be new to any orchestra, period, I will bet that all of this music proved a “first” for this orchestra that is set to celebrate its 40th Anniversary in 2022, and probably marked their first presentations in Spain overall. Robert Trevino, who serves as their current music director, has made a compelling addition to the discography of these composers in, as previously mentioned, superb and vivid sonics, expertly played by the fine Basque National Orchestra. For those interested in this repertory, and it has been refreshing to encounter these pieces anew, this release is definitely the one for you.

  • Thu, September 23, 2021 11:20 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

     

    Following is an excerpt from “The Power of Place: The Percy Grainger Home and Studio” by Susan Edwards Colson, recently published in The Grainger Journal, Volume 17, Number 1. Print and digital copies of the journal are distributed free of charge to members of the Percy Grainger Society. Non-members may purchase individual print copies via our distributor, Lulu.com. Please consider joining as a member!

    Percy Grainger made news in 1921 [1]when bought he a house in White Plains.  He, and his mother, Rose, had arrived at Boston harbor, via the ship Laconia, on September 14, 1914. They left London in haste, putting their furnishings in storage.  After arriving they immediately traveled south by train to New York City, becoming residents of one New York City rental or the next for the seven more years. During this time, Percy first established himself as a pianist extraordinaire, followed with a brief tour as a bandsman in the US army.  But they could not accommodate their London belongings, and truly settle in, until they had the space and permanency of a home.

    After seven years, they certainly understood that the greater New York area offered an overwhelming choice of residences and lifestyles. There is the island of Manhattan itself, in the 1920’s as today, the hub of a thriving music and art scene, as well as four (huge) surrounding boroughs that comprise New York City proper.  There was suburban Long Island to the east, suburban Westchester County to the north, and the entire state of New Jersey to the west; with Connecticut to the Northeast. What to do?

    The Grainger’s chose White Plains, the county seat and near geographical center of Westchester County. White Plains offered quiet county living (including the physical space between houses to play piano twenty-four hours-per-day, if necessary, impossible in the city) punctuated with train service leading smoothly south to Manhattan in under thirty minutes. There were also easy train connections within a day to Cincinnati and Chicago.  Dallas? Los Angeles? Calgary?  A day or two more perhaps, but easily done.

    Grainger’s manager, Antonia Sawyer, herself a Westchester (Scarsdale) resident, was influential in this choice.  In 1931, Grainger was interviewed for a local newspaper column, “Our Famous Neighbors.” [2] When asked why he chose White Plains as his home he explained:

    When our musical instruments and furniture came over from London in 1921, White Plains was suggested to my mother by Antonia Sawyer (his manager) as a good place for the storage of musical instruments of which there are an endless array.  For instance, two harmoniums, about ten guitars, two metal marimbas, one wooden marimba, one staff bells, and several oriental and African instruments.

    Any suitable house had to be large, private, quiet, and well-located for travel.  Then, the selected house at 7 Cromwell Place, had to be organized. The shipment came over in early summer 1921, and Rose and Percy set about arranging it.  Rose sorted and labeled the keys.  Percy set up the music room.  Both of them enjoyed the large front porch, feeding the squirrels while having tea.


    When asked why the smallest room in the eleven-room house was chosen as the music room, Grainger replied “I like my music loud and close.” [3] As various house photos have shown over the years, this preference for “loud and close” was consistently observed in the music room, the first room to the left when a visitor arrives, with various pianos and an-ever-present harmonium showing up in photos over the years. The front bedrooms, with Rose in the larger, and Percy in the smaller, were selected and furnished in the style of the day.  Again, plenty of storage was necessary, the Grainger’s rapidly filled drawer after drawer. The basement and the third floor were for overflow storage. There were filled, with more added over the years.

    Early 20th Century White Plains 

    During the 1920s the city of White Plains was quickly transitioning into a desirable satellite suburb of New York City.  The New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad,[4] completed in the early years of the twentieth century, made New York City an easy commute from the leafy Westchester.  Following WWI, a group of community-spirted women organized a house-by-house canvas [5] to locate those who served in WWI (Percy Grainger had served as a bandsman).  Each name was entered onto a card file, in the White Plains City Archives. WWI veterans were honored with a monument installed that features an artillery rifle, bearing a simple dedication to soldiers, sailors and marines on its north face.

    White Plains is near the midpoint of Westchester County, both geographically and culturally. To the south, high rises and warehouses abound, resembling the Bronx.  Heading north, the land spreads gently out into small towns and estates.  Beyond White Plains, Westchester County was blossoming in the 1920s and 30s.  D. W. Griffith built and operated a movie studio complex on Orienta Point in nearby Mamaroneck.  [6] Mary Pickford, as well as Lillian and Dorothy Gish, were filmed there.  The Lawrence Family Theatre, a summer stock theater, opened on the Moses Taylor Estate in Mount Kisco. Tallulah Bankhead, Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullivan appeared in production there. 

    The Grainger House does not appear in 1900 Map of White Plains.  By 1910, residents were Charles and Mable Prigge, along with their three children, Charles, Jr., Jean, and Alan.  There was also a servant, Annie Pahockus.  With four bedrooms on the second floor, and three (for servants and storage) on the third floor, this configuration would be perfect for a family of five, plus the servant(s) necessary to manage a 2,600 square foot house. 

    Cromwell Place/Chester Avenue, only one block long, had nine parcels. There were three buildings among the five parcels on the Cromwell side:  A private residence at the corner of Cromwell/Boston-New York Post Road occupied the first three. Then, the Grainger home resided on on parcels 2 and 1A.  Parcel 1 was the formerly the grounds for the annex to the Keeley Institutes for Inebriates[7]. The Institute was founded in 1879, with a branch in rural White Plains.  Those seeking Dr. Leslie Keeley’s Gold Cure (a potion containing “a double chloride of gold containing old salts, alcohol, and morphine cannabis, suspended in colored water) included alcohol users plus “opium inebriates” and “morphine fiends.” Their original White Plains locations had overflowed capacity and so the institute added an annex on Cromwell Place.  The annex was closing by the time Percy and Rose arrived, but the large parcel of land it included allowed Percy to purchase an additional side lot.  The Grainger Home today has a large side yard resulting from this early parceling.

    Home Sweet Home, 7 Cromwell Place, 1921-79

    The house was Percy’s home base for more than half his life.  While he performed in many concerts and made many trips, he always returned to 7 Cromwell Place.  In 1930, Ella’s daughter, Elsie Fairfax, arrived at Percy’s urging[8].  In residence for many months in the early 1930’s, Elsie was a stenographer at Bush and Heartfield (an insurance agency) in White Plains. Her correspondence from that time remains in a suitcase in her room.  

    In the 1950s, as his health deteriorated, Percy began to stay closer to home. This allowed him to focus his considerable, but declining, energy on his free music machines.  He was gone early in 1961, and Ella Grainger was a widow.

    Ella Grainger has the distinction of residing at 7 Cromwell Place longer than anyone else.  She arrived in 1928 and died in 1979, making a record of fifty-one years.  During the 1960s, she was a member of the Victorian Society, and she hosted gathering of Society members.  There were many private visitors, and a few concerts. One such visitor was Dorothy Payne, a former student of Percy’s from the Chicago Music School, and a long-time friend.  After Ella’s death, the house slowly disintegrated into frightful condition.  For nearly forty years, it was only the occasional, hearty visitor who ventured into the musty, overfilled rooms.


    [1] The Daily Pantagraph, Bloomington, Indiana, June 9, 1921 edition, p 8

    [2] Keir, Alissa, “Our Famous Neighbors: Percy Grainger of White Plains” The Port Chester Daily Item, February 26, 1931, p. 3 

    [3] Keir, “Our Famous Neighbors” p. 3

    [4] Himmelfarb, Ben and Massena, Elaine, White Plains In the Twentieth Century, Arcadis Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, 2019, p 32

    [5] Himmelfarb, Ben and Massena, Elaine, White Plains, p 31

    [6]Westchester County, New York, History 1920-1983: Westchester Comes of Age, 2021, www.westchestergov.com, 2021

    [7]  Larson, Erik, (2003). The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Crown Publishing Company, a division of Penguin Random House, New York, New York, 2003

    [8] Grainger, Percy, Letter to Elsie Bristow, December 25, 1929. White Plains, New York. As reproduced in Simon, Robert, Percy Grainger, The Pictorial Biography, 1983, p. 71


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