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  • Wed, July 15, 2020 6:21 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    By Dr. Paul Cohen

    Percy Grainger’s relationship with the saxophone was both joyous and far-reaching. He included the saxophone — sometimes singly, other times within a complete family — in many of his orchestral, chamber, band and solo works. Grainger was convinced of the ideal musical qualities of the saxophone from his very first encounter with the instrument. In a 1943 round letter to his friends, he reminisced:

    Around 1904, Balfour Gardiner & I heard our first sax-reed (a tenor) near Frome, Somerset. A man in a country band played one to us. And I knew then & there that I was hearing the world’s finest wind-tone-tool — the most voice-like, the most mankind-typed.

    His enthusiasm was such that he owned both a soprano and baritone, and he enlisted in a World War I armed forces band playing the soprano saxophone! His extensive public writing about the saxophone was effusive in praise, extolling its virtues to the highest degree. A typical example comes from the preface to Lincolnshire Posy, in which Grainger asserts: ...to my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments — the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man’s own voice!...

    Grainger was especially interested in the sonority of instrumental families, and his particular favorite was the family of saxophones. For many years he wanted to write for saxophone ensemble, but was unable to find an appropriate group to try out his works. In the summer of 1943 Grainger had a particularly strong and interested group with which to work, and he enthusiastically wrote out saxophone ensemble parts to many of his own arrangements and original settings.

    This version of Lisbon, (better known as the first movement of Lincolnshire Posy) was written by Grainger on August 2, 1943 while on the summer faculty of Interlochen. He experimented with three different versions; low key of AAATB, high key of SAATB and low key of SATTB. The high key version of SAATB was the most satisfactory and is the one heard here and published.

    The above copy (in the video) is an unedited edition. All of Grainger’s markings and indications as originally found in the parts and the score have been retained. Nothing has been added or deleted. The scoring - simple and imaginative - is remarkable for it's color and variety. Grainger heard his music in a very special way and knew how to let it be heard.

  • Wed, May 20, 2020 12:30 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    [This post is excerpted from an article written by Dr. Paul Cohen.  The complete article is here.  Enjoy this recording of Molly on the Shore from Dr. Cohen's CD American Landscapes, his solo CD of American music for soprano and alto saxophone.   Molly on the Shore is an original setting by Grainger and not an arrangement.  Dr. Cohen’s restoration is drawn from the manuscripts of Cecil Lesson and Percy Grainger.]

    “Around 1904 Balfour Gardiner & I heard our first sax-reed (a tenor) near Frome, Somerset. A man in a country band played one to us. And I knew then & there, that I was hearing the world's finest wind tone-tool —the most voice- like, the most mankind-typed, “ --Percy Grainger

    When Percy Grainger enlisted in the United States Army as musician third class (summer of 1917), he chose to audition on the soprano saxophone! When the time came to join, Grainger apparently bought a soprano, learned the Blue Bells of Scotland (his entire repertoire), walked to Fort Totten (New York), and enlisted as a bandsman. He kept secret his identity as an internationally acclaimed concert pianist for some months, and concentrated his efforts on playing saxophone and oboe, while exploring the instruments and possibilities of the wind-band.

    It was here that he composed his remarkable Children's March: Over the Hills and Far Away which, in the original orchestration, (since revised by the publisher) includes parts for soprano and bass saxophone, and contra-bass sarrusophone! This original version has been republished by Southern Music, and can now be heard as Grainger originally intended.

    His love for the saxophone grew over the years, and he often expressed his unbridled enthusiasm to all who would listen. In a preface to one of his most famous works he wrote:

    ". . . to my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments- the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man's own voice! . . . "

    Percy Grainger's relationship with the saxophone seems to have been intensely personal, but always joyous and fruitful. His frequent use of the entire family of saxophones, in addition to his numerous and enthusiastic writings about the instrument, speak eloquently of his feelings and thoughts. It is from his informal correspondence and anecdotal references, however, that one begins to appreciate the depth of passion and importance that the saxophone played in his life. This is charmingly illustrated in a letter to his friends in which his compositions for saxophone ensemble are discussed. He once again used his "blue-eyed English."

    "Some folks have hook-worms inside them: & I understand that the hook-worm has to be at-rest-set (satisfied) before the man can come into his own. My hook-worm is tonal fun. No tone- fun, no Percy. And this summer, I got my tone-fun out of the Sax-reed (saxophone) group at Interlochen. Yet it has taken from 1904 to 1943 to have my hopes of sax-reed team-work fulfilled. Every other summer there was some spoke put in the wheel of my sax-reed hopes — either the group was un-whole, or it could not get together to rehearse, or they wanted to rehearse quite othery things from those I wanted to try out on them. But this summer I had my way. As wont-some, I had taken to Interlochen our 2 sax-reeds — the she-high (soprano) & the he-mid-low (baritone). The sax-reed teacher (Rollin Silfies) took the she-high himself (most sax-readers shun the she-high like a pest) & did most sweetly on it (among other things he played the long she-high sax-reed single in Rufford Park Poachers in my Lincolnshire Posy). In his big group we had 1 she-high, 3 or 4 she-lows (altos), 3 he-highs (tenors), 1 he-mid-low (baritone), 1 he-low (bass).This was something to work with! So I wrote out parts. . . (& this was almost the only writing out of parts I did this summer at Interlochen)." --Percy Grainger

    No one could ask for a more committed champion of the saxophone!

  • Wed, April 15, 2020 11:59 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Percy Grainger used three harmoniums that we know of, a Mustel Model 4 (left mysteriously at the Sydney Conservatorium in March, 1935 after his concerts there and destined to live in the basement of Verbrugghen Hall for 80 years), an American-built Estey at 7 Cromwell Place, sent to the Grainger Museum in Melbourne after he died, and the restored instrument currently in the house, an Adler (serial #107256, from 1910) built by the Adler Organ Company of Louisville, Kentucky.

    Andrew Robson, in an interesting online article from 2014, describes the intriguing Mustel and Grainger’s 1935 appearances in Sydney during a two-year tour of Australia and New Zealand, also mentioned in Percy Grainger by John Bird (p. 208). 

    In his article, “Delius Hostile to Harmonium Parts in my Chamber Music Scores,” Grainger describes the harmonium as “. . . the most essential of all chamber music instruments.” Gillies/Pear/Carroll, Self-Portrait of Percy Grainger , Oxford U. Press, 2006. (“harmonium, use of” 195-96, 199 (p. 196).

    Certainly the instrument entered the pantheon after being the inspiration for “The Immovable Do”; but Grainger used it as a specific option in The Old Woman at the Christening, Youthful Suite, Youthful Rapture, The Peora Hunt, Mowgli’s Song Against People, Harvest Hymn, The Fall of the Stone, The Beaches of Lukannon, and potentially (wherever there is an organ part) in Danish Folk-Music Suite, the orchestra version of Marching Song of Democracy, Hill Song #1, The Immovable Do, and English Dance. The larger instruments can sound like a pipe organ, and were an attractive alternative to pipe organs in small churches; or, chameleon-like, the harmonium can disappear into the fabric of sound supporting the harmonies.  Click here for a list of Grainger’s works with harmonium compiled by Barry Peter Ould.

    The harmonium, the instrument itself, also became raw material for Grainger’s experiments in “Free Music” as he used and reused parts to create new instruments.


    “The name “Harmonium” was patented in 1842 by Alexandre François Debain (1809-1877) of Paris. It was for a keyboard instrument which used pressurized air from bellows pumped by two foot pedals to produce sound from free-reeds (the same method of sound production found in the accordion and harmonica) creating an instrument which possessed the tonal qualities of a pipe organ and the expressive control of a string instrument. (full article)

    Walter Piston, in his bible, Orchestration, has only a slight paragraph on the harmonium,  noting its use in small orchestras to make up for deficiencies in wind tone. Very seldom used in orchestras, much less an opera pit, Richard Strauss uses the harmonium in the “Vorspiel” of Ariadne auf Naxos at Reh #4 to blend the sound of the chamber-size ensemble, sustaining the harmonies and freeing the individual winds to more elaborate parts. Then, at Reh #10, it accompanies, in a humorous way, the dialogue between the Music Teacher (sung) and the Landlord (spoken.) The sound of the harmonium, similar to an accordion, was instantly recognizable and familiar as a domestic instrument.(Click here for a very thorough demonstration of a Mason + Hamlin 61-note “Liszt Organ:”)

    Around the turn of the century much more elaborate reed organs were developed. Designated “Kunstharmonium,” (Art Harmonium) the instrument could be registered in sophisticated ways, with a couple of keyboards and the possibility of splitting keyboards from side to side into melodic and accompanying sounds, and with espressivo swell boxes controlled with the knees. Some even incorporated piano or bell sounds. Click here for the  Kunstharmonium performance played by Jan Hennig.

    The blending quality of many of the rich reed registrations were made use of by Arnold Schoenberg and his students for his “Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen” concerts.  These ground-breaking private concerts were critic-free chances to hear new music and recent, even unheard, Bruckner and Mahler symphonies.  Condensed orchestrations by Berg, Webern, and other Schoenberg pupils were made and performed. At a fundraiser, Strauss waltzes were arranged for string quartet, piano and harmonium; Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was arranged by Erwin Stein for Soprano and 12 players: flute (doubling piccolo) Oboe (doubling English Horn) two Clarinets, 4-hand piano, strings, some percussion and harmonium. There are several recordings of this available today.

    Notably, in 1925 (15 years after the premiere of the opera but at the beginning of the all consuming German film industry,) a silent film of Der Rosenkavalier was made, written by von Hoffmanstal and arranged by Strauss with provision for a large, live orchestra accompaniment, without singers.

    All movie theaters had live accompaniments, and large theaters in metropolitan areas  had resident orchestras. The then brand-new Eastman Theater in Rochester had two orchestras: a pit orchestra for accompanying the wildly popular silent films shown many times a day, and a larger one (which later became the Rochester Philharmonic) for entertainment in between films and for the main evening shows. Large production companies would send around the scores and parts to music written for the specific movies, with flexible scoring (“pit arrangements”) which could be adapted for the particular theater (cues written in all parts to make substituting easy.)  

    The “Salon Orchestra Version” authorized by Strauss and published by Fürstner “distilled” the orchestration down from 100 to 13 players: flute, oboe, 2 trumpets, trombone, 2 violins, cello, bass, piano, some percussion, and harmonium.

    Eric Culver, April 14, 2020

  • Thu, March 12, 2020 3:01 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Matthew McGarrell.  As the White Plains, New York home of Percy Aldridge Grainger and Ella Viola Strom is gradually transformed into an accessible landmark, museum, and research facility, treasures emerge to become objects of fascination as well as evidence of the lives of two enigmatic twentieth-century creative artists.  Everything at 7 Cromwell Place—from light fixtures to plumbing, from furniture to wall paper, from pianos to paintings—bears witness to the idiosyncratic lifestyles of Percy and Ella.  For several years, I have been making photographs and videos in the house, sporadically but intently, focusing on details that mostly have changed little since the hands of Ella and Percy were upon them.  The “star” of this video—the medicine cabinet in Percy and Ella’s bathroom—affords opportunities for intimate observation and reveals something of the natural approach to health that the Graingers practiced.  I am indebted to our guide, Barry Peter Ould, for his knowledge of antique apothecaries and the gentle humor with which he displays it.  

    My growing collection of photographs made at 7 Cromwell Place can be seen here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/willblax/albums/72157708846752652

  • Mon, February 24, 2020 5:54 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Cora Angier Sowa.

    Percy Grainger's appreciation of American folk song

    Percy Grainger was a composer with many interests. One of these was the collecting and arrangement of folksongs of various continents, and his work with English, Scandinavian and South Pacific song is well-known. In the years he spent in America, he developed an interest in the music of America. In a previous blog, Percy Grainger in the Ozarks, we spoke of Grainger's appreciation of the mountain music of the U.S., as exemplified by his performances of the old song "Arkansas Traveler." But he also became interested in the songs of the Native Americans, or "Indians," as they were then called, and in the complex forms of the music of African Americans. In these pursuits, he was influenced in particular by the work of Natalie Curtis Burlin, intrepid collector and writer, who overcame hardships, both physical and bureaucratic, to record first the music of the Hopi of Arizona and other Native American tribes, then the elaborate part-singing of the Blacks at the Hampton Institute in Virginia.

    Natalie Curtis' flight from her wealthy New York upbringing

    Natalie Curtis was born into a wealthy New York family in 1875. Her family had a brownstone on Washington Place, and her father was a distinguished physician. Her brothers were Harvard-educated; Natalie and her sisters did not, as Victorian women, have that opportunity. However, Natalie showed an early talent as a musician, practicing both voice and piano obsessively for hours each day. One of her piano teachers was Ferruccio Busoni (with whom Grainger also briefly studied). She was well on her way to becoming a well-known concert pianist, but in those days she was expected to get married, and married ladies of her social class did not have careers.

    Natalie's brother George became a librarian at the Astor Library in New Haven, Connecticut. However, he suffered from asthma, and went West for his health, as many ailing Easterners did. He found work as a ranch hand in Arizona, where he regained his strength. Natalie meanwhile, worn down from over-practicing as well as emotional stress, suffered a complete breakdown. She too, fled to the Southwest to join her brother, and he became her constant companion in her subsequent travels among the Hopi. (Incidentally, there is no connection between this Curtis family and the photographer and ethnologist Edward Sheriff Curtis, who was born on a farm in Wisconsin, where his father was a minister and farmer. They only coincidentally shared a surname and a common interest in documenting Native American life.)

    Cowboy life and song with brother George

    Natalie shared the outdoor life with George, traveling by horse and sleeping under the stars. In 1920 she would write in The Nation:

    I have ridden with cowboys, sung with them, seen round-ups and bronco-busting, spent months amid a thousand head of cattle on one of the loneliest ranges in Arizona. When the men left to "ride the range" and I was alone in the cabin with a Colt revolver for companion; when I heard the plaintive sob of the wood pigeon in the cedars . . . Then I understood the note of utter loneliness that sounds in many a cowboy song,

    Cowboy music is not just one genre

    We have to wonder which cowboy songs she heard. Doubtless the men sang only "cleaned-up" versions for her, suitable to sing in front of ladies. One of the most famous, for example, "Streets of Laredo," had an original version, based on the English ballad "The Unfortunate Lad" (also known as "The Unfortunate Rake") in which the hero is dying not of a gunshot wound, but from venereal disease, one of the most common causes of death for cowboys; the other most common cause was lightning strikes. The cowboy song originated in songs sung or played at night to soothe the thousands of cattle on long drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas City or South Dakota, to keep them from stampeding at some sudden noise.

    The cowboys themselves were a mixed lot — White Confederate veterans, freed Black slaves, Mexicans. Their music varied, too, from old Appalachian ballads to contemporary show tunes to impromptu compositions. (Natalie, speaking of American folk music in her Negro Folksongs writes of "the songs and ballads of the British Isles, still held in purity in the mountain fortresses of the Southern States, though strange versions of them crop up in the cowboy songs of the frontier.") William H. Forbis, in The Old West: The Cowboys tells us that one cowboy sang Presbyterian hymns, another played the violin, and that some songs "had mournful tunes but no words and were termed 'Texas lullabies'." (On a personal note: My great-uncle Albert Powell was a Texas cowboy in the 1890's, working on long cattle drives. His father, my great-grandfather James Powell, was a Baptist minister and rancher, so Albert probably knew lots of Baptist hymns, but I don't think Albert himself was particularly religious. I wish I knew what songs he sang to soothe the bovines.)

    Natalie made an arrangement of an old cowboy song, which she simply titled "A Cowboy Song." It was performed on April 4, 1920 at the Musical Art Society of New York. Also on the program were two of Natalie's arrangements of Native American melodies, which she collected in the next phase of her life. These arrangements were the Pawnee "Victory Song" and the Cheyenne "Dawn Song."

    Charles Lummis introduces Natalie to Native American culture

    Natalie and George visited Los Angeles, where they met Charles Fletcher Lummis, journalist and activist in Native American rights. Lummis, one of the founders of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian near Pasadena, was born in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard, where Theodore Roosevelt was one of his classmates, a connection that would prove advantageous to both Lummis and to Natalie Curtis. Lummis was a founder of the Sequoyah League, which fought for the rights of Native Americans to keep their own culture, which was under siege by U.S. Government policy.

    In Los Angeles, Lummis invited Natalie and George to attend a performance by Navajo singers from Arizona, and his stories of tramping though the Southwest ignited her interest in the region.

    The Indians' Book

    Natalie and George Curtis arrived in Yuma, Arizona in 1903, and they set forth into the desert, She brought with her an Edison recording machine. She made contact with the Native people, and strove to gain their trust. Her arrival was controversial, as the policy of the U.S. government, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was to "civilize" the "savage" Indians by forbidding them to speak their own language, sing their songs, perform their sacred dances, wear Native clothing, wear their hair long, or keep their Native names. Children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to distant boarding schools, founded on a military model. The most famous of these was the Carlisle School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, founded in 1879. (Its most famous graduate was the remarkable athlete Jim Thorpe.)

    Natalie and George eventually made their way to the Hopi pueblo of Oraibi, perched on top of the stone outcropping known as the Third Mesa. There she won the trust of the elders, especially the Chief, Lololomai. The Hopi had songs for every aspect of life — songs for planting crops, grinding corn, putting children to sleep, dancing, watching the dawn, and every chore. Sitting on a rooftop with Lololomai and other singers, she began (in secret, to avoid the BIA), she began to collect and record the Hopi songs. During a visit in the East, Natalie made use of family connections with President Roosevelt to obtain from him a special letter of permission to continue recording the Indian songs and studying their culture.

    The Hopi and other Indian cultures

    In 1907 Natalie published The Indians' Book, in which she presented not only the songs of the Hopi, but those of Native American tribes from many parts of America, from Maine to the Great Plains to the Navaho and Apache of the Southwest. We find there the melodies, with the words in both the Native tongue and in English, plus extensive essays on the culture of each tribe and details of how the songs were performed. There are work songs, war songs, and dance songs, and songs for every aspect of life. The entire The Indians' Book is available on the Internet.

    An unfortunate aspect of Curtis' work was that she was influenced by an "evolutionary" view of the world's people that was already becoming outmoded among anthropologists such as her friend Franz Boas. According to this view, races evolve from a primitive "childlike" state of untaught emotional expression to a state of "civilization." For example, she writes "The Indian's religious thought, uttered with the simplicity of childhood, is born of his recognition of spirit in every form of life ..." and again: "If the Indians' Book can help to a recognition of primitive men of latent capabilities; if it can help ... to herald the day when adult races wisely shall guide child races, and civilization nourish the genius of every people, then will this utterance of the North American Indians be not for the race alone, but for all humanity."But she nevertheless saw that by becoming "civilized," the modern nations were also losing something of creative artistic genius.

    After the publication of The Indians' Book and Roosevelt's intervention, some modifications were introduced into the government treatment of Native American culture, and an exemption was granted for musical and artistic performance.

    In August, 1913, Theodore Roosevelt joined Natalie and others at the village of Walpi on the First Mesa of Arizona to witness the Hopi Snake Dance, in which the dancers dance while handling the sacred snakes. Natalie and Roosevelt were seated together in the audience.

    Busoni's Indian Fantasy, with Grainger in the audience

    In 1915, Ferruccio Busoni composed his Indian Fantasy for piano and orchestra, inspired by Native American songs which Natalie had collected. Natalie wrote a review of Busoni's Indian Fantasy in the October, 1915 issue of Southern Workman, the journal published by the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where she had pursued her recording of Native American, and later, African American songs and folktales. In the review, she recounted how the composition came about, and her meeting with Stokowski, who conducted the piece's first performance.

    Natalie met a young Leopold Stokowski when he arrived in America in 1905. She told him about Indian music and shared with him some of the songs she had collected. He listened, she wrote, in "reverent silence," and "was deeply moved, for this music seemed to him the very voice of the 'New World'." When he asked for some little remembrance, she says that she gave him "a silver ornament wrought into art-shape (a flower form) by some facile though untaught Navaho Indian silversmith." (This is, of course, nonsense, like her "evolutionary" ideas. The silversmith wasn't untaught. He would have learned his craft from an older smith, who would have been taught by his own teachers!)

    A few years later, Natalie was asked by her old mentor, Busoni, for a few Indian melodies that he could work into "a rhapsody or fantasy for piano and orchestra." The result was Busoni's Indian Fantasy, which was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Stokowski. At the rehearsal on February 19, 1915, Natalie sat with Madame Busoni on one side and Percy Grainger on the other.

    The piece is in three movements, a free "Fantasia," a Canzona ("The Blue Bird Song"), and "Finale." Musically, it is impressionistic. Natalie wrote:

    With the first bars of the orchestral introduction (based on a song of the cliff-perched Hopi Indians) the walls melted away, and I was in the West, filled again with that awing sense of vastness, of solitude, of immensity. The boundless horizon, the endless stretch of plains and deserts, the might of the Mississippi — all this, the spirit of the real America (a spirit of primeval latent power) Busoni had felt while traveling across the continent, and now had tried to reproduce. . .

    With all the resources of piano and orchestra Busoni conjures before us a succession of different pictures and ideas — primitive America — the sweep of the prairie winds, the roll and gleam of waters, the aerial song of birds . . .

    Natalie remarked on the lack of drums in the piece, which are so characteristic of Native American music, but she adds that "this characteristic feature enters at the last, and with perhaps the greater dynamic effect through having been withheld at first." One Indian theme, she says, "which Busoni has expanded into a broad and stirring melody, and which he calls 'The Chant of Victory' seemed to him possible for adaptation as one of our national anthems."

    Stokowski hopefully thought that the Indian Fantasy would have a great influence on the future of Western music. Natalie quotes his words after that first performance: "I consider this the most important new step in the development of music since DeBussy first began to break fresh paths in tonal and harmonic relations. It will have a very deep influence on the trend of music in the future."

    You can listen to a YouTube performance of Busoni's Fantasy by pianist Giovanni Bellucci (Fantasía India Op.44, para piano y orquesta. Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de la RAI Director: Daniele Callegari) and make up your own mind about its effects.

    The Hampton Series of Negro Folk-Songs

    Natalie first came to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia in 1904, with the intent of studying and recording songs from the great number of Indian students from many tribes who were in residence at the time.

    The Hampton Institute was founded by General Samuel Armstrong Chapman in 1868 to provide education for newly freed Black slaves. One of its earliest graduates was Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute. It is today's Hampton University. It was coeducational from the start, with the women being taught domestic skills. In 1878 Hampton began to accept American Indian students, eventually enrolling applicants from some sixty-five different tribes. Subversively, Hampton encouraged the Native Americans to perform their folk music, which government policy tried to suppress. Unfortunately, the program ended in 1923, when it was feared (this being in the pre-civil rights South) that Black and Native students were fraternizing too much. The aim, it was said, to integrate the Indians into white, not black society!

    While at Hampton, Natalie undertook to help the Indian students learn each others' languages, while transcribing their music for her own project. These songs were included in her Indians' Book.

    African American part-singing

    It may have been the anthropologist Franz Boas, who was a friend of Natalie, who first suggested to her the idea of doing for the music of the African Americans what she had done for the Native American.

    Natalie toured the South meeting with Black communities where African heritage was preserved, although her actual recording was done at Hampton. She describes visiting the Calhoun Industrial School where she attended "a great meeting of colored people" that was "held one year to listen to discussion by Northern white scholars concerning the advancement of their race." The attendees, for their part, treated this event like a camp meeting, hitching their animals in the woods and gathering in a big clearing. Suddenly they burst into spontaneous song. She goes on to say, "And as usual with Negroes, this was extemporaneous part-singing, — women making up alto, men improvising tenor or bass, the music as a whole possessed so completely by them all (or so utterly possessing them!) that they were free to abandon themselves to the inspiration of their own creative instinct." (From the Hampton Series of Negro Folk-Songs Book IV).

    Of particular interest to Natalie at Hampton was the elaborate part-singing, the improvisational a capella song. To record each part separately was a challenge, because each singer was unable to sing without the simultaneous singing of all the other parts. She adopted the method of putting the recording device next to the singer whose voice she was recording, while the others sang in the background, audible to the first singer but not picked up by the machine. Then she repeated the process for each singer.

    The result of Natalie's effort was the four-volume Hampton Series of Negro Folk-Songs (1918-1919). As with the Native Americans, there were songs for every aspect of life. There were the well-known spirituals, but also work and play songs, like the "Peanut-Pickin' Song," the "Hammerin' Song" from the mines of Virginia, "Chicka-Hanka" (a railroad workers' song), and "Liza-Jane." The complete series of Hampton Institute Negro Folk-Songs, Vols. I-IV, is available on the Internet.

    In a 1912 essay, Natalie identified "Four Types of Folk-Song" in the United States: Native American, African American, mountain white, and cowboy.

    Songs and Tales from the Dark Continent

    There were in residence at the Hampton School students who were from Africa, and Natalie made a special project of recording music that they brought from their native tribes. Her two principal informants were C. Kamba Simango, from the Ndau Tribe, Portuguese East Africa, and Madikane Cele, of the Zulu Tribe, Zululand, South Africa. The result was Songs and Tales from the Dark Continent, published in 1920. In this music, too, she found complex polyphony and part-singing, solo voice followed by chorus, and rhythmic syncopation. There were also native instruments, indluding the drum and the mbi'la, a wooden box with metal strips tuned to different lengths, plucked by the thumbs. Various forms of hand-clapping were also practiced. The tonal system did not correspond to the Western scale, and was difficult to reproduce on the modern piano.

    Natalie published Songs and Tales from the Dark Continent in 1920. The work comprised not only songs, as in The Indians' Book, but folk tales such as "The Hare and the Tortoise" and "The Hare and the Baboon." Included in Songs and Tales are detailed directions for performance, illustrated by the (relatively short) directions given on the example of the "Dance for Girls" illustrated here:

    Only the two dancers can clap this clap; though they as well as the onlookers may also clap all the other claps. The first beat of each bar carrying the words of the song and accented by the two emphatic beats of the dancers, is made to stand out vigorously from the rest of the song; the following syllables, accompanied by the more rapid hand-clapping, sound somewhat parenthetical in character.

    Curtis' Songs and Tales from the Dark Continent is also available on the Internet.

    Grainger's review of Curtis' work

    Percy Grainger wrote a review of Natalie's work on African American music in the New York Times Book Review of April 14, 1918 (which is reprinted in Malcolm Gillies' and Bruce Clunies Ross' Grainger on Music). It was titled "The Unique Value of Natalie Curtis' Notations of American Negro Folksongs."

    Grainger terms music composed with the help of written notation "conscious music," that which is composed without written notation "unconscious music." He saw that both kinds of music have positive qualities lacking in the other, and thought, according to the common belief, that the "primitive" or "untaught" music would eventually die away, and should be preserved as a historic artifact. He writes:

    It would probably be safe to assert that no composer of conscious music seems ...capable of creating tunes of a certain indescribable melodic fragrance that abounds in almost every branch of unconscious music! On the other hand, unconscious music (very naturally) rarely, if ever, rises to the heights of harmonic intricacy and subtlety native to conscious music.

    Grainger recognizes Natalie Curtis' unique ability to record and explicate the improvisational part-music of the Blacks. He writes that

    ...the problem is one calling for the sharpest of ears, the most alert of musical mentalities, the warmest and most expansive of racial sympathies. But Natalie Curtis-Burlin has all these qualifications in a superlative degree, as she has amply shown in her previous remarkable musical and literary accomplishment, The Indians' Book.

    Dedication of a song to Percy Grainger

    Natalie dedicated one of the songs in the Hampton Series, "God's A-Gwine Ter Move All De Troubles Away," to Percy Grainger. She writes:

    "To Percy Grainger (who loves this song), Composer, Pianist, Folk-lorist, This record is dedicated with warm appreciation of those qualities of artistic insight and human sympathy that make him a firm friend of the Negro and of Negro music; for the unconscious art of simple men finds reverent recognition and buoyant response from the genius whose own sunny nature makes all who know him believe that

    "God's A-Gwine Ter Move All De Troubles Away."

    She recounts a story about a concert of Black music given by Black musicians at the Musical School Settlement for Colored People in New York, where Grainger comforted a young woman pianist who totally flubbed her performance and left the stage feeling a failure. Grainger immediately went backstage:

    Hurrying behind the scenes he met the dejected little pianist as she came from the stage. "Don't mind," he said comfortingly, "we have all done the same thing; every artist has. That's part of a public career. Go back and play again. Don't you hear them applauding? This time you'll play better than ever!" Thus encouraged, the girl reappeared before her audience and now came off with flying colors. She had never met the great pianist before, but he marked a turning-point in her life, for he had helped her to change failure to victory.

    Grainger's arrangements of Native American songs

    Grainger made arrangements of several of Natalie Curtis' works (and Natalie herself also composed and performed original compositions based on both Native American and African American themes). Grainger's arrangements were:

    1. From Songs and Tales of the Dark Continent, "Two Songs of Love": Iga'ma lo Ta'ndo (Zulu), Lu'mbo Igo Lu'do (Chindau), 1920;
    2. From Negro Folk Songs (Hampton Series) "Negro Lullaby" for mixed voices (1934), for string orchestra (1939);
    3. "Matachina Dance" from Memories of New Mexico (Spanish-Indian melodies from Santa Fe, New Mexico) (1925), employing the following musicians: Group 1 (on platform): oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, harmonium, harp, piano #1, 2 violins, viola #1, cello #1;
      Group 2 (behind platform): flute, piano #2, viola #2, cello #2, bass; 
    4. "Lenten Chant (Crucifixion Hymn) and "Sangre de Cristo" ("Blood of Christ"), also from Memories of New Mexico (1925), using the following: Flute (also piccolo), oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, timpani, bells (tubular, staff), metal marimba, harmonium, piano (4 hands)+ad lib., harp, strings. 

    Curtis' marriage and death

    In 1916 Natalie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. New Mexico was being promoted by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway as a cultural destination, and a colony of artists and writers was becoming established in Santa Fe. These included a number of independent women who, like Natalie, had fled restrictive lives in wealthy or upper middle class families on both coasts. Their stories, including Natalie's, are told by Lesley Poling-Kempes in Ladies of the Canyons (2015).

    In Santa Fe, Natalie met and fell in love with modernist artist Paul Burlin, ten years younger than herself. They hoped to marry in her hometown of New York, with her family and her New York friends. But her mother was horrified. Not only was he younger than her, but he had no respectable profession such as banking or medicine, did not even know anyone in the Social Register, and besides he was Jewish! So they married in Santa Fe, and moved into a modest adobe cottage, where they lived happily.

    After the First World War, the U.S. art world turned away from modernism, and in 1921 the Burlins moved to Paris for the sake of Paul's career. Natalie continued a career as a lecturer on American folk music. In a lecture during a conference at the Sorbonne, which she gave in French, she refuted the opinions expressed by the Harvard music professor Edward Burlingame Hill, who claimed that the music of the Indians and Negroes was not American folk music because those peoples were not truly American! She pointed out American Negroes were "good enough 'Americans' to die for American ideals in our wars" and had a long tradition of folk music and songs "that are the very voice of our South." She sang some Native American songs, and the European audience was, she later said, "electrified."

    On the evening of October 23, 1921, after an afternoon at the theater, Natalie was getting off the bus in the pouring rain, when she was struck by a speeding automobile driven by a doctor going to a medical emergency. He stopped, but Natalie died at the hospital. She was just forty-five years old and was at the height of her career.

    The right results for the wrong reasons

    Natalie Curtis and Percy Grainger both subscribed to the "evolutionary" theory of civilization, according to which "primitive" people progressed from "childhood" to "civilized" adulthood. The fact that the peoples being studied had no writing, but improvised stories and songs, reusing phrases and episodes to fit the context was taken to show that these people were simply inspired by some kind of emotional instinct. The work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord with Serbo-Croatian and ancient Greek epic lay in the future. Those scholars laid the groundwork for a knowledge of the nature of oral transmission and composition (and recomposition) that uses formulaic language and formulaic melody to transmit a rich cultural heritage. The epic poems we know as the Iliad and Odyssey were handed down orally, with constant recomposition, for hundreds of years before a version of each was written down (the melodies that went with them are lost). Yet no one would accuse the ancient Greeks of being uncivilized! (The nature of ancient Greek epic is also treated in my own Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns, 1984.)

    The research by Alex Haley into his African ancestor Kunta Kinte, and his meeting with the traditional griots, or bards, chronicled in his Roots,the Saga of an American Family, lay even further in the future. Haley emphasized the necessity of the musical accompaniment to aiding the bard in his composition.

    Grainger may have been in some ways a racist, with his obsession with the "Nordic race," but his definition of "Nordic" seems to have been rather elastic, having as much to do with a general expansiveness of mood as with biology. For example, as Bruce Clunies Ross points out in "In Pursuit of Nordic Music" in Penelope Thwaites' The New Percy Grainger Companion, he considered the music of the Black jazz composer Duke Ellington and the Jewish George Gershwin to be "Nordic," but not that of Wagner!

    But despite misunderstanding of the nature of the music and culture of the Native Americans and African Americans, Natalie Curtis, Charles Lummis, Grainger and others who collected and arranged their songs and folktales did preserve the melodies and stories of these peoples for them during a time when the dominant society was trying to stamp them out. The people, thankfully, are still here. Native children are being taught their own languages, and African Americans are researching their own roots. We are all richer for it.

    "The Buffalo"

    Beside the main door of the library at Hampton University, a bronze statue was erected, named "The Buffalo," depicting one of the members of the 367th Infantry of the 92nd Division during World War I, named "Buffalo Soldiers" after the Black cavalry who guarded Army forts of the American Southwest in the 19th century. (Ironically, their duty was to guard settlers against attacks by Apache Indians!) The statue is dedicated "In Memory of Natalie Curtis, Beloved by many of different races and colors, 1875-1921."


    I thank our own Barry Ould for first making me aware of the works of the fascinating figure of Natalie Curtis, and for providing me with the list of Grainger's arrangements of Curtis' melodies.

  • Tue, January 28, 2020 5:25 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Vincent Lionti, viola, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Board Member, International Percy Grainger Society

    How would you like to go back in time (oh, about 100 years or so), sit in Percy Grainger's living room parlor and enjoy a performance of some of this great composer's music as well as that of a few of his famous friends and colleagues? If you are intrigued by this idea, I cordially invite you to 7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, New York, for a concert that pianist Richard Masters and I will be giving on Sunday, May 3, 2020 at 2:00pm. You'll hear and see the same piano and harmonium that Percy played and composed on. You'll sit among the same furniture, pictures on the wall and furnishings that adorned Percy and his wife Ella's humble home during their lifetime. You'll see the Tiffany stained glass windows, the tasseled Victorian lampshades and the chin-up bar that hangs in the entrance foyer. House concerts were a very important facet of Percy's music-making, where he could try out new compositions in front of family and friends before publishing and performing them around the world.

          The complete program is as follows:

    GRAINGER   The Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol

    GRAINGER  Youthful Rapture

    YORK BOWEN Phantasy, opus 54 (1918)

    ARNOLD BAX Piano Sonata in E-flat major (1921)

    FREDERICK DELIUS   Violin Sonata No. 2 (1923) arranged for Viola by Lionel Tertis

    GRAINGER  Molly on the Shore  (transcribed by Lionel Tertis, notated and edited by R. Masters)

    York Bowen's musical career spanned more than fifty years during which time he wrote over 160 works. As well as being a pianist and composer, Bowen was a talented conductor, organist, violist and horn player. Despite achieving considerable success during his lifetime, many of the composer's works remained unpublished and unperformed until after his death in 1961, the same year as Percy Grainger's death. In his book Grainger on Music, Percy writes of hearing a performance in Stockholm of "...the English composer York Bowen's melodious and effective Second Piano Concerto..."

    Sir Arnold Bax, born a year after Grainger, was an English composer, poet, and author. His prolific output includes songs, choral music, chamber pieces, and solo piano works, but he is best known for his orchestral music. Lewis Foreman has written that some "music of Bax exhibits an unexpected resemblance to Percy Grainger at his most energetic."

    Percy Grainger met Frederick Delius in London, April 1907, probably at the home of the painter John Singer Sargent; the two met and exchanged music. Upon looking at Grainger’s setting of the folksong Brigg Fair (1906), Delius declared that their harmonies were identical! The next year, Delius wrote his orchestral rhapsody Brigg Fair, and dedicated it to Grainger. In his 1952 essay on Delius, Grainger noted that Delius "…did not so much create new ideas and idioms as respond exquisitely to those brought to him…”

    Please join us for a brief journey back in time at the Percy Grainger House on May 3, 2020 at 2:00pm! A reception follows the concert.

    Tickets will be available online starting March 5th, 2020.  The Percy Grainger House is located at 7 Cromwell Place in White Plains, New York, 10601. Parking is available along the street as well as in the municipal parking garage located directly opposite the house.

  • Tue, January 14, 2020 12:55 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Fire on any scale was a concern to Percy Grainger.  In fact, he was so concerted about it and its devastating effects he had two fire proof rooms installed in his basement.  

    The devastating wild fires in eastern Australia would have been of grave concern to Grainger. He would have certainly been one of the first to support his homeland and step up to help.  He was known for his generosity, establishing a scholarship in his mother's name at University of Adelaide and playing concerts for the US Red Cross, are just two examples among many of his generosity and support for community.

    In the spirit of his concern and lifelong support of Australia, the International Percy Grainger Society is supporting the Australian Red Cross, Melbourne, in its efforts to comfort and support those how have lost homes and the volunteers that are fighting the fires.  Please click here to join us in our support.  

  • Tue, December 31, 2019 2:01 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Barry Peter Ould.  In the impressive roll-call of music arrangers throughout twentieth-century music, no musician looms as large in this field as the composer/pianist, Percy Aldridge Grainger. His numerous arrangements of works by other composers, as well as arrangements of his original and folk-music settings, present a body of work which is perhaps unique in the annals of music history.  Grainger’s musical interests covered a wide spectrum from medieval polyphony to the twentieth-century, which culminated in his own early experiments in producing electronic music on ‘free music’ machines.

    Grainger’s development as an arranger can be roughly divided into three periods.  His earliest work as an arranger of traditional music can be dated to 1898. when he took the song ‘Willow Willow’ from William Chappell’s ‘Old English Music’ and wrote a new accompaniment to the existing melody.  This was soon followed by 25 traditional melodies from Augener’s ‘Minstrelsy of England’ all with new accompaniments by the 16-year-old Grainger. In 1900, during a visit to West Argyllshire in Scotland, the young Grainger was heavily influenced by what he saw and heard and this was to have a profound effect on the music he produced thereafter.

    His next set of arrangements was 12 songs from the Scottish collection ‘Songs of the North’, for which he wrote new piano accompaniments.  Another two pieces from the same collection were arranged for a cappella voices, and it is in these settings that the beginnings of Grainger’s unique harmonic style can be heard.  Grainger continued to make new settings of existing source material more or less up until he embarked on collecting traditional folk songs.  The years leading up to this important phase of his life were filled with an insatiable appetite for work. 

    His first public recital as a pianist took place in 1901, but he was also very busy playing at private functions.  It was during these ‘At Homes’ recitals that Grainger came into contact with many of the leading musicians and composers of the day.  These early years in London saw the composition of his paraphrase transcription of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Flower Waltz’, his first venture into that particular art form and piano transcriptions of 4 Irish Dances by his friend and mentor, Charles Villiers Stanford.  This would in turn lead to a series of piano transcriptions on pieces he particularly adored and thus securing him a position amongst the ranks of composer-pianists who were all attracted to this genre. 

    It was also during this period that Grainger met for the first time, his musical hero, Edvard Grieg.  He had long been a fervent admirer of the Norwegian’s music.  While still a boy in Australia, he had come under the spell of Grieg’s piano music, taught to him by his mother, Rose.  His earliest orchestral arrangements were of three of Grieg’s ‘Lyric Pieces’ from op. 12. scored in July 1898, which predated his first song arrangement of ‘Willow, Willow’ by some 4 months.  In 1902, during his stay at Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, Grainger penned perhaps his most famous arrangement.  It was his choral setting of the ‘Irish Tune from County Derry’ which has in latter years been wrongly attributed the title of ‘Danny Boy’.  This sumptuous melody was to be arranged in many different ways during Grainger’s lifetime, but the first published edition of his ‘elastic’ scoring concept was a highly chromatic version of the tune.

    In 1904, a meeting with Lucy Broadwood inspired Grainger to start collecting folk songs in the field. The material he collected between 1905 and 1909 would become his new source of inspiration, leading to the creation of one of his major musical achievements: the composition of the series ‘British Folk Music Settings’, which forms the largest collection of pieces among the generic headings he gave to his compositions.  The folk songs he collected were mainly from Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire, but he also notated a number of sea chanties from John Perring and Charles Rosher, a deep sea fisherman and retired sailor respectively.  It was from Rosher that he collected ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’ used to great effect in his ‘Scotch Strathspey and Reel’.  Perring provided ‘Shallow Brown’, perhaps one of Grainger’s greatest settings.  Grainger also visited Denmark where he undertook several expeditions to collect material, the last being in 1922.  Again, the songs he collected in Denmark would be used in a series of compositions entitled ‘Danish Folk-Music Settings’ of which his ‘Danish Folk-Music Suite’ for orchestra is the crowning achievement. 

    A series of eight concerts between 1912-1913, organised and sponsored by Henry Balfour Gardiner, a fellow student at Hoch’s Conservatory in Frankfurt, presented Grainger with an opportunity to present some of his choral and orchestral arrangements for the first time.  At the first of these concerts, a setting of a Faeroese dance folk song ‘Father and Daughter’, with guitar ensemble was a huge success. It brought Cecil Forsyth’s attention to Grainger’s unique scoring for guitars which he later used in his book on orchestration.  The fifth concert included one of Grainger’s earliest orchestral settings from folk music sources, namely ‘Passacaglia on Green Bushes’.

    A publishing deal with Schott and Co. was secured in 1911 and, after the success of a handful of popular pieces including ‘Shepherd’s Hey’, Grainger was encouraged to make piano arrangements of them to widen their popularity. Thus the process of transcribing his own pieces began.  Whilst Grainger’s original piano works are almost without exception transcriptions (the majority of his piano versions were made after their original instrumental or orchestral scores were composed), it is in the thirty or so transcriptions of other composers’ music that his originality as a composer for the piano shines forth.

    After this period Grainger and his mother departed for the United States.  This third phase was to be the most extended. As his ideas for new works were drying up, especially so after his mother’s death in 1922, Grainger undertook the constant rearranging of previous compositions.  A brief period in the United States Army as bandsman gave him the opportunity of writing for the military band.  It was during this time that he arranged a number of his popular pieces for band.  During his London years he had acquired a thorough knowledge of wind instruments, augmented by his time as bandsman, and this would prove invaluable when he came to write such masterpieces as ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’.  However, the anonymity of army life however did not last long and it was soon discovered that his true talents lay as a concert pianist. In 1918, he was coaxed into giving a piano recital in aid of War Bonds.  For this recital he dished up the piece to which his name would be inextricably linked with for the remainder of his life. The tune had been given to him ten years earlier by Cecil Sharp who had collected it from traditional sources and his arrangement of ‘Country Gardens’ would provide Grainger with an income for life.

    After his time in the United States Army he resumed work as a concert pianist and his vigorous nature never allow him to rest.  Grainger’s remaining years in the United States were oriented towards education, and a series of teaching posts were made available to him. This provided him with the opportunity to make arrangements of pieces for multiple pianos so that his piano students would be able to play alongside him and thus accustom themselves to playing in an ensemble.  For the more gifted pupils, he made special two-piano arrangements of some of his original works and folk music settings. 

    It was at the Chicago Music College beginning in the summer of 1919, that the two first numbers of his ‘Free Settings of Favourite Melodies’ were written out.  The ‘Hornpipe’ from Handel’s ‘Water Music’, however, appears to have been thought out earlier than this.  It is a straightforward treatment of the original melody, though technically more demanding than it sounds.  The second, Brahms’s ‘Wiegenlied’ (‘Cradle Song’) op. 49 no. 4, is a contemplative study characterised by much arpeggiation.  The third piece in the series is a transcription of the song ‘Nell’ op. 18 no. 1 by Fauré.  Grainger’s filigree treatment of the melody was made in the February of the same year in which Fauré died.  The transcription of one of Fauré’s most poignant love songs, ‘Après une rêve’ op. 7 no. 1 followed in 1939.  In the twilight years of Grainger’s life, although frail, he would often be heard playing these two Fauré melodies.  Before 1920, work commenced on ‘Ramble on Love’ with the full title Ramble on the Love-duet in the Opera ‘The Rose-Bearer’ [Der Rosenkavalier] FSFM No. 4. But it was his mother’s suicide in 1922 that drove Grainger to complete this most elaborate of all his piano paraphrases, with her name obliquely enshrined in the title.

    For the Chicago Music College’ summer school in 1928, Grainger made the first of his impressive transcriptions for percussion ensemble of Debussy’s ‘Pagodes’ (Estampes) whom Grainger had first met during his years in London.   In 1932, Grainger was appointed associate professor and chairman of the music department at New York University and, through the auspices of Gustave Reese, Grainger was introduced to a recording of medieval music by the English musicologist, Dom Anselm Hughes. This experience was to bring Grainger’s attention to a body of music which would preoccupy him for the remainder of his life.  His work on arranging and trying to popularise this music lead to the publication of a series of pieces entitled ‘English Gothic Music’. 

    In the following years whilst visiting his homeland, Grainger made a series of transcriptions from recordings of ethnic music from the Pacific regions and the harmonisation of a Chinese tune, ‘Beautiful Fresh Flower’, which he had read about in A Theory of Evolving Tonality by the American musicologist, composer, organist and conductor Joseph Yasser.  The melody of ‘Beautiful Fresh Flower’ was also used by Puccini in his opera Turandot

    From 1930 onwards Grainger began lecturing and teaching at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, and for these annual events he turned his attention to making many arrangements of works by different composers, among whom J. S. Bach took a central role. At the same time, he began a series of masterly arrangements under the heading ‘Chosen Gems for Winds’ including works by Josquin, de Cabezon, William Lawes and Eugene Goosens as well as pieces made available to him from his collaboration with Dom Anselm Hughes.  A similar set of arrangements for strings was also undertaken, and many of these works were performed during the concerts Grainger organised at the Interlochen summer music schools.  For his final concert in the summer of 1944, he made a transcription of Ravel’s ‘La Vallée des Cloches’ for tuneful percussion and strings.  This was his second transcription of a Ravel piano work.  In 1934, he had transcribed ‘Le Gibet’ for piano and marimbas, but the score has never come to light and is presumed lost.

    Such is Grainger’s breadth and vision that if for some strange reason all music apart from Grainger’s arrangements were to disappear, we would be left with a body of work which would give us a fundamental understanding of the development of music from different cultures throughout the ages. It is unfortunate that Grainger’s reputation as a composer is largely based on a handful of popular piano arrangements, while the bulk of his inventive and highly individual settings of folk-music, together with his arrangements of a wider gamut of music from all periods, and his own original compositions, for the most part go unperformed and unheard.  The multifaceted genius of Grainger the music arranger has yet to be fully appreciated.


  • Tue, November 12, 2019 12:57 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Bernard Herrmann as he appeared in the Hitchcock motion picture classic “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

    By Dana Paul Perna. It will come as no surprise to this readership that Bernard Herrmann is included amidst a shared appreciation among Grainger enthusiasts. The person to whom he was said to have once stated “Grainger changed my life” (quoted as per John Bird to me in a personal conversation), as well as “Grainger was my only true teacher”, how could he not rank high among those who could tout having been artistically nurtured by the Thunda-from-Down-Unda? Among the recordings Herrmann had planned to make had his sudden death not intervened, was one to have been devoted to Grainger in all his tuneful percussion richness and imagination. It came to pass in the hands of another conductor, but one only wishes we could have heard Herrmann bring his own original concepts and vision to the endeavor, especially if it were to have become one of his London Phase 4 discs, whereby all of it would have been captured on tape by way of that legendary audio engineer extraordinaire, Arthur Lilley.

    Without any ego attached to any of what I am about to author, in 1986, I wrote an article about - and titled - BERNARD HERRMANN - for the Grainger Society Journal, as linked here for your reading pleasure and enjoyment. Greatest examples of the Journalistic Arts? Hardly, but my intention was related in a similar mode to those of my same intentions with regard to Grainger. During this period, in a pre-YouTube, Spotfly, TCM, Social Media, TicToc - what have you - World that it was, when I were to mention Herrmann, or Grainger, or Moross even to “intelligent musicians” - and, may I add, pianists, specifically with regard to Grainger - they would look at me as if I had four eyeballs - or any other BALLS (which it took, believe me) to express such well-warranted admiration with respect to either of them. Pianists, as I was to discover, were particularly clueless in terms of Grainger’s output for their instrument. Like Percy, there was almost nothing in relation to there being any presence of Herrmann, even during his 75th birthday year that 1986 marked. It was my feeling that Percy would not have minded having devoted space within a journal he was named for to expose a spotlight on one among his more - if not the MOST - illustrious of students. 

    It was Grainger who encouraged the young musician, as Jerome Moross shared with me while expressing his similar reaction to Grainger as his informal teacher. (Moross was not “enrolled” in Percy’s NYU class - Benny, however, was.) As Moross reflected: “To Grainger, there were two kinds of people; those who were interested in Music, and those who were not. If you were ‘not’, he had no interest in you. If you “did”, like Benny and I, class began after ‘class’ had ended.” Who else but Grainger would, not only talk about Early Music in depth and specificity - at a time when that was almost unheard of - but, actually bring in to class recorders, shawms, and even a serpent, in addition to playing these instruments as demonstration to the class, sometimes with his wife Ella in tow, while dressed in whatever was left of his World War I doughboy uniform, as Moross stated, “looking more like a Hobo than the other formally attired professors we were accustomed to.” (It should be noted that Herrmann later employed a Serpent to underscore a tarantula for his score to the motion picture “White Witch Doctor.”) He also expressed his admiration for Grainger’s effusive approach to music, his expansive knowledge of the subject, and his unorthodox approach to teaching it that allowed Herrmann, Moross and others, to look at music in a more open-minded manner. (It remains to be noted that Herrmann’s other teacher at NYU was Philip James, who, among other things was the first music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra that he co-founded in 1922.) 

    In terms of the “after class” Moross mentioned, as he continued, “No music subject was off limits! He never treated us like ‘youngsters’; he always treated us like equals - just young ones. Benny was like a sponge then” adding that Grainger was especially pleased that Herrmann was so deeply interested in, enthralled and inspired by the British composers, several of whom Percy knew, or had known personally. Particular attention must be paid to their mutual admiration for Frederick Delius, stories about whom Grainger imparted to his younger colleagues. It is no wonder why some of Herrmann’s earliest efforts reflect and possess a certain “Delian Aura” about them, such as his early concert masterpiece “Aubade”, the title to which he later changed to “Silent Noon” after the Rossetti poem of the same name: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCAK_FogZS0  ….and, yes, Herrmann was present when Grainger invited Duke Ellington to visit the NYU campus, calling Moross to “GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE IMMEDIATELY!” since he did not want his DeWitt Clinton High School classmate to miss out on such a history-making event.  

    Herrmann came to know the who’s who among his contemporaries, largely due to his participation in the Young Composer’s Group, but on his desire to do so as well. Among those whom he came to know during this early period included Copland, Siegmeister, Gould, George Gershwin, Robert Russell Bennett, Oscar Levant, Brandt, Ives, Cowell (who served as his first publisher), Still, Varèse, Vernon Duke, Charles Seeger among numerous others. Grainger participated (performing “Green Bushes”) on Herrmann’s first concert of the New Chamber Orchestra of New York on May 17, 1933, an orchestra that Herrmann formed at age twenty-one! - during the Great Depression when no one had $$$$$. How crazy is that? You can read a letter Benny wrote to Henry Cowell (a musician also associated with Grainger) the day after the concert by going to: http://www.bernardherrmann.org/articles/a-letter-to-henry-cowell/ By the time he assumed a staff conductor’s position for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1934, confidence would never be a characteristic Herrmann would ever be accused of NOT possessing. Two years later, he was appointed music director of their Columbia Symphony Orchestra, forging a name for himself within the medium of Radio, pre-dating his future work in motion pictures, television and recordings. 

        To state that “the rest is history” would prove an understatement.

    Turning back to my previous 1986 article, what has changed since? When there were only a handful of recordings of Herrmann’s concert and chamber works on the market, including one devoted to his opera “Wuthering Heights”, these were mainly the products of Herrmann himself, either as performed under his baton, or under his supervision. Even these had become hard to come by. When YouTube began, Herrmann was not particularly present, nor was Grainger, for that matter, either. Over time, what has changed (as it has for Grainger), in a huge way is that Herrmann is very much present now. Early in TCM’s broadcasting of films that he scored, for example, mention of his contribution to their end result, unless it was one of his Hitchcock gems, was never included, which is not the case any longer. That his concert titles have been taken up in contemporary times, including the fact that his “Symphony” was finally given a long-overdue performance in Carnegie Hall (e.g. as performed by The Orchestra Now, conducted by Leon Botstein that occurred on Friday, November 3, 2017 at 7:30 pm in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage), has proven that those of us who knew of this Master’s hand would find-an-audience became confirmed. New recordings have been produced, and YouTube is bursting with Herrmannism to the extreme….and that’s just for starters. Even a selection of his “sketches” have been converted, in several instances, by way of digital representation over that medium, one that had not existed during Benny’s lifetime. There is even the online Bernard Herrmann Society website that established the Maestro with a Social Media presence he could never have imagined. Check it out for yourself by going to: http://www.bernardherrmann.org/  . 

    Orchestras that once openly looked “down” on his music are programming it - and what a list that is becoming, too. Los Angeles Philharmonic - an orchestra Herrmann was “forbidden” to conduct nor to perform his music - released one commercially made CD devoted to Herrmann’s film music under Esa-Pekka Salonen’s direction, while they have performed some of his titles in concert since; in fact,  during the inaugural week of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, selections by him were included among those historic festivities, and eventual telecast.  

    The New York Philharmonic performed Herrmann under the baton of no less than John Williams, who had also programmed Benny’s work years earlier while he was music director of the Boston Pops. Of course, Herrmann is part of their history, having received the world premiere of his “Moby Dick” under the baton of then music director, (pre-Sir) John Barbirolli. 

    photo of Bernard Herrmann discussing his score to MOBY DICK with conductor, John Barbirolli, then music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

    More recently, the New York Philharmonic’s string section (with mutes!) performed Herrmann’s score for “Psycho” in a “live” performance while the Hitchcock classic was being screened. His “Psycho Suite”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQwzJ6VvUD0 (released under the title “Psycho (a Narrative for Orchestra)” on Benny’s recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBkuUc6Pvek) has practically become a concert staple for Halloween, or “Thriller”-themed concerts. In Bordeaux, France, a great deal of attention was paid to Herrmann over three events in which HE was the featured subject. The first concert’s audio was cybercast, meaning that I was able to listen to it while it happened - this truly supreme presentation: Thursday 7th and Friday 8th of March 2019 at 20hr – Concert “Bernard Herrmann – The Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema”.  The Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine (ONBA) conducted by David Charles Abell, and with soprano Ana Maria Labin and the pianist Tanguy de Williencourt, will offer a program that will include music from the movies Psycho, Fahrenheit 451, Citizen Kane, The Bride Wore Black, Hangover Square, Obsession, The Ghost and Mrs Muir and North by Northwest. Yet, two more events occurred during the same week, these: 1) Monday 11th of March at 20h – Music Conference “Bernard Herrmann – His life and his great scores” Thierry Jousse, film critic and French director, will speak about the life of Bernard Hermann and his great scores written for the cinema, accompanied by Jean-Michel Bernard, pianist and composer, who will musically illustrate this tribute to the great Maestro; 2) Thursday 14th & Friday 15th at 20h – Movie in concert “Vertigo” The Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine (ONBA) conducted by Ernst Van Tiel will perform live Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack for the movie “Vertigo” (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

    …and that does not even scratch the surface in any way, shape, or form! In terms of his work just for the cinema alone - excluding everything else, which is quite an “else” to exclude!!! - he has become one of the most revered, studied and influential figures to have ever graced the medium. For that reason, he can now be considered to rank among the most important composers to ever have been born on the soil of the United States of America, period.

    To fail on my own side of the coin would prove inexcusable, therefore, I prepared two episodes of my cyber-radio program devoted to Herrmann’s work, the first providing an overview of his life and career: http://mixlr.com/moog1-radio/showreel/dpp-17/ It additionally pleases me to inform readers that, years ago, I had the great privilege of “crashing” the concert and first recording session in Phoenix, Arizona devoted to Herrmann’s previously alluded to “Symphony.” (While Herrmann had recorded it, it had not been recorded in a digital form of a later vintage.) One of my fondest memories was when the trumpet player entered the sound room to check in. His T-Shirt read “I Think Before I Clam.” How reassuring!?!?!? To myself, I immediately thought, what WOULD Benny have exclaimed if he had seen that? True, he could have laughed out-loud, but, more likely, given how serious he was when it came to all matters where and when WORK was involved, I could well imagine him having yelled out: 


    Oh, yes, and let’s not forget that Benny has even served as postage:


    To our great fortune, Herrmann’s contributions carry on in the 21st Century, perhaps even more musically relevant than ever. I have even heard a small combo jazz quartet - YES, a JAZZ QUARTET !!! - play his theme to “Taxi Driver” in a manner that the other standards were handled on the same gig. Too HIP for the room? You better believe it, Daddy-O. In a different version by a different artist, just to show you what I mean, DIGGETH - as BENNY’s tune ROCKS THE HOUSE ANEW! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSMmuejLMFI  Absolutely 100% delicious - just as if  Travis had stopped the meter long enough to dig into a New York Pastrami-on-Rye from Katz’s!

    In the end, what else can be learned by any of this? Whether it was Grainger, or Herrmann, or Moross, or Germaine Tailleferre, or Cyril Scott….. or any among a number of composers one feels has been neglected, vindication - not just that it comes, but when it comes - is always such a wonderful thing, indeed!!!!



    Upon completing this article, some additional news came my way, thereby making the necessity for this much-needed POSTSCRIPT. A bit macabre though it may be, yet remembering that Bernard Herrmann did compose a “Concerto Macabre” (for piano and orchestra), this latest addition, therefore, will seem wholly appropriate as you read on. 

    Upon learning that Herrmann was buried some 25 minutes from where I lived, I decided that it was only fitting for me to pay my respects by visiting his grave, which I did on two attempts. The first attempt became a wash-out, while attempt number two, fortunately aided by a groundskeeper, could not have gone any better. The weather was perfect - sunny and bright, not too warm, the air was crisp, the location appropriately quiet, if not a bit eerie, too (e.g. no one was there other than the groundskeeper [who walked away] and me). At left, how the site appeared at that time.

    I know what you are thinking, but, yes, as truly simple and direct as a demarkation could get. You would never suspect that this is the resting place for one of the Masters given its understatement. (The dot at the top left indicates that this site is to be “perpetually cared-for”, which forms, in part, the basis for this “postscript.”) In paying my respects, I included mention of Percy Grainger, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Jerome Moross, and Edgard Varèse within my salutation (why not?), plus all the members of any-and-all the Percy Grainger Societies, John Bird, Barry Peter Ould, William Grant Still and Kevin Scott….before adding my final gesture; the reason for this pilgrimage in the first place. 

    Some of you will know that Herrmann’s first wife was the renowned writer, Lucille Fletcher, among whose most famous works remains “Sorry, Wrong Number” having aired as a chilling radio drama in 1943 that starred Agnes Moorehead, later having been turned into the motion picture classic that starred Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster (the latter having been a classmate of Herrmann’s [and Jerome Moross, too] at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York.) Just to add this tiny touch of color onto the fabric, Ms. Fletcher’s drama formed the basis for the final stage work Jerome Moross (Benny’s classmate and childhood friend) was to complete. He was at work on it - its manuscript sitting in its working stages on his piano - when I visited Moross at his New York apartment.  At right, poster for the Motion Picture release of "SORRY, WRONG NUMBER"; the cinematic adaption of Lucille Fletcher's historic radio drama.

    Upon their marriage, the couple spent their Honeymoon at the Grand Canyon. As part of my visit to that same Natural Wonder, I picked up a piece of Arizona red rock, both as a souvenir, and as a just-in-case I were to ever visit Herrmann’s resting place (that’s truth, by the way!!!) The time had come with regard to that well intended visitation as I placed, as is customary, this most appropriate chunk of Arizona red rock on the top right of his gravestone. Two other stones (of a more local variety) had already been placed there making me realize that Benny had not been forgotten. This company of stones looked somehow very cozy together as the luminescent sunlight fully illuminated them. Having occurred on a late Tuesday morning, with my pilgrimage thus completed, I went to lunch at Rachel’s Café in Syosset before returning home. 

    While preparing this article, I planned to locate photos to enhance some of my verbiage with pictures. Among them included Benny’s resting place. Not that I was planning to use any of them, I noticed that, when I had paid-my-respects, it was just his stone and a shroud created out of a low-resting bush - exactly like all the others in the row. Since that time, it would appear that his family has stepped in, having added an additional stone at the foot of it. 

    You can almost consider it to be a “coda”; an appropriate form of expression with which to pay homage to one of the most remarkable figures Music has ever known.  Bernard Herrmann's gravesite as it appears now 

  • Tue, September 03, 2019 1:46 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Callum McLachlan.  For a young pianist, Grainger’s music initially seems extremely daunting on the page. It is immediately recognizable and so overwhelmingly detailed in terms of specifics (pedaling, voicing, dynamics and articulation) that the demands at times seem impossible.  The look on the page contrasts dramatically with the sound in the concert hall or on recordings, as the music has a savage directness, an immediacy and power that makes its impact seem inevitable, natural and universal. Grainger has a huge range, from touching original works filled with wonderful melodies and gorgeously rich harmonies, to vibrant reworkings of folk songs and remarkable arrangements of works of other composers, from Bach, through Faure and Tchaikovsky to Gershwin and Strauss. The one unifying factor that runs through the variety of styles in his music is that it always speaks to the heart with directness and urgent conviction.

    In April I was privileged to be invited by the esteemed pianist Sandro Russo to give a recital in the Scarsdale Concert Series which included an all-Grainger second half of 50 minutes.

    Grainger’s White Plains Home was only a half hour drive and Sandro kindly arranged for me to visit the house. What an experience it was to venture into the very same rooms that the great composer-pianist had frequented over fifty years earlier!  To see his piano, to walk around and soak up the ambience was to relive history: The house seems to have been left exactly as it had been when Grainger was last there. It was touching to see his old concert attire still there in the wardrobe! However, the most impacting memory of this trip was being afforded the opportunity to play Grainger’s upright Piano. I chose ‘To a Nordic Princess’ and ‘Bridal Lullaby’, and although the Piano was naturally out of tune, it had a wonderful charm, and the middle pedal was in fantastic condition! It was a profoundly moving, inspirational and memorable experience, and it made a lasting impression on me - one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

    Note from IPGS: We are grateful to this month's guest blogger Callum McLachlan. Callum, age 19, is an internationally known pianist and musician. After attending Chetham's School of Music, Manchester, UK, for seven years and winning all the major prizes there, he began studying in Salzburg at the Mozarteum in 2018. He has performed solo recitals in New York, Spain, Poland and Austria, as well as throughout the UK. We thank him for his perspective and wish him the best in his musical pursuits.

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