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ClassicsOnline Home » GRAINGER: Power of Love (The)
Percy Grainger (1882–1961)
The Power of Love
Percy Aldridge Grainger was a musician of unusual breadth and vision whose interests encompassed Aboriginal to Zulu music by way of twelfth-century part-songs, Javanese gamelan orchestras, folk-song collecting from Britain, Scandinavia and the Pacific Islands and composers ranging from Bach and Dowland to Duke Ellington, Gershwin and Richard Strauss. Born in Brighton, a suburb of the Australian city of Melbourne on 8th July, 1882, he was christened George Percy Grainger and was brought up and tutored mainly by his mother Rose. At the age of ten he gave his first public recital. Three years later, he and his mother sailed for Europe where the young Grainger enrolled at the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt, Germany. From here mother and son travelled to England, and settled in London between 1901 and 1914. During this productive period, Grainger’s life as a concert pianist blossomed. In 1905 Grainger attended lectures given by Lucy Broadwood of the Folk-Song Society and these spurred him into frenzied activity as a collector in his own right. His first compositions were experimental in nature, works for huge orchestras and unusual combinations of instruments are to be found amongst these, but he subsequently modified his style in the popular British Folk-Music Settings and Room-Music Tit Bits. At the outbreak of World War I, Grainger and his mother left for America where he settled until his death in 1961. The ever-green and ever-popular Country Gardens (BFMS No.22) dates from Grainger’s period in the U.S. army in which he, in spite of his pacifist convictions, happily enlisted as a bandsman. He improvised on the tune at a Liberty Loan piano recital and its instant popularity when published, secured Grainger a never-ending flow of royalties. Inevitably it overshadowed his other works, which caused the composer much disquiet. The orchestral version recorded here was made by Adolf Schmidt.
Grainger’s love of folk-song led him to Denmark, where, with the veteran Danish folklorist, Evald Tang Kristensen he collected material between 1922 and 1927. From this, Grainger put together his Danish Folk-Song Suite. The four movements which make up this suite are The Power of Love, which tells of a young girl whose clandestine lover is set upon by her seven brothers, all of whom he kills. Returning to the girl, he asks if she still loves him, to which she answers: ‘Even had you killed my old father as well, I would still follow you.’ The second movement, Lord Peter’s Stable-Boy is a sturdy dance-song which tells the story of Little Kirsten who dons male attire because she wants to be a courtier at the Dane-King’s castle. She asks for employment as a stable-boy. The royal court is much taken aback when, nine years later, this stable-boy gives birth to twins. The Nightingale and the Two Sister, is based on two Danish folk-songs. The Nightingale is, in reality a maiden who has been bewitched by the spells of her wicked stepmother. A knight captures the nightingale who, in due course, manages to break the spell. The Two Sisters unfolds a dark story about the elder sister who pushes her younger sister into the water and lets her drown, because she has fallen in love with the man to whom her younger sister is betrothed. Two fiddlers find the corpse and make fiddle-string from her hair and during their playing at the elder sister’s wedding the fiddle-strings tell of the murder, and the murderess is then burnt alive. The final movement Jutish Medley, is a succession of tunes collected in Jutland. These are Choosing the Bride, which voices a lover’s dilemma in choosing between two sweethearts, one rich, one poor; The Dragoon’s Farewell, in which a dragoon sings a heartfelt song before setting out for the wars; The Shoemaker from Jerusalem, a very archaic religious song and finally a quarrelling duet Hubby and Wifey, in which the wife brings her obstreperous husband to his senses by means of a spinning spindle skilfully applied to his head. At this point Grainger ingeniously combines with and repeats the opening tune of the medley.
Colonial Song (Sentimental No 1) is Grainger’s attempt at writing a song in which he wished to express feelings aroused by thoughts of the scenery and people of his native country, as Stephen Foster’s songs are typical of rural America Grainger endows his rich melody with a folk-song-like flexibility adding counter-melodies, inner harmonies and a myriad of harmonic digressions.
Irish Tune from County Derry (BFMS No. 15) is a tune collected by Miss Jane Ross, of New Town, Limacady, Co. Derry and printed in The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. Grainger’s original setting was for unaccompanied mixed chorus (1902). The string setting dates from 1913 and like Country Gardens, Grainger’s arrangement of the melody widened its popularity.
Green Bushes is a passacaglia on an English folk-song collected in Somerset by Cecil Sharp. Originally scored for small orchestra in 1905–06, the version recorded here is the 1921 re-scoring. With the exception of a momentary break, the Green Bushes tune is heard constantly throughout the piece to which Grainger adds a multitude of original counter-melodies. The innovation of using folk-song in passacaglia form was a first in British music and Grainger avers that this led Delius to write his Brigg Fair and Dance Rhapsodies in a similar manner.
Ye Banks and Braes 0’ Bonnie Doon (BFMS No. 31) is a traditional Scottish tune originally called The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight, to which Robert Bums added words. In Grainger’s original choral setting, the score calls for whistlers. Here in the orchestral version the whistling parts are played by high strings. Grainger’s fondness for whistling stems from his mother’s Swedish masseur, Sigurd Fornander, a virtuoso of the art.
Shepherd’s Hey! (BFMS No. 16) is Grainger’s own orchestral setting of an English Morris tune collected by Cecil Sharp and given to Grainger around 1908. The tune is akin to the North English air The Keel Row and variants of it are found throughout England. Grainger makes use of four variants of the tune to which he adds stylistically authentic counter-lines derived from the melody. The ‘Hey’ of the title refers to a particular type of dance-step associated with Morris dancing.
My Robin is to the Greenwood Gone (OBMP No. 2) is a development of a fragment of the old English tune (not a folk-song) from William Chappell’s collection of Old English Popular Music. Grainger’s ‘ramble’ (as he called it) is an extension of the melody which he harmonizes with lush chromaticism. The other-worldliness of this piece has some affinities with the music of Delius. Grainger dedicated this arrangement to his friend, Roger Quilter with the Maori inscription: Mo te hoa takatapui.
To a Nordic Princess (Bridal Song) is one of Grainger’s more extended works and its first performance took place at a concert in the Hollywood Bowl in August 1928. It was performed by the largest orchestra ever to have played there (126 players) and was conducted by the composer as the concluding item on the programme, and as a prelude to his marriage to Ella Viola Ström, the dedicatee of the piece. The brief wedding ceremony was witnessed by an estimated audience of between 15,000 and 20,000. In mood and type the piece is in effect a lengthy ‘ramble’, a much-loved form of Grainger’s, and here the composer’s love of Nordic expression is given full expression. The opening begins gently and gradually swells gathering in tonal strength until, about halfway through, the opening theme is blazoned forth by the full orchestra. An agitated climax melts into a quieter and more tender mood and a brief passing quotation from The Swan by Saint-Säens is heard before a bell sounds to bring the work to an end.
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GRAINGER: Power of Love (The)