Happy Birthday, Percy Grainger!
Australian-born composer Percy Aldridge Grainger was born on July 8, 1882. For a composer, performer and folk-song collector who had a place of importance and popularity during his lifetime, his stature has lessened in the intervening years.
Unless, that is, you're in the field of wind bands. Grainger holds a special place in the hearts of wind band conductors and performers. I was first introduced to him, as are many people, at a young age by playing his Irish Tune from County Derry (commonly known as "Danny Boy" or "Londonderry Air"). (The history on this tune is long and still somewhat mysterious, but the words for "Danny Boy" were written after Grainger first found this folk song and starting writing is multitude of settings of it.) As a euphonium player (now on hiatus), how could I not love this piece? The euphonium part has the great melody in the beginning and the countermelody towards the end. Finally: a piece that is more than just boom-chicks!
His compositions span from original lyrical tunes to highly chromatic melodies and harmonies, from simple folk-song settings to the creation of new folk songs. His Lincolnshire Posy is widely regarded as one of the top 5 pieces ever composed for wind bands. He made concert piano settings of several Gershwin tunes. He was friends with Grieg and Delius, toured the globe as a concert pianists, and was a pioneer with using electronics in music and with "free" music. Ever the oddball, much as been written about his non-musical life, including his relationship with his mother.
Personality and quirks aside, I enjoy so much of Grainger's music. His folk song settings are unique and inventive. And though the popular setting of Irish Tune holds a special place in my heart, my favorite setting is his highly chromatic version, heard below in a version for wind band (performed by the Cincinatti Conservatory of Music):
- Percy Grainger Society
- The Grainger Edition (recordings on Chandos)
- Grainger playing Grieg's "Morning Mood" from Peer Gynt Suite