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Percy Grainger: "Children's March: 'Over the Hills and Far Away'"

Percy Grainger

Children’s March: “Over the Hills and Far Away”

Percy Aldridge Grainger

Born July 8, 1882, Melbourne, Australia

Died February 20, 1961, White Plains, New York

Original Instrumentation: Piano

Instrumentation: Piano and Military Band

Duration: 8 minutes

Composed: 1916-1918

Among the works begun or completed during Percy Grainger’s time as an enlisted United States Army Bandsman, the Children's March: "Over the Hills and Far Away," scored for winds, percussion, and piano, is one of his happiest inspirations, encapsulating both a newly found fondness for wind sonorities and his essentially childlike nature. The piece bears no relation to the like-named, richly evocative variations of his friend Delius, composed in 1897, though both explore realms of archetypal innocence.

Begun in 1916 and completed in 1918, Grainger's work is dedicated—tantalizingly and for posterity, mysteriously—to "my playmate beyond the hills." Theories regarding the identity of this “playmate” have included Karen Holton, a Scandinavian beauty with whom the composer corresponded for eight years but could not marry because of his possessive mother's jealousy, and the composer’s own imaginary friend from childhood named “Shot-a-tee,” invented by a young Percy to cope with his mother’s refusal to allow him playful contact with other children.

First composed in 1916 as a work for piano, and expanded for military band to capitalize on his new familiarity with the ensemble’s capabilities, the piece echoes the carefree sentiment of the folk songs Grainger collected in the British Isles, but is made up entirely of his own original material. A brief excerpt "dished up for piano" (as Grainger described his arrangements) was also made in 1918 and the transcription for piano, four hands, of the entire piece followed in 1920. This is, perhaps, one of the earliest band scores to call for the piano, not in the role of the features soloist, but rather as an ordinary member of the accompanying forces. It also features prominent scoring for the low woodwinds, especially the “snarling” double-reeds, and multiple passages of singing band members.

A few preludizing bars bring an infectiously skipping melody quietly in to be richly varied in alternations from entrancingly confiding to riotously jolly as the music modulates downward through a cycle of fifths —F, B flat, E flat, A flat and back, though halting at the return to B flat as the music dies away, suggesting some merrily unfinished business just out of earshot.

- Program Note by Brian Coffill, with resources drawn from the All Music Guide, the Percy Grainger Society, and John Bird's Grainger biography.

Additional Resources:

Percy Grainger, Children's March - Over the Hills and Far Away

United States Marine Band, Col. John R. Bourgeois, conductor

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