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Percy Grainger: Colonial Song

October 26, 2010

Grainger's Colonial Song certainly unique when considered alongside many of Grainger's works. The piece began as a piano solo for his mother, but Grainger arranged into several different versions. A listing of the orchestrations is below.

 

-2 voices, harp, orchestra

-Military band

-Violin, cello, piano

-Theater orchestra

-Small orchestra

 

Also of note is that the melody is not a folk melody, but rather an original melody by Grainger. This is certainly unique in his oeuvre since many of his works use folk melodies as compositional material. The piece was intended as the first of a series entitled "Sentimentals." Grainger never wrote another piece as part of this series, but the "sentiment" of the work is there nonetheless. There is more information below as well as a recording.

 

Percy Grainger, Colonial Song

Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, conductor

 

The program notes below are from the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the orchestral version, but the general information is the same for both pieces.

 

The innovative and eccentric Australian-American composer Percy Aldridge Grainger is well known among band musicians, but in mainstream classical music circles, his notoriety is more that of an oddity, or fringe composer (or perhaps, only known for his charming ditty, Country Gardens). But his catalog of band works arguably contributed more to the quality and creativity of band music than that of any other single composer in the first half of the 20th century. An avid collector of folk music (as were Bartók and Lomax), an innovator of irregular rhythm and meter (as were Stravinsky and Varèse), and an imaginative inventor of musical instruments and experimental musical machines (as were Cage and Moog), Percy Grainger truly was a pioneer in classical music equal to the most acclaimed of our most innovative 20th-century musicians.

 

Grainger wrote (in his customary strapping, blue-eyed English rhetoric) of Colonial Song: “...I have wished to express feelings aroused by my thoughts of the scenery and people of my native land (Australia), and also to voice a certain kind of emotion that seems to me not untypical of native-born Colonials in general.

 

“Perhaps it is not unnatural that people living more or less lonelily in vast virgin countries and struggling against natural and climatic hardships (rather than against the more actively and dramatically exciting counter wills of the fellow men, as in more thickly populated lands) should run largely to that patiently yearning, inactive sentimental wistfulness that we find so touchingly expressed in much American art; for instance in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and in Stephen C. Foster’s adorable songs My Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, etc.

 

“I have also noticed curious, almost Italian-like musical tendencies in brass band performances and ways of singing in Australia (such as a preference for richness and intensity of tone and soulful breadth of phrasing over more subtly and sensitively varied delicacies of expressions), which are also reflected here.”

 

Colonial Song was intended by the composer to be the first composition in a series of works labeled, “Sentimentals.” Ultimately, Grainger abandoned the idea of such a series, but clearly Colonial Song remained intimately dear; the dedication inscribed on the score in the composer’s hand reads, “This military band dish-up as Loving Yule-Gift to Mumsie, Yule, 1918.”

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