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Percy Grainger: "Hill Song No. 2"

Today's post will be the last post on Grainger for the time being and will focus on another classic of the wind band repertoire: Hill Song No. 2.

Hill Song No. 2 is an example of another piece that has been arranged in several ways. Grainger orchestrated the piece for Piano 4-hands, orchestra, and wind band. Since the wind band version was only written for twenty three instruments, many people have revisited the piece to make it more suitable for a larger ensemble. However, the more chamber version of the piece is the more accurate and, in most people's estimation, the more aesthetically pleasing.

Comments on the work can be found below.

"This fresh-sounding, imaginatively constructed work was conceived for 23 solo wind and brass players, but optional extra parts are provided for full-band use. It demands great flexibility, fluency and sense of color on the part of all players, and thoughtful musicianship for the conductor. Though now regarded as a classic standard-repertory piece for winds, it is currently [1982] out of print. Hopefully, this situation will be remedied soon."

--Joseph Kreines (GSJ IV/2).

"The sweep of the piece, the manner in which it lives up to its marking of 'Fierce and keen, at fast walking speed', attest to Grainger's success in his musical ambition [to 'keep the musical inventivity throughout at the white heat of thematic creation and to spread it evenly over the entire length of the piece and over its minor textural details alike']. In his book The Wind Band, Richard Franko Goldman nominates the two Hill Songs and Lads of Wamphray as the first major 20th century pieces for band; but, because of the delay in their publication (35 years in the case of the march), the two famous suites by Holst became the earliest established standards of the band repertory."

--Frank Hudson.

The notes below are from

The experiments with the Boosey instruments led to his second large work for wind instruments, Hill Song No. 2 (1901-1907), dedicated to his friend Balfour Gardiner. A characteristic of nearly all his subsequent instrumental works, that is, the scoring for complete families of instruments, chronologically begins with this composition. After a tryout in London in 1911, a slight revision was undertaken, though the premiere did not occur until the Festival of British Music in Royal Hall, Harrogate, on July 25, 1929, Basil Cameron conducting. For this occasion Grainger produced a new score for 2 flutes (with one piccolo), oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, cymbal, 2 harmoniums (or 1 harmonium and 1 piano) and organ. For the American premiere in 1940, Grainger revised it again, followed by more revisions in 1942 and 1946.

Following the American premiere, Grainger noted: 'Hill Song No.2, perhaps the pleasantest compositional surprise of my life'. The first Hill Song was only the beginning of a set of pieces Grainger was planning, for on the frontispiece of the autograph score he states; 'N.B. This is merely an exploration of musically-hilly ways, a gathering of types for future Hill Songs, a Catalogue'.

In a letter to Frederick Fennell he wrote: 'I have always been in love with the wildness, the freshness & the heroic qualities of hill countries, hill peoples & hill music. (…) Wishing also to write a bagpipe-like Hill Song that consisted only of fast and energetic elements I wrote my 2nd Hill Song in the period 1901-1907. This work consisted partly of energetic musical material culled from Hill Song No.1 & partly of new material composed in 1907. This time the scoring, for 24 solo wind instruments, was mainly for a mixture of double-reeds (oboes etc.) & single-reeds (clarinets, saxophones, etc.). This is probably the first time in known music that such a large body of solo winds was brought together in chamber music. (…) Hearing my Hill Songs in 1907 my beloved friend Frederick Delius – as keen a lover of the hills as I – was led to write, around 1912, his master-work The Song Of The High Hills. There was, however, one basic difference in the conception of Delius’s & my hill-musics. His Song Of The High Hills (according to statements made by him to me) sought to express the feelings & impressions of a man wandering thru the hills. In writing my Hill Songs, on the other hand, I was not concerned with man’s impressions of nature, but strove, as it were, to let the hills themselves express themselves in music’.

Grainger’s programme-note reads: ‘My Hill Songs arose out of a longing for the wildness, freshness, and purity of hill-countries, hill-folk and hill-musics (Scotland, the Himalayas, the bagpipes etc.). Technically they seek to weave the bagpipe tone-type into many voices textures’.

Percy Grainger, Hill Song No. 2

Eastman Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell, conductor

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