'This disc offers a sympathetic, endearing portrait of a composer too often valued for his wackiness and eccentricity alone' (Classic CD)
'Unquestionably an important and relishable release' (Hi Fi News)
'A capella singing at its very finest' (Soundscapes, Australia)
'Ce superbe album vient confirmer l'extraordinaire intuition de Grainger pour l'écriture chorale. La perfection des solistes, des choeurs et des ensembles instrumentaux permet d'apprécier dans ces moindres nuances le sauvage raffinement de Grainger' (Diapason, France)
Six dukes went afishin' [2'19]
Harmonium, four guitars, two mandolas, two mandolins, two ukuleles, piccolo, three clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two alto saxophones, horn, strings, piano, baritone and choir: and that's just the scoring for one piece, the famous sea shanty Shallow Brown.
Grainger's Jungle Book cycle is here recorded for the first time. The eleven contrasting movements vividly portray the sentiments of Kipling's poetry and Grainger wrote of the cycle that it was 'composed as a protest against civilization'.
Percy Grainger’s introduction to the poetry of Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) can be traced back to 1897 when Grainger was a student at the Hoch Conservatory of Music in Frankfurt. The young Australian’s father, John Grainger, sent his son a parcel of Kipling books in an attempt ‘to tickle up the British Lion in him’, being concerned that the young boy was becoming too Teutonic after a couple of years in the German city. Of all the authors and poets that Grainger encountered, none had such a profound effect on his development as a composer than Kipling. Cyril Scott, who first met the composer at the Hoch Conservatory as a fellow student, wrote of Grainger in 1916:
He began to show a harmonic modernism which was astounding in so young a boy, and at times excruciating to our pre-Debussyan ears. He began to write in whole-tone scales without knowing of Debussy’s existence. At sixteen he had in fact developed a style, and that style was the outcome of a discovery, and a literary discovery, not a musical one; for he had discovered Rudyard Kipling, and, from that writer he imbibed an essence and translated it into music.
Grainger was eventually to begin more than fifty works which were inspired by Kipling’s verses; all of them were dedicated to his beloved mother. He completed thirty-three, twenty-two of these being numbered in chronological sequence as they were published. The remaining settings were left in various states of completion. Grainger considered that, of all his musical settings of Kipling, those of the Jungle Book were the most characteristic and significant amongst his compositional output and tells us of them: ‘I developed my mature harmonic style—that is to say, harmony in unresolved discords … such a procedure was unknown at that time  and must be considered an Australian contribution to musical progress. So through that parcel of books my father sent me, I became what I have remained ever since, a composer whose musical output was based on patriotism and racial consciousness.’ Grainger avers that setting the Kipling poems to music led him to view this art form in a new light and made him unwilling to use titles like ‘symphony’ or ‘sonata’. Furthermore, the influence of the poet deemed by Grainger as ‘the seer of English-speaking folk’ was partly responsible for sowing the seeds of the composer’s interest in language reform which was to culminmate in his ‘Blue-Eyed English’.
After some early student exercises, Grainger began to set to music poems of those authors he and his mother Rose read aloud, including works by Burns, Conan Doyle, Longfellow and Swinburne. It was the words, with their ability to convey tragic images, that appealed to Grainger. He was careful to select those poems which echoed his own inclinations towards the tragic elements of life: drownings, hangings, jailings, partings, slain knights mouldering in ditches, and death for love’s sake. Grainger sought a sympathetic voice and pointed out that, despite the fact that Kipling had been called the ‘poet of Imperialism’, in the poems he chose to set it was more often the tragedy associated with Imperialism than its splendour which manifested itself.
When the twenty-three-year-old Grainger first met his cultural hero, he played him the music for his settings of Danny Deever and We have fed our sea for a thousand years. History relates that Kipling responded, ‘They are like deaders rotting in bilge water’, later adding, ‘Till now I’ve had to rely on black and white, but you do the thing for me in colour!’ At the end of 1905 Grainger wrote to Alfhild Sandby: ‘Look up The Song of the Banjo. That’s me to a “T”.’ Although he never set it to music, he would often quote to his friends lines from this particular Kipling poem:
I’m the Prophet of the Utterly Absurd
At the time of Grainger’s death in 1961, his musical legacy was in a state of chaos as his published editions of music went rapidly out of print. Grainger had been his own champion as well as the champion of many other composers’ music and suddenly there was no one to take up the promotion of his works. Grainger wanted above all to be remembered for his original compositions and yet he is mostly remembered for what he called ‘fripperies’: Country Gardens, Shepherd’s Hey and so on. Richard Franko Goldman, writing in the Fall 1955 issue of the Juilliard Review, said of Grainger: ‘Nearly everyone, musical or not, knows Country Gardens, and it is probable that most people associate the name of Percy Grainger with that appealing piece … To have such a reputation is undeniably no sad fate, but in Grainger’s case it is so partial a recognition of artistic accomplishment that one is forced to reflect on the obscurity created by the wrong kind of fame.’
Grainger thought of himself primarily as a choral composer and many of his works are for this medium. In his 1916 essay Percy Grainger: The Music and the Man, Cyril Scott states: ‘That Grainger is a choral writer of exceptional power, those people who know his works at all are aware … Grainger has, in fact, a choral technique which only the initiated can divine, for he manages to draw effects from a chorus which have remained latent heretofore, and the choral writers that will come after his day will owe him a debt in the field of technique.’
Shallow Brown was composed between August and 17 December 1910 and is based on a sea-chanty collected from the singing of John Perring of Dartmouth by H E Piggott and Grainger on 18 January 1908. In Grainger’s words: ‘[Perring] was a remarkably gifted deep-sea sailor songster and said that this song was supposed to be sung by a woman standing on the quay to Shallow Brown as his ship was weighing anchor. Perring did not know why Brown was called “Shallow”—“unless it was that he was shallow in his heart”, as he added. My setting aims to convey a suggestion of wafted, wind-borne, surging sounds heard at sea.’ Although a woman’s voice would make sense to the story, chanties are almost always the prerogative of men singing on board a ship. This is one of Grainger’s most powerful settings, evoking as it does the wildness of the sea and the intensity of human loss; one can almost feel the spray of the ocean and taste the salt water. Grainger is said to have swooned with intense excitement when he played the shimmering accompaniment on the piano and on one particular occasion it caused a female admirer to faint at his feet.
The Jungle Book cycle, here receiving its first recording, was composed and reworked over a period of fifty-nine years. Its genesis dates from December 1898 when the young Percy composed three settings, a fourth following in January 1899. Of the settings composed between 1898 and 1906, Grainger wrote in a programme note: ‘These settings [were] written under the strong spell cast upon me by Kipling’s Jungle verses (the passion for the face of virgin nature, the intimate sympathy with the wild creatures that roam the jungle, the revolt against civilization …’ And later in a preface to the published score: ‘My Kipling “Jungle Book” Cycle, begun in 1898 and finished in 1947, was composed as a protest against civilization.’ In this ‘nature’ music, with its irregular rhythms and unrestricted harmonies, Grainger points the way to his interest in the musical freedom which was to culminate in his ‘Free Music’, which he first thought of at the age of ten when seeing the waves lapping against his sailing boat on the Albert Park Lagoon in Melbourne. The cycle was eventually published in its entirety in 1958. Grainger wrote to publisher Max Steffans: ‘I AM SO GRATEFUL TO PUBLISH MY CYCLE COMPLETE.’ Between then and Grainger’s death three years later, the work received scant attention and it was to be another twenty-one years before the work received its British premiere at the 1982 Aldeburgh Music Festival.
The cycle consists of eleven movements: five are for choir alone (with three of these being for men’s voices only) whilst the remaining six have instrumental accompaniment. Most of the poems used represent the mankind-less world of the animal kingdom, where Kipling views the world through the eyes of wild beasts or Mowgli, the young human initiated into the laws and dangers of the jungle by the tiger and the bear in The Jungle Books. The young Grainger felt himself to be something of a Mowgli figure, and identified strongly with the poem The only son where the subject matter is of a boy’s dreams of life amongst the wolves and his longing to learn if these dreams are true. About The Inuit, the fourth movement of the cycle Grainger wrote: ‘The urge behind this poem is the very strongest and most pronounced root emotion of my life: the love of savagery, the belief that savages are sweeter and more peaceable and artistic than civilized people, the belief that primitiveness is purity and civilization filthy corruption, the agony of seeing civilization advance and pass its blighting hand over the world.’ Grainger was not alone in his admiration of Kipling, and the names of two other composers who composed Jungle Book music come to mind: Charles Koechlin and Miklós Rózsa. Koechlin’s vast symphonic poem occupied him from 1899 to 1950 (a timescale similar to Grainger’s involvement). Koechlin also set three Kipling poems in his Op 18, one of which, Night-song in the jungle, is contemporary with Grainger’s original setting of the same poem. Rózsa composed the music for Alexander Korda’s epic 1943 film of The Jungle Book starring the elephant boy Sabu as Mowgli. Grainger’s Jungle Book cycle, like Koechlin’s Jungle Book, is central to the composer’s long and creative life. Each work in their respective cycles displays specific compositional techniques and an homogenous unifying thread—despite the fact that individual movements of both cycles were not composed in the order they are to be performed. Grainger’s Jungle Book provides a key to understanding his fundamental philosophy and spirit. He writes: ‘My effort even in my young days was to wrench the listener’s heart with my chords. It is a subtle matter for music is not made agonizing merely by sharp discords any more than literature is made agonizing by crude events. It is the contrast between the sweet and the harsh that is heart-rending.’
Like Grainger, who was not averse to making choral arrangements of other composers’ music, others in turn have made choral arrangements of his original compositions or completions of existing sketch material. Good-bye to love (and three others on this recording: Early one morning, The sprig of thyme and Lord Maxwell’s goodnight) come into this category. Good-bye to love is an arrangement by Alan Gibbs of a piano miniature Grainger wrote in 1916 as a wedding-gift to his former Danish lover, Karen Holten, when she announced that she was to wed another. The original sketches for this piece suggest that the thematic material might be used for a love song and Grainger indicates that the rising and falling motif could be suitable for a tenor solo ‘chirping up’. In the preface to his score the arranger adds: ‘Grainger had vocal possibilities in mind, and if there is a certain vulgarity, this was a quality of which the composer was proud rather than the contrary, pointing to Richard Strauss (whose influence is not far to seek) for justification.’ With this in mind the arrangement was made and words were added paraphrasing Grainger’s notes on his manuscript score. The arrangement can be performed ‘elastically’ in true Grainger style, but is recorded here in the full complement of solo tenor, SSATBB chorus, harp and strings. The original piano version gained further life as the theme music for the Merchant-Ivory film Howards End.
Died for love is a setting of a Lincolnshire folk-song jointly collected by Lucy Broadwood and Grainger from Joseph Taylor at Brigg on 28 July 1906. Grainger writes: ‘Mr Taylor sang this song with an exquisite tender gaiety and gentle dance-like rhythmic lilt.’ Grainger made four different versions of this poignant melody including one for piano solo, but it is the version for soprano voice accompanied by three wind or string instruments which has established itself as one of Grainger’s most exquisite miniature masterpieces. As with all the British Folk-Music Settings it is dedicated ‘Lovingly and reverently to the memory of Edvard Grieg’.
The power of love tells the story of a maiden who has a clandestine lover. Her seven brothers challenge him to combat because he has made love to their sister without ‘asking their rede’. In the fight that follows he kills the seven brothers and the maiden swears that even if he had killed her father she would not be minded to leave him. Grainger collected this ballad during his ‘folk-fishing’ trip to Jutland with the Danish folklorist, Evald Tang Kristensen on 25 August 1922. The singer, Mrs Ane Nielsen Post, remembered only the last verse. Grainger composed his setting for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment in a burst of inspiration during the period 3–6 September 1922 in memory of his mother who had committed suicide the previous April. Like many of Grainger’s works it passed through various guises, finally appearing as the first movement of his Danish Folk-Music Suite completed in 1928. Interestingly, a particular string sound is required in this piece, Grainger instructing the violas and cellos to change the tuned pitches of strings on their instruments. Of this work Grainger wrote: ‘Love’s sway is firm and ruthless. The tune and words of The power of love seemed to me to match my soul-seared mood of that time—my new born awareness of the doom-fraught undertow that lurks in all deep love.’
The Rival Brothers relates a story from the Viking age. A man called Arngrim has two sons, Angantyr and Hjálmar the Champion. Angantyr hears that a bonder, in lands-beyond-the-sea, has a comely daughter, so the brothers build a swift cutter and set out to woo the girl. The melody is an original tune and not based on folk-song; the words have been ‘Englished’ by Grainger from a folk-ballad contained in V U Hammershaimb’s Færøiske Kvæder, Vol 2 (Copenhagen, 1855). Grainger’s work on this piece dates from 1905 with further revisions following in 1931, 1938, 1940 and 1943. It was ‘dished-up’ for piano solo and for piano duet in July 1932 as part of a projected collection of keyboard pieces to be called The Easy Grainger or The Music Lover’s Grainger. As with all Færoese folk-ballads there are many verses but in this case Grainger is very selective and chooses to set only three out of the possible twenty-one verses given in his manuscript sketches.
The setting of Six dukes went afishin' was first performed at the 1906 Brigg Festival. In all Grainger made three distinct arrangements of this folk-melody and the version recorded here was collected by ear from the singing of George Couldthorpe of Barrow-on-Humber (North Lincolnshire) by Grainger on 4 September 1905. Subsequent Edison phonograph cylinder recordings were made of the tune with variants phonographed from Joseph Leaning on 4 August 1906, and these were to form the basis of Grainger’s two other settings, the voice and piano version published as BFMS No 11 and the third and final setting, for four voices and flute, which was composed in 1910. The final setting makes great demands on the singers to produce a Lincolnshire dialect whilst this first setting indicates only one alternative for the word ‘body’. The words of this song have a curious history. Miss Lucy E Broadwood, who had noted down two extra verses at Brigg on 7 May 1906 (subsequently used in Grainger’s 1910 setting), believes the words relate to William de la Pole, first Duke of Suffolk, whose murdered body was washed ashore near Dover in 1450.
The sprig of thyme is included here in a choral arrangement by the American composer and Grainger scholar, Dana Paul Perna. Grainger’s original setting of the folk-song collected from Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints, Lincolnshire, was made for his mother’s birthday in 1920. The arranger comments: ‘While listening to a recording of this Lincolnshire folk-song in Grainger’s voice and piano version, I began to imagine how it would sound cast for mixed voices. The use of the male voice four-some corresponds to Grainger’s own use of the same forces in his settings of Dollar and a half a day, Shenandoah and Stormy …’.
Willow, willow was first set by Grainger for voice and piano in November 1898. It was his first setting of a traditional tune. Four years later he sketched a version for voice, strings and guitar or harp adding a further verse with a much richer accompaniment, finally publishing this version together with its voice and piano counterpart in 1912. The words are familiar to us as those sung by Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello. This lament for lost love, with its sighing motifs, is of rare and ravishing beauty.
Recessional is a five-stanza verse from Kipling’s The Five Nations which was written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Grainger’s setting dates from 27/28 November 1929, although sketches date back to 1905. Scored for mixed chorus with or without keyboard accompaniments, Grainger sets all five verses with the direction that the fourth and fifth verses ‘may be left out’ (as they are here). With the rousing hymn-like tune Grainger creates an anthem that is quite unlike anything else in his output. In a ‘Round Letter’ dated 7 June 1949 he writes: ‘Kipling’s Recessional was so sweetly sung in a small college town, that I almost wished I was dead and it sung over my grave!’
Lord Maxwell’s goodnight is also an arrangement, this time by David Tall. The words for the first half of the tune (bars 1–8) are from Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, those for the second (bars 9–16) were added by Grainger. The first setting of this work dates from 1904 when the twenty-two-year-old Grainger scored it for solo male voice and strings. But it was Grainger’s habit to lay aside his manuscripts for mature reflection and, in 1912, a new setting was made for solo male voice, six solo strings and string orchestra. Not being satisfied he returned to the 1904 setting at the age of seventy-six, casting it for voice and piano and giving it his final blessing as BFMS Number 42: the version which forms the basis of this arrangement for tenor solo and male voices.
The Three Ravens is based on an old English song and was in the first place composed to a modernized version of the original text by Sir Harold Boulton in July 1902. Grainger later revised the setting in 1949, reverting to the original text which had been unknown to him in 1902. The work is arranged for baritone solo, mixed chorus and instrumental accompaniment and the choral writing gives us an early example of Grainger’s interest in sliding intervals. The atmosphere captured in this music, depicting a slain knight mouldering in the field with the ravens discussing how they might take breakfast, is at once both sinister and moving. Grainger’s original scoring was for either five clarinets, flute and four clarinets, other woodwinds, or harmonium (reed-organ or pipe-organ). For this recording the option for ‘other woodwinds’ is used with additional saxophones and harmonium.
The running of shindand is a two-stanza verse generally acknowledged as being from ‘The Lost Legion’ in Kipling’s Many Inventions. It was composed by Grainger for male voices a cappella in ‘about 1902 or 1903’. It is the least well-known of Grainger’s Kipling settings and received its first performance at an ‘At Home’ given by Mrs Frank Lowrey in London 1903. The performance indication is particularly worth mentioning: ‘With Caruso-like, Italian-like, clinging unbroken tone thro’out, unless marked otherwise.’ Also specifically requested is the use of countertenors on the highest part. Grainger was later to make an arrangement of this piece for an ensemble of five cellos.
Early one morning, edited by David Tall for large mixed chorus, incorporates Grainger’s early vocal settings as verses two and three. It has been seen that it was Grainger’s habit to return to his manuscripts over the years, extending songs with new verses, adding richer harmonies, changing instrumentations for special occasions or sometimes just adding small details to material that did not satisfy him. He originally set this traditional folk-song when sixteen years old as a single verse for voice and piano. On 16 October 1901 he modified this setting in a sketch for mezzo soprano and three altos and added a newly composed verse for mezzo soprano and male voice choir. The metamorphosis of this work continued throughout the years and finally, in 1950, he responded to a request from Leopold Stokowski and transcribed it for full orchestra. This version uses choral techniques pioneered by Grainger with the unison singing of the melody (soloists in this recording) being accompanied by a small chorus singing in harmony. The last verse makes use of the harmonies Grainger introduced in his 1940 transcription for soprano solo and piano.
The love song of Har Dyal is a setting of a three-stanza verse from the story ‘Beyond the Pale’ in Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills. A setting for voice and piano dates from 12 September 1901 whilst the version recorded here for soprano solo and ‘room-music’ accompaniment was not scored until 1 January 1958. In this beautiful setting Grainger manages to stun us with the rising motif to the words ‘Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!’ which on each repeat becomes more and more heartfelt.
My love’s in Germanie is in fact a setting of a Scottish song from the collection Songs of the North to words by Hector MacNiel (1746–1818). Grainger’s setting dates from 13–23 March 1903. This arrangement remained in manuscript short score form until 1980 when David Tall prepared a performing edition. Nonetheless it has received scant attention until the present recording. It calls for seven soloists and an eight-part choir, and Grainger’s treatment of this well-known tune makes for one of his most unusual and searingly intense musical creations.
Barry Peter Ould © 1996