In Dahomey (Cakewalk Smasher)
was inspired by tunes from an all-Negro musical comedy of the same name starring Bert Williams and George Walker, noted exponents of the cakewalk. The only known London performance of this comedy with music by Will Marion Cook occurred at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 16 May 1903 and one must assume that both Grainger and Rathbone were in the audience. Grainger’s jazzy romp quotes from the chorus of Cook’s Brown Skin Baby Mine
and to this Grainger mixes a cakewalk piece by Arthur Pryor (a trombone soloist with Sousa’s band). It occupied Grainger for six years, with the final two notes being added in Aden harbour in June 1909. It is a concert rag of huge dimensions which ranges in character from gentle impressionism to wild abandon. Pryor was noted for his trombone glissandi or ‘licks’, here translated into their pianistic equivalents by a cataclysm of virtuosic tricks including glissandi of every known type. The inevitable combination of both tunes has been described as ‘a page of nearly Ivesian dissonance’; ‘encountering this work for the first time is like entering a time machine!’ Grainger conjures up the sounds of banjo, brass band and other instrumental colours of the period. He dedicated this ‘smasher’ to Rathbone with the enigmatic words: ‘For you have always been so good to it.’ The work remained in manuscript and was never seemingly offered for publication during Grainger’s lifetime. It was eventually published in 1987 some seventy-eight years after completion. A full history of the genesis of this piece can be found in the published edition (C F Peters, New York).
from notes by Barry Peter Ould © 1996