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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.’
The first movement of the Jungle Book cycle is taken from Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills where the verse, headed From the Unpublished Papers of McIntosh Jallaludin, introduces the story ‘To be Filed for Reference’. The title is Grainger’s own and was composed between 20 July 1901 and 19 December 1904 when it was given to his mother for Christmas. The scoring was later revised in 1923.
The second movement is the first of the a cappella settings for mixed choir and is a four-stanza verse from the story ‘Letting in the Jungle’ from The Second Jungle Book. It was composed between 14 and 20 June 1905 and presented as a birthday greeting for his mother on 3 July of the same year.
The third movement is the first of the a cappella settings for male voices and is an eight-line verse chapter heading for ‘Mowgli’s Brothers’ from The Jungle Book. It was originally composed on 20 December 1898 and the last seven bars were revised on 2 February 1924.
The fourth movement is again for a cappella mixed chorus. The text is an eight-line verse heading for the story ‘Quiquern’ in The Second Jungle Book. It was composed in 1902 and slightly revised in 1907. The title is Grainger’s own: ‘Inuit’ refers to the indigenous Eskimo peoples of the Arctic regions.
The fifth movement, considered by Grainger as the pearl of the set, tells of the singing of the seal-rookeries on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea about 250 miles north of the Aleutian Islands, and the coming of the sealers to cull them. Entitled ‘Lukannon’ by Kipling, it is from ‘The White Seal’ in The Jungle Book and is described by Kipling as ‘a sort of very sad seal National Anthem’. Grainger originally set this poem for male voices a cappella between 27 and 29 December 1898 using all three verses, each with a refrain chorus; he revised the work on 28 May 1941 when it was offered as a birthday gift to the memory of his beloved mother. In the revision only two of the verses are used for male voices a cappella: the middle section for mixed voices, harmonium and strings is sung to the first refrain chorus. Here Grainger paints an icy landscape of stark beauty with the use of parallel fifths. In the central section the choir sings antiphonally with dissonant clashes against sustained chromatic chords which increase layer upon layer, capturing in sound the primitive waste and the happy song of nature ‘in the raw’ in a magical way. There is no room for the comparatively safe world of the garden here!
The sixth movement, the second of the male voice a cappella settings, is from the verse heading to the story ‘Red Dog’ from The Second Jungle Book and was composed on 13/14 May 1941. The uncanny sound of voices imitating the baying of wolves is heard at the close of this movement and again points the way to Grainger’s ‘Free Music’.
The seventh movement, for mixed voices and ‘room-music’, is the verse heading to the story ‘Cupid’s Arrows’ from Plain Tales from the Hills and was composed on 8–11 March 1906.
The eighth movement, for male voices and plucked strings, is taken from the story ‘Mowgli’s Brothers’ in The Jungle Book and was composed on 1 January 1899. ‘Seeonee’, usually spelt ‘Seoni’, is a district of Central India. In this setting Grainger asks that all notes marked sforzando should be sung with barking, yelping violence.
The ninth movement is the third and final setting for male voices a cappella. This is an eight-line verse heading for the story ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ from The Jungle Book and this setting was composed on 24 March 1905. In instrumental terms Grainger made other versions of this piece for brass ensemble, cello ensemble, recorder ensemble, harmonium duet, and piano solo: a good example of making his music suit whatever resources were available.
The tenth and penultimate movement is taken from Many Inventions. Grainger’s setting starts with the fourth line of Kipling’s poem. The seventh line follows, then all lines to the end. Work began on this setting in July 1945 and the finished manuscript was made on 13 February 1947 with the scoring finalised between 12 and 19 March the same year.
The eleventh and final movement of the cycle, for mixed voices and ‘room-music’ accompaniment, is the five-stanza verse that ends the story ‘Letting in the Jungle’ from The Second Jungle Book. It was composed between 25 April and 29 June 1903 and given as a birthday gift to Grainger’s mother the same year. The scoring was revised in 1907 and again in 1923.
from notes by Barry Peter Ould © 1996