This letter was hard to pick; there are quite a few other composers I could have included. But top of my list had to be Grainger. Percy Grainger’s Children’s March is one that happily frolicks in my head many a day and I love it. Grainger’s pieces were always a joy to perform and I still love listening to them. Alberto Ginastera had to go on the list because, as a French horn player, he wrote fabulous pieces that were transcribed for wind ensemble. They were challenging but tons of fun.
Percy Grainger was born in Australia in 1882 to an architect/engineer father and a mother who encouraged his visual and musical art abilities. He learned to play piano first and then added harmony studies and composition later. He was primarily known as a pianist for a long time, commanding top performance fees and playing to sold-out crowds.
When he was about 11, he had his debut concert and was well received. He and his mother (his father had left) moved to Europe when he was 13 so that Grainger could continue his studies. He enrolled in Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt, Germany, to study composition and piano. In 1901, he then moved to London. While in London, he became known worldwide as a pianist. He also began to collect English folk songs which made their way into his compositions. Some examples of these folk songs influencing his music are found in the excepts shared here: Country Gardens, Over The Hills and Far Away (The Children’s March), and Lincolnshire Posy. These are well known and universally played band arrangements.
Grainger is also well known for championing the music of the Nordic lands and peoples. Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg were two important friendships that Grainger maintained.
In 1914, Grainger moved to America. He became a naturalized citizen. He lived in America the rest of his life, though he was constantly touring and visiting both Australia and Europe. Grainger became very involved in educational works and set up a museum in his name in Melbourne, his birthplace. As he aged, he continued to perform and to write and revise his works. He gave his final performance less than a year before his death in 1960.
Note – There are some hints (and perhaps more blantant statements than I found) of unseemly behavior on the part of his father in some of the resources out there. Just a note prior to having students research.
Additional Resources on Percy Grainger:
Alberto Ginastera (pronounced with the Spanish J/H sound) was born in 1916 in Argentina. He is considered one of the America’s most important 20th century composers. Born in Buenos Aires, he studied music privately as a child and then enrolled in the National Conservatoire of Music there. Beginning composing in his youth, he won his first prize in 1934 with Piezas Infantiles for piano. Also in 1934 he wrote Impresiones de la Puna, for flute & string quartet. These pieces and the next ones that he wrote featured heavily the authentic sounds and folk music of his native country Argentina. Through about 1947, he wrote strongly nationalistic pieces.
In the late 1940s, he traveled to the USA on a Guggenheim fellowship and studied with Aaron Copland. From this point forward, Ginastera’s music began to change a bit and featured less obvious folk melodies, though they were still present. Following a year in the US, he returned to Argentina and continued composing. His works through this period continued to focus on the sights and sounds of the Gaucho traditions.
In the late 1950s, Ginastera’s style changed yet again to a much more 20th century style. He still called upon the Gaucho tradition and traditional melodies but they are not so easy to recognize in his music. He also began using the serial techniques and 12 tone techniques popular with composers such as Berg. Throughout his life, Ginastera was an influential composer who touched many of the composers to come after him in Argentina. He wrote in all genres, though not really more prolific in one than in another.
In researching this post, I found out that Ginastera wrote some amazing pieces for individual instruments. One of those was the harp. This blog post by Yolanda Kondonassis was quite interesting to read about playing one of Ginastera’s harp pieces. There are some track previews available on the post showing off the unique writing Ginastera did for the harp.
Further resources for Alberto Ginastera:
Lori, At Home.
Thank you for joining me this week for Composer ABCs. Please visit the hosts to find the linky and other participants.