32ND SEASON | OCTOBER 13 - PERCY ALDRIDGE GRAINGER
September 28th, 2019
The Mesilla Valley Concert and opens its 32nd season Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m. in Atkinson Recital Hall on the NMSU campus. The concert features a mini-festival of music by George Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961). Although he was Australian-born and became a U.S. citizen, Grainger played a central role in reviving interest in British folk melodies. The free program open to the public includes Grainger’s iconic work Lincolnshire Posy and several other Grainger pieces; a concert band arrangement of Eric Whitacre’s Sleep; Mozart’s beloved Ave Verum Corpus K 618; a Sousa march and a jazz number.
Considered Grainger’s master work, this nosegay or “posy” of “musical wildflowers” was based on folksongs Grainger collected in the field in Lincolnshire in 1905-1906. “Dedicated to the old folksingers who sang so sweetly to me,” each movement is a musical portrait of the singer of the underlying melody, his varying rhythms, gaunt or ornate delivery, contrasts of legato and staccato. He declared “…these folksingers were kings and queens of song…, rural warblers in variety of tone-quality, range of dynamics, rhythmic resourcefulness and individuality of style.” He arranged them true to their origins but with startlingly modern tonalities and style. But such words hardly begin to describe the uniqueness of this work in 20th century symphonic band repertoire.
Originally written in 1910 for a string ensemble, this spirited tune was not transcribed for wind band until 1991. Grainger was inspired by the traditional English Morris folk dance. But the similarity ends there: the tunes are entirely original and the form doesn’t resemble the dance – perhaps explaining its title!
Irish Tune from County Derry
Unlike “Mock Morris,” this piece is a setting of a famous tune from the Irish county of Derry in the north, also called Londonderry. Many people will immediately associate this piece with “Danny Boy” but it also has been called “Londonderry Air.” Despite its familiarity and seeming simplicity, it actually is musically sophisticated and difficult for bands to perform well.
“Shepherd’s Hey” English Morris Dance
Grainger wrote this piece, based on a Morris Dance tune, for his debut as a pianist with the New York Symphony Orchestra in 1914. A “military band” version followed in 1918, during the period when Grainger had enlisted in the U.S. Army as a bandsman and had become a U.S. citizen. Percy commented of such early pieces that “where other composers would have been jolly setting such dance tunes I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.”
Eric Whitacre (1970 - ) originally wrote this piece for a cappella choir but later arranged it for wind symphony to take advantage of the “simple and plaintive sound of winds.” Initially, he set the music to Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” But the Frost estate blocked use of the text so Whitacre used an original poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Whitacre studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School. His music is widely performed around the world, often with him as conductor. For this performance, the work is conducted by Kathleen Hill, who received her bachelor’s degree in music education (viola/piano concentrate) and master’s in conducting, both from the University of New Mexico. She directed the orchestra at Mayfield High School from 1998 until 2011. She is orchestra director at Oñate High School and vice president of the non-profit, Brass Factory.
Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was working feverishly in 1791 on two operas and his iconic Requiem when he took a break to write a simple motet for choir and strings. The result was one of Mozart’s most beloved works, even though its performance takes less than three minutes. Mozart’s setting of this 14th century hymn was composed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. Its dynamics rarely rise above a piano but its effect is profoundly moving. Mozart was only 35 years old when he died, about six months after composing the motet. But as a child prodigy, he had a long career: he began his music studies before he was four, began composing before he was five, and was a well-known keyboard performer by age six. A gifted instrumentalist, Mozart was a master of the piano, violin, and harpsichord by the time he was 13. His first opera seria, Mitridate, was performed when he was 14. He never stopped composing until the day he died. The motet was transcribed for concert band by Joseph Kreines in 1967.