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Blithe Bells (ed. Ould)

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Percy Aldridge Grainger

Percy Aldridge Grainger (ed. Barry Peter Ould)

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Subtitle: A free ramble on Bach's aria Sheep may graze secure when a goodly shepherd watches o'er them.

General Info

Year: 1931 / 2013
Duration: c. 4:10
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Bardic Edition
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - €213.70   |   Score Only (print) - €7.10


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Adapted from J.S. Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze.

- Program Note from publisher

Grainger was a thoroughly taught musician who could look back upon the history of Western music to recognize kindred spirits in every age. While he had little use for the Mozart/Haydn/Beethoven axis, one of his central recognitions was Johann Sebastian Bach, discovered at age 10, in whose endless fecundity -- though corseted in the contrapuntal harmonic technique of the 18th century (which his works elaborated with a generously cunning hand) — and sovereign plasticity Grainger discovered a model for what he wished to become. Standard encyclopedia entries note that Grainger had “a few piano lessons with Busoni in 1903” — Grainger’s intuitive, freewheeling approach to the piano grated on the Italian’s perfectionism, though the one thing they saw eye-to-eye on, relatively speaking, was Bach. Among Busoni’s earliest publications are editions of Bach’s two- and three-part inventions, while editions of the complete keyboard works occupied him throughout his life. His numerous transcriptions of Bach, in particular of the great Chaconne (from the Second Partita for Solo Violin), became part of his persona as a performer, occasioning criticism from purists.

Busoni’s liberties, however, are the soul of discretion beside Grainger’s. Taking Bach’s sentimental favorite, the aria Schafe können sicher weiden ("Sheep may safely graze") from the secular cantata Was mir behagt (BWV 208), Grainger aggrandizes Bach’s innocent tune in an orchestral extravaganza in which the original’s prim voice leading becomes a fluent polyphony as the parts glow with distinctly post-Romantic harmonic lushness. The thirds of the original he divines as Bach’s imitation of sheep bells, magnified by scoring for “tuneful percussion” to glittering effect, For the variety of performing forces specified — and Grainger is generous in the allowance of his elastic scoring for the ensemble one may have at hand — the effect is at once respectful and vulgar, grandiose but cogent, exuberant and moving.

Composed over 1930-1931, Grainger also arranged Blithe Bells for solo piano (twice), two pianos, and band.

- Program Note from California State University, Long Beach, Wind Symphony concert program, 3 March 2016


State Ratings

  • Texas: IV. Complete


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Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


None discovered thus far.