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Hill-Song Nr. 1 (trans Clark)

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Percy Aldridge Grainger

Percy Aldridge Grainger (trans. Joe Clark)

General Info

Year: 1902 / 2019
Duration: c. 14:20
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Chamber winds
Publisher: Manuscript
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II-III**
Oboe I-II-III (III optional)
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III-IV**-V**-VI**
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet I-II**
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II
Horn in F I-II
Trombone I-II-III
Tuba I**-II
String Bass**
Percussion, including:

  • Suspended Cymbal (played by timpanist)

**Substitute part, ad lib.


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

I consider Hill-Song no. 1 by far the best of all my compositions. But the difficulties of conducting its highly irregular rhythms are almost prohibitive. At the time of composing Hill-Song no. 1 (1901-2, aged 19-20) wildness and fierceness were the qualities in life and nature that I prized the most and wished to express in music. These elements were paramount in my favorite literature -- the Icelandic sagas. I was in love with the double reeds (oboe, English horn, etc.) as the wildest and fiercest of musical tone-types.

In 1900 I had heard a very harsh-toned rustic oboe (piffero) in Italy, some extremely nasal Egyptian double-reeds at the Paris Exhibition, and bagpipes in the Scottish Highlands. I wished to weave these snarling, nasal sounds (which I had heard only in single-line melody) into a polyphonic texture as complex as Bach's, as democratic as Australia (by 'democratic', in a musical sense, I mean a practice of music in which each voice that makes up the harmonic weft enjoys equal importance and independence -- as contrasted with 'undemocratic' music consisting of a dominating melody supported by subservient harmony). In this way I wished to give musical vent to feelings aroused by the soul-shaking hill-scapes I had recently seen on a three-days tramp, in Western Argyleshire. I was not in favour of programme-music. I had no wish to portray tonally any actual scenes or even to record musically any impressions of nature. What I wanted to convey in my Hill-song was the nature of the hills themselves -- as if the hills themselves were telling of themselves through my music, rather than that I, an onlooker, were recording my 'impressions' of the hills.

The musical idiom of Hill-Song no. 1 derives much of its character from certain compositional experiments I had undertaken in 1898, 1899 and 1900 and from certain nationalistic attitudes that were natural to me as an Australian.

- Program Note by composer

Hill-Song Nr. 1 is Percy Grainger’s first work for wind ensemble, written in 1901-1902 for an ensemble of 2 piccolos, 6 oboes, 6 English horns, 6 bassoons, and contrabassoon. When I began my Master’s at UI in fall 2017, I was vaguely aware of the piece. When I became aware that we had a facsimile of the manuscript score in our archives, I knew I simply had to program it. The first thing Dr. Peterson said to me was, “Joe, you know there’s a reason no one programs this piece,” but let me go ahead regardless – and we performed the original scoring last April.

In the course of preparing the piece last year, a number of issues became apparent. For one, Grainger never produced a set of parts for the original scoring, and there were significant differences between the original scoring and subsequent settings (for two pianos/four hands and chamber orchestra). For another, there were several legitimate orchestration issues in the original scoring (issues of range and balance in particular), never mind the prohibitive instrumentation. I decided to use the piece as my master’s project, producing a critical edition of the original double-reed scoring, providing an analysis of the piece, and transcribing a new edition for full band, in the hopes that this gem of a piece might become more accessible and more often performed.

Grainger left only the following note in the original manuscript: “This is merely an exploration of musically-hilly ways, a gathering of types for future Hill-songs, a catalogue.” Later, much more extensive program notes revealed a number of compositional inspirations and goals:

- Wide-toned scales: Avoiding chromatic motion in order to “make my music as island-like (British, Irish, Icelandic, Scandinavian) as possible, as unlike the music of the European continent as I could.” This resulted in pentatonic and whole tone influences.
- Irregular rhythms: It is more common for two subsequent bars to be of different meters in the piece than of the same -- a particular challenge in the preparation of this work for both players and conductor. Grainger claims that his use of irregular rhythm ended up influencing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring!
- Democratic polyphony: Inspired by the music of J. S. Bach (featuring independent musical lines interacting rather than a single melody with harmonic accompaniment) and his native Australia (featuring… democracy?), Grainger set out to write a polyphonic work in which all parts are equally important.
- Semi-discordant triads: Grainger began treating sonorities other than triads as consonances (particularly seventh chords), anticipating a lot of 20th-century music (Debussy, jazz, etc.).
- Triads in conjunct motion: Rather than using traditional harmonic progressions, Grainger often moves all voices in the same direction by the same interval, resulting in novel harmonic progressions.
- Non-repetition of themes: “I view the repetition of themes as a redundancy -- as if a speaker should continually repeat himself. I also consider the repetition of themes undemocratic -- as if the themes were singled out for special consideration, the rest of the musical material deemed ‘unfit for quotation’.”
- Non-architectural form-procedures: Grainger aimed to let the form of the piece naturally develop, rather than trying to force it into sections. “In other words I want the music, from first to last, to be all theme and never thematic treatment.”
- Large chamber-music: Inspired once more by Bach, Grainger’s original conception for the piece was a large group of one-on-a-part players, as opposed to the large orchestra with massive string sections.

- Program Note by Joe Clark


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Illinois (Champaign) Wind Symphony (Joe Clark, conductor) – 10 April 2019

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