Program 169
"Grofé's Orchestral Suites"

MUSIC: Grofé: excerpt from “On the Trail” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Noxos 8.559007, Track 7] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

The American composer Ferde Grofé, who lived from 1892 until 1972, is not as well known today as he deserves to be. Those who remember his name probably do so because Grofé was the talented orchestrator of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue -- both the original version that was premiered by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1924 and the version usually heard today for full symphonic orchestra. Gershwin wrote the piece for two pianos.

But Grofé is also remembered for one of his own, original compositions, a piece that is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of colorful orchestration ever written by anyone and one of the greatest and most evocative tone poems ever composed: The Grand Canyon Suite.

What we tend to overlook are Grofé’s other orhestrations that he did for Paul Whiteman, his extraordinary piano playing and piano arrangements of popular pieces, and all of his other original, colorful suites for orchestra.

I’m going to devote this hour of Compact Discoveries to these orchestral suites, and another hour to Grofé’s popular music arrangements and piano playing. That hour will include his original orchestration of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This hour will begin with his Grand Canyon Suite.

MUSIC: comes up and fades out

Ferde Grofé was born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé in New York City of French Huguenot descent. More importantly, he came from four generations of classical musicians. His father was a baritone who sang mainly light opera. His mother was a professional cellist and music teacher. She taught her son to play both the violin and piano. Her father was a cellist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York and her brother was first violinist and concertmaster of the Los Angeles Symphony.

Ferde Grofé’s father died in 1899, after which his mother took him to study piano, viola and composition in Leipzig, Germany. Ferde became a proficient player of a remarkable range of instruments including piano, violin, viola, horns and cornet. The piano became his favorite instrument, but he was a good enough violist to be hired in that capacity by the Los Angeles Symphony.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When Grofé was 14 years old, he left home and worked as a milkman, truck driver, usher, newsboy, elevator operator, helper in a book bindery, iron factory worker, and as a piano player in a bar for two dollars a night, and as an accompanist. He continued studying piano and violin. When he was 15 he was performing with dance bands and brass bands. He was only 17 when he wrote his first commissioned work.

Beginning about 1920, Grofé played the jazz piano with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. He served as Whiteman's chief arranger from 1920-1932. Grofé made hundreds of arrangements of popular songs, Broadway show music, and tunes of all types for Whiteman.

In 1925, while still with Whiteman, he wrote the Mississippi Suite, which Whiteman recorded in a shortened format in 1927. Grofé wrote a number of other pieces, including a theme for the New York World's Fair of 1939 and suites for Niagara Falls and the Hudson River.

Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite was written in 1931. From the start it was regarded highly enough to be recorded for RCA Victor by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. The recording took place in Carnegie Hall in 1945 with the composer present.

The suite is divided into five movements: Sunrise, the Painted Desert, On the Trail, Sunset, and Cloudburst. In this Naxos recording the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is conducted by William T. Stromberg. We begin with Sunrise.

MUSIC: Grofé: “Sunrise” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 5] [5:27]

The Painted Desert.

MUSIC: Grofé: “The Painted Desert” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 6] [5:21]

On the Trail.

MUSIC: Grofé: “On the Trail” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 7] [7:39]

Sunset

MUSIC: Grofé: “Sunset” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 8] [5:10]

Cloudburst

MUSIC: Grofé: “Cloudburst” from The Grand Canyon Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 9] [8:22]


Ferde Grofés Grand Canyon Suite. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by William T. Stromberg on a Naxos recording.

You are listening to “Grofé’s Orchestral Suites” during this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

Before there was the Grand Canyon Suite, there was the Mississippi Suite. It was written in 1926. It’s official title is Mississippi (A Tone Journey) -- A Descriptive Suite. It is in four movements: Father of Waters, Huckleberry Finn, Old Creole Days, and Mardi Gras. Let’s listen to Huckleberry Finn and Mardi Gras from the same Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Naxos CD that features the Grand Canyon Suite and the Niagara Falls Suite.

MUSIC: Grofé: “Huckleberry Finn” from The Mississippi Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 2] [2:22]

MUSIC: Grofé: “Mardi Gras” from The Mississippi Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 4] [4:52]

“Huckleberry Finn” and “Mardi Gras” from Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg on a Naxos recording.

Grofé wrote his Hollywood Suite in 1938. It describes, in musical terms, different aspects of the production process for films, from the technicians who make films possible to the stars and directors. It’s divided into six short movements: On the Set - Sweepers, the Stand-in, Carpenters and Electricians, Preview, Production Number, and Director - Star - Ensemble. We have time to sample the first two of these movements: On the Set - Sweepers and The Stand-in. This is from another Naxos recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg. This CD also features Grofé’s Hudson River Suite and his Death Valley Suite.

MUSIC: Grofé: “On the Set - Sweepers” from The Hollywood Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg [Naxos 8.559017, Track 1] [2:59]

MUSIC: Grofé: “The Stand-in” from The Hollywood Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg [Naxos 8.559017, Track 2] [3:41]

The first two movements from Ferde Grofé’s Hollywood Suite: “On the Set - Sweepers” and “The Stand-in.” The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by William Stromberg.

You are listening to “Grofé’s Orchestral Suites” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

We have time for just one more example of Ferde Grofé’s orchestral suites, so we’ll conclude this hour with “Honeymooners” from his 1961 Niagara Falls Suite.

MUSIC: Grofé: “Honeymooners” from The Niagara Falls Suite performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg [Naxos 8.559007, Track 12] [4:25]

“Honeymooners” from Ferde Grofé’s Niagara Falls Suite. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by WIlliam Stromberg on a Naxos recording.

And that concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries devoted to the orchestral suites of Ferde Grofé. I hope you enjoyed the music. I’ll present another hour of Grofé’s music. That will feature his arrangements for Paul Whiteman’s jazz orchestra as well as Grofé’s piano playing. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening.

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at sixtyslices.com. And by the financial support of the Puffin Foundation, Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, Barry and Florence Friedberg, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you.

Total Program Timing: 58:00


 
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