GROFE: Death Valley Suite / Hudson River Suite / Hollywood Suite (Andrew Walton/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ William Stromberg) (Naxos American Classics: 8.559017)
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Ferde Grofé (1892-1972)
Death Valley Suite Hollywood Suite Hudson River Suite
Ferde Grofé was born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé, in New York City on 27th March, 1892. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Los Angeles. Ferdes father was a baritone and actor, while his mother was a cellist and music teacher of some note, numbering the famous American cellist and conductor Alfred Wallenstein among her pupils. Ferde studied the piano, violin and harmony with his mother and the viola with his grandfather. He attended Los Angeles City Schools and later St Vincents College, now known as Loyola University. When his father died in 1899, he joined his mother in Germany (she had studied at the Leipzig Conservatory for three years). Upon their return to Los Angeles, Madame Grofé opened a music studio. It was during those very early years of this century that he wrote his earliest compositions, three piano rags, entitled Harem, Rattlesnake and Persimmon.
Ferde Grofé left home in 1906 to work at odd jobs, as a bookbinder, truck driver, usher, newsboy, elevator operator, lithographer, typesetter and steelworker, studying the violin and piano in his spare time. In 1909 he wrote his first commissioned work, The Grand Reunion March, for an Elks Clubs convention in Los Angeles. He joined the American Federation of Musicians that year and began a ten-year association with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra playing the viola.
In 1917 Grofé joined Paul Whitemans Orchestra as a pianist, and permanently in 1920 as pianist, assistant conductor, orchestrator and librarian. He remained with the Whiteman orchestra for twelve years. His first arrangements of Whispering, Avalon, and Japanese Sandman sold millions of records. He toured Europe with the orchestra in 1923, and in 1924 had his first real break when he orchestrated George Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue, a collaboration that brought a measure of fame. He turned his attention to original composition, with works that included the tone-poem Broadway at Night. His subsequent works, Metropolis, Blue Fantasy in E Flat, Mississippi Suite, and Three Shades of Blue, reveal an astonishing mastery of symphonic jazz idiom.
The 1930s proved to be productive years for Grofé. He composed his popular Grand Canyon Suite in 1931, and in 1932 joined NBC as staff conductor. A year later he composed his Tabloid Suite, a musical portrait of the newspaper business, while his tone-poem Rip Van Winkle, 22 years later became part of his Hudson River Suite. During the next several years he composed Hollywood Suite, Killarney - Irish Fantasy, Rudy Valley Suite, Kentucky Derby Suite, and the ballet Café Society. In 1937, he conducted two concerts of the New York Philharmonic, and in 1939 joined the faculty of the Juilliard School, teaching orchestration and composition. Conducting engagements and commissions continued to pour in. Over the next thirty years, Grofé produced dozens of new compositions, including film scores, jazz band arrangements, and, of course, more of his evocative "nature suites". Reminiscing in the 1960s, he declared the fundamental inspiration he had drawn from America: "Many of my compositions, I believe, were born of sight, sound, and sensations common to all of us. I think I have spoken of America in this music simply because America spoke to me, just as it has spoken to you and to every one of us". He died on 3rd April, 1972, in Santa Monica, California, after a series of heart attacks.
Throughout his career, Grofé always provided detailed annotations for each of his orchestral works. Because these notes clearly reflect the composers musical intentions, they are here reproduced, in their entirety, for each of the three suites here recorded.
The Hollywood Suite was initially created and conceived as a ballet for the production team of Fanchon and Marco. The première took place at the Hollywood Bowl on 15th August, 1935. For that performance the following scenario was provided: "The ballet "Hollywood" is a synthesis of what this famed name symbolizes for the whole world, the glamorous but artificial atmosphere of motion pictures. As the action starts the scene is actually nothing but the empty space; but a sign says this is "Stage No.4." A laborer sweeps the floor with motions as fatally unconcerned as the swinging of a clock pendulum, when a girl appears, typically representative of that place called Hollywood. Extra, stand-in, or double, in turn or all in one (let us call her the Double) she is the one whom glamour attracted, hunger tamed, and hope still sustains. Carpenters come and build a set in which electricians bring lights and to which set-dressers and property-men put the finishing touches. Each crew in turn casually calls the double, either to check the plan of a column, or the proper hanging of a prop, or the correct adjustment of the lighting. Everybody evidently needs her, but she nevertheless seems to be soon ignored by all. Cameramen, assistant-directors, the whole army takes its position. The extras enter. Here is the Director. And now comes the Star with her retinue of maids. The Double rehearses the scene laboriously, and when, thanks to her, everything has been properly settled, she is kicked out of the set to make way for the Star who "shoots" the scene in her place. Now the Star is supposed to dance but the little girl is called again, this time to "double" for the Star who cannot dance; after which the Star of course steps in for the close-up. And when finally the big dancing number of the precision girls has been photographed, when the day is over and when everybody has in a rush taken out set, lights, props, cameras, and themselves one lonely forgotten figure remains, the unknown Stand-in, whom the sweeper, with motions as fatally unconcerned as the swinging of a clock pendulum, sweeps out with the days debris
This is: Stage No.4, Hollywood." In 1938, Grofé recast the ballet into the six-part suite recorded here.
Ever since the first emigrants saw Death Valley, fantastic tales have been told of its blasting temperatures and stupendous riches. Death Valley, part of the Great American Desert, is largely in south-eastern California. Indians, emigrants, prospectors, miners all have left traces in this Valley that has changed little in a million years. In 1949 Californias State Centennial Celebration took place and a non-profit organization, The Death Valley 49ers was formed. The organization, realising that Grofé was a composer who most vividly grasped the broad scope of the American scene, commissioned him to compose a suite commemorating the centenary of the discovery of this bleak and beautiful wilderness. An extraordinary pageant glorifying the spirit of the California pioneers was held on 3rd December, 1949, at Desolation Canyon. The pageant re-enacted the events of 1849 with an extraordinary procession of covered wagons and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Ferde Grofé. Over 65,000 spectators who attended this pageant heard that day the first performance of Grofés Death Valley Suite. The composer provided the following detailed programme notes to the four movements: "I. "Funeral Mountains." The music here paints this desolate area in tones that reflect the grandeur and desolation; tracing the first glow of sunrise, then the merciless rays of high noon, and finally the purple shades of night. II. "49er Emigrant Train." Lost in the desert wilderness, dying of thirst, the emigrants face the blazing Death Valley Sun. The music vividly portrays the creakin