TUESDAY, October 6, 2020 – 11:38 PM
Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite, age 39
The part most people know…
You might want to start here. This is the really famous part, and you can almost here the same melodies that later were used in cowboy movies and later in TV series.
- 11:52 III. On the Trail This is the part the world knows. It’s not my favorite part, but it is the favorite part for most people, I think. You can hear the donkeys go “hee-haw”, and you can hear them hurry up at the end. In the middle there is watering hole, and I think you can hear thew water sparkle in the sunlight.
Now the whole thing…
- 0:00 I. Sunrise, E major: For me as a child this was the best part. It’s ultra romantic, and it starts really softly and then builds. I think you can actually imagine the sun rising.
- 6:39 II. Painted Desert, F# or Gb major – E major: The key is not clear because the tonality is very ambiguous. The theme is basically G F# E D# C#, which is octatonic, and when he sort of settles into E major there are constant chromatic lines. This frightened me when I was a child. I thought it was terrifying. I was actually scared to listen to it, but it was part of the story. Today I know what the composer did, why it it felt uncomfortable. But my visceral reaction is the same. There is a more peaceful section in the middle, but there are still lots of uncomfortable notes.
- 11:52 III. On the Trail: This is the part the world knows. It’s not my favorite part, but it is the favorite part for most people, I think. You can hear the donkeys go “hee-haw”, and you can hear them hurry up at the end. In the middle there is watering hole, and I think you can hear the water sparkle in the sunlight. The main theme is typical of later movies and TV shows about cowboys.
- 19:51 IV. Sunset, D major: The sun is going down. Mostly the music is peace, but at the end perhaps there is the menace of the approaching storm.
- 25:45 Nightfall, E major: This name is not in the music, but it’s a separate theme that comes before the storm. It is a romantic melody, almost entirely diatonic.
- 28:07 V. Cloudburst: You something a bit eerie. Basically you have an E major chord, but the top B slips up to C, and you get the idea of an augmented chord. He then uses the whole tone scale to make one chord slide to the next, and it’s really the same as Wagner’s too Xø chords in Tristan, but it’s way spookier. Then he uses timpani for the thunder, just like Beethoven. You have all sorts of effects from the brass and winds that imitate howling wind and thunder. This scared me to death as a child.
- 32:44 The big aug chord: Just like Sorcerer’s Apprentice he uses the augmented chord for water. Lots and lots of water. Then lots of dim chords, as the wind dies down. There are a couple final lightning flashes, thunder in the distance.
- 33:26 Ending: This, of course, is after the storm. It’s back to the nightfall theme again, to finish, and it’s really big, triumphant. There is just a tiny hint of of the storm at the end, but just for a moment. It is like a musical celebration, perhaps about the wonders and beauty of nature.
- D-flat Piccolo, Flute I-II, Oboe, Bassoon, E-flat Clarinet, B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III, E-flat Alto Clarinet, B-flat Bass Clarinet, E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II, B-flat Tenor Saxophone, E-flat Baritone Saxophone, B-flat Bass Saxophone,
- Cornets I-II-III, E-flat Horn or Alto I-II-III, Horn in F I-II-III-IV, Trombone I-II-III, Bass Trombone, Euphonium (Bass Clef & Treble Clef), Tuba, Timpani, Drums
Popular for 88 years…
Ferde Grofé is an American composer and arranger best known for his composition of the Grand Canyon Suite (1931), recorded and conducted by Arturo Toscanini at Carnegie Hall in 1945 with the composer present. He also fully orchestrated Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and that is the version we usually hear today of this famous work.
On the Trail is most popular…
The Grand Canyon Suite is a very popular set of pieces for orchestra. On the Trail is the most famous and popular. You may think you are hearing a theme for a 1950s or 1960s TV show about cowboys, but Grofé wrote this in 1931 – as usual way earlier than you would expect. He was not known as a film score composer, but his music has that sound, like something that belongs in movies.