Percy Grainger was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.” Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age. He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918. He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers. His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.
Handel in the Strand is one of Grainger’s early light orchestral pieces, written in 1911, before he enlisted in the US Army during World War I. Grainger had no trouble allowing other musicians to arrange his music to suit their needs, so Handel in the Strand has existed in several different versions. After its original massed piano and string orchestra setting came versions for full orchesra, piano (solo and 4 hands), organ, trombone choir, and two different settings for band (Goldman and Sousa). Grainger gives an amusing anecdote on its origin:
My title was originally “Clog Dance”. But my dear friend William Gair Rathbone (to whom the piece is dedicated) suggested the title “Handel in the Strand,” because the music seemed to reflect both Handel and English musical comedy [the “Strand” — a street in London — is the home of London musical comedy] — as if jovial old Handel were careering down the Strand to the strains of modern English popular music.
Handel in the Strand on YouTube, performed by the North Texas Wind Symphony:
Program note on the orchestral version of Handel in the Strand from the Kennedy Center.
Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.
International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there. They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.
Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.
One more listen to Handel in the Strand, this time in an orchestral arrangement that Grainger completed for Leopold Stokowski. Grainger is also the pianist on this recording: