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Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé was born into a musical family. His maternal grandfather, Bernard Bierlich, was first-desk cellist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. His mother was also a cellist, his father a singing actor, and when grandfather Bierlich moved to Los Angeles, he became first cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where Grofé's uncle Julius was already concertmaster.

Young Ferdinand was taken to Los Angeles shortly after he was born. He made quick progress in learning to read music and play piano. After his father died in 1899, his mother took him with her when she went to study music in Leipzig for three years. She returned to Los Angeles, opened a studio, and soon afterwards remarried.

Grofé was an indifferent student, always spending time learning new band instruments. He ran away from home after his stepfather refused to let him quit school and worked at unskilled jobs, writing popular songs at night. These brought him to the attention of The Elks (an American benevolent association), who commissioned him to write a special song for their 1909 convention; the song gained some popularity. Soon Grofé joined his grandfather and uncle in the Philharmonic, as a violist. In his spare time he played in dance halls, sometimes billing himself as "Professor Grofé." He founded his own jazz band in San Francisco and wrote arrangements for it.

In 1919 bandleader Paul Whiteman heard one of these arrangements. Grofé accepted a job as pianist and arranger, and immediately started taking orchestration lessons from Pietro Floridia. His very first arrangement for Whiteman was a success: "Whispering" became a million-selling hit. When the Whiteman band relocated to New York, Grofé went with them. His orchestral ideas laid the foundation for what became the big-band sound. More important, he conceived the basic format that makes jazz playing in large ensembles possible: the contrasting of fully written-out orchestra passages with improvised "breaks."

In 1923 Whiteman conceived a concert to be given at Aeolian Hall in New York. "An Experiment in Modern Music" presented a number of jazz-style classically composed pieces played by the Whiteman Band, many scored by Grofé. Among them was George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, in Grofé's orchestration. The event made Grofé nearly as famous as Gershwin, and Grofé's symphonic version of the work has become the one best known to audiences.

Grofé began to widen his ambitions as a composer. He wrote the Mississippi Suite and, a few years later, the Grand Canyon Suite for the Whiteman orchestra, later enlarging them for symphony. In 1931 he resigned from the Whiteman organization and became conductor of the Capitol Theater orchestra in New York, hosted a network radio program, and was appointed to teach orchestration at the Juilliard School in 1939. During World War II he tirelessly conducted service bands and USO shows.

After the war he continued to write generally light music with a jazzy American flavor. A piano concerto was his most ambitious composition in a pure classical idiom. He also tried to follow up on the Mississippi and Grand Canyon suites with innumerable musical portraits of the American scene, including suites named for the Hudson River, Death Valley, Hollywood, San Francisco, New England, Virginia City, the World's Fair, and Mark Twain, as well as an Aviators' Suite, an Atlantic Crossing Suite, and a Niagara Falls Suite. These were generally played a few times and set aside. However, at the very end of the twentieth century there were some revivals of this forgotten music. Grofé died in Los Angeles shortly after his 80th birthday.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

Truly a great composer of programmatic music. His "Grand Canyon Suite," "Mississippi Suite," which is a personal favorite of mine, and "Niagara Falls Suite" are all fine examples of his distinctly American composing and demonstrate great orchestration.

He is not performed much, which is a shame, but I suggest everyone go pick-up William T. Stromberg's readings of Grofe's music on Naxos. They are very good and definitely worth a listen.
 

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I remember having a tape of Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite and the Piano Concerto. His music is very memorable, I can still remember some of the tunes, even though I haven't heard it for at least a decade. He was, as has been noted, a great orchestrator. & I think it's difficult to shoebox him as belonging to any particular style. His repertoire also seems less expansive than others but he seemed to concentrate on what he did well, which was painting musical pictures of different parts of the USA.
 

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I remember having a tape of Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite and the Piano Concerto. His music is very memorable, I can still remember some of the tunes, even though I haven't heard it for at least a decade. He was, as has been noted, a great orchestrator. & I think it's difficult to shoebox him as belonging to any particular style. His repertoire also seems less expansive than others but he seemed to concentrate on what he did well, which was painting musical pictures of different parts of the USA.
Yes, the first movement of "Mississippi Suite" called "Father of Waters" is one of most beautiful moments in all American music if you ask me. There are so many feelings that this particular movement conjures up inside of me. It's quite picturesque.

If this movement doesn't move you, then I'm not sure what will.
 

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I just finished listening to the Mississippi, Grand Canyon and Niagara Suites. Such great music!
The Mississippi Suite was my least favorite, but it has some lovely moments.. The first movement is indeed incredibly beautiful and I love the cascading feel in the strings (later repeated in Niagara) to evoke the water. Also the "Old Creole Days" movement is quite beautiful and the melody is really nice..
The opening of the Grand Canyon Suite is quite evocative too, with beautiful melodies and harmonies, awesome orchestration and really effective percussion use that really evokes the magnificence of the Canyon. The second movement is a bit less immediately striking, but once I got into it I really loved it.. That hovering E-flat throughout the piece gives it such a mysterious feel.. Lovely..
On The Trail is quite amusing, but equally good.. (Better hee-haws than Saint-Saëns, that's for sure :D). Love the usage of the bass woodwinds, and that's always a plus with me.
The Niagara Suite is quite nice too.. Really evoking the power of the falls. I love the oboe line in the 2nd movement and the lovely melody of The Honeymooners, and the fourth movement is so full of power and movement, just like the falls..
What a great composer, I really enjoyed this recording, and I look forward to hearing much more of his music! :D
 

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Grofé's orchestral music is definitely in the "crowd pleaser" category; it is accessible and easy to understand, and the brilliant orchestral colors nicely fill a concert hall or a room with good speakers. Over the years, I have noticed that these characteristics cause some people to look down upon him, but I find that his best work is impeccably crafted. It accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish, and it does so very well. Judging from the ready availability of old records, some of his orchestral suites were quite popular a few decades ago, but his popularity seems to have dropped a bit in recent years.

As was noted in the introductory post, Grofé was strongly connected to jazz, and he was instrumental in the development of Paul Whiteman's "symphonic jazz" concept. I have always enjoyed Whiteman's recordings, and Grofé's arrangements are central to his sound.

I recently found recordings of the Grand Canyon Suite and the Mississippi Suite in the original orchestrations for Paul Whiteman's Concert Orchestra, performed by Harmonie Ensemble/New York, conducted by Steven Richman. It is wonderful to hear this music in its original form, but with modern day recording technology. Paul Whiteman's Concert Orchestra was a sort of hybrid ensemble, combining the instrumentation of a 1920s jazz band and a symphony orchestra, and it was capable of an impressive range of orchestral colors. In recent years, a few people have revived this type of ensemble, initially to perform the orchestral works of Gershwin in their original form. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to Grofé, and I am glad that they have.
 

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Grofé's orchestral music is definitely in the "crowd pleaser" category; it is accessible and easy to understand, and the brilliant orchestral colors nicely fill a concert hall or a room with good speakers. Over the years, I have noticed that these characteristics cause some people to look down upon him, but I find that his best work is impeccably crafted. It accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish, and it does so very well. Judging from the ready availability of old records, some of his orchestral suites were quite popular a few decades ago, but his popularity seems to have dropped a bit in recent years.

As was noted in the introductory post, Grofé was strongly connected to jazz, and he was instrumental in the development of Paul Whiteman's "symphonic jazz" concept. I have always enjoyed Whiteman's recordings, and Grofé's arrangements are central to his sound.

I recently found recordings of the Grand Canyon Suite and the Mississippi Suite in the original orchestrations for Paul Whiteman's Concert Orchestra, performed by Harmonie Ensemble/New York, conducted by Steven Richman. It is wonderful to hear this music in its original form, but with modern day recording technology. Paul Whiteman's Concert Orchestra was a sort of hybrid ensemble, combining the instrumentation of a 1920s jazz band and a symphony orchestra, and it was capable of an impressive range of orchestral colors. In recent years, a few people have revived this type of ensemble, initially to perform the orchestral works of Gershwin in their original form. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to Grofé, and I am glad that they have.
Very good analysation.
 
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