Australian Folk Songs

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Percy Grainger -- World of Music (1926)

One thing jazz has done, says Mr. Grainger, is to bring us into touch with the music that we did not know before. That of the Orient has much to give. Many of our homes have art works of the Orient, but none, or next to none, contain Indian, Japanese, Chinese, or Javanese music. "It is absurd," he says. "The music of those people can give lessons just as golden as the art of the Orient had for Whistler and others. The majority of musicians are such, stick-in-the-muds that the consciousness of the music of the Orient has come more than a generation later than the art of the Orient. There is no line of demarcation between jazz and any other kind of music. Let me put it in a concrete form."

Jazz is to the classical music to-day what Bach's Gavotte in E Major for the violin is to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. At all times there has to be music of occupation, music provided to accompany physical activities and there will also always be music of a more complex nature, such at that we call 'absolute.' music, symphonic music, and the like. If we were to blot out the rhythmical impulse we would lose the main spring. Therefore, jazz, or the equivalent, is necessary to music at all times. The person who says he cannot bear, jazz is exactly in the same street with the person who says he cannot, bear classical music; in other words, small minded in music. I should be tempted to say, that jazz is more subtle in musical technique than any other popular music I have known. I take exactly the opposite stand to that of the person who says, "I do not like jazz, but I like a Viennese waltz, such as the Blue-Danube. "To my mind, the best of jazz is more musical than the Viennese waltz, though I have no wish to underrate the Viennese waltz either and I think the beauty and, subtlety of the best jazz is going to revolutionise music or form the basis of a new school. Jass is a kind of sucker on the tree of classical music. It is an offshoot, not a root."

Concerts attract audiences generally for one or two reasons. Either they want to hear a particular performer, or they want to hear some particular music. The former, however, appears to be the stronger appeal. These concerts exist only as performances of music by individual artists. The interest in the artist is merely supplemented by that, of the music he plays. It is not until one listens to a choir or an orchestra that the individual-artist interest disappears altogether--unless the individuality of the conductor calls for particular note--and the music is more than the manner of its performance. In listening to a symphony, attention to, the merit of the performance will be found to be subordinated to that called for by the beauty of the music itself.

Both these interests are justified. The individual artist is entitled to the attention given to performance which is the outcome of his special ability aided by years of laborious and concentrated work, by which alone can be acquired; an adequate performing skill. But to listen to the performer merely, and to fail to hear intelligently what he performs, is to miss a great deal. The music performed is often a far greater thing than the skill of its performer. Those who appreciate a performer only because he is the medium of expression of the beauty of the music are comparatively few, but for them the brilliancy of the pianist or violinist, the charm or a particular voice, and. the inspired playing of an orchestra are of less importance because of less significance, than the music they present. One may envy those who reach this stage of musical appreciation, though it is not difficult to attain. If the listener does not allow himself to be dazzled by executive skill and listens less for excitements he will more readily discover the lasting- pleasures. to be found in the inherent beauty of the music itself.

Mr. Percy Grainger writing recently said when speaking on aboriginal music:-- "An extraordinary change was brought about by the widespread discovery of folk songs in Great Britain, and the resultant inspiration from them. Only a few years ago it was quite possible to go into, an English village teeming with traditional, singers, and find the school teacher, the clergyman, the squire, and the gentry totally unaware of their, existence. This shows you can live side by side with the best, musical conditions and not know the fact. "I firmly believe," says, Grainger, "that even the music of the Australian aboriginal contains some very valuable message, to real musicians. People must not approach the music of the black man or the South Sea savage with the idea that they (the whites) are superior beings. If they take that point of view, they will not listen to it properly. "The naturalist, does not regard the insect thus. Darwin aproached the slug or snail with reverence, as something that he could learn from. We should not approach the art of fellow humans with less reverence."

"The most beautiful music I have even, heard, either complex or simple, was the singing of the Rarotonga natives in the Cook Islands, and valuable are the phonograph records of these which were given to me by an old rural friend in New Zealand--Mr. Alfred Knocks, of Otaki, himself a true genius in the domain of history. I am a great admirer of Bach, Wagner, Delius, Scriabin, and several others responsible for the complex music of the world, and yet I say that the singing of the Rarotonga natives appealed to me, and to several other composers more than anything we had ever heard."


From the Lismore NSW newspaper the Northern Star Saturday 25 September 1926 p. 16.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory