THANKSGIVING SONG

Grainger’s “Thanksgiving Song” is one of his last large-scale works and was completed in February, 1945.  Originally conceived in three movements, the final part is the only extant movement to have been located.  Grainger gives us clues as to what the first two movements are, and although no material or score has yet been found for the 1st movement, we believe that the 2nd movement was to have been “The Warriors” slow-music. This includes “Bridal Lullaby”, a work written for Karen Holten.  Grainger also mentions that other important sketches for the work were left with Lotta Hough-Mills in New York.  Various sketches for the slow-music of ‘Warriors’ have come to light, and some of these were used to produce the score for “Warriors II” in a version for 2 pianos, 4 hands - subsequently recorded on Pavilion Records [Pearl CD SHE 9623].  In a note written as a ‘Round Letter’ to kith and kin' (reproduced below), Grainger explains the reasoning behind the composition of this work.


“My ‘Thanksgiving Song’ is a grumble-shout [protest] against English-speaking ‘Better-Don’t’ culture.  When, in 1933, I fared to Europe 3rd class on the ‘Bremen’, my table-mate was a very low-class German (a cook) whose German speech had become naught but over-settings of English phrases.  When I asked if he were wed he answered: ‘Nein.  Besser ab ohne (better off without), nich?’  This has been the English-speaking answer to all root-urges, all my life-time.  Altho my birth-givers wedded early (my mother at 18, my father but a few years older), to MY breed-link [generation] it was said: ‘Don’t wed too early; wait till you know your own mind’ (as if wedlock were a mind-matter!)  The young pay-for-play [professional] piano-player was told: ‘Being wed makes a young man less on-draw-some [attractive] to hearer-hosts’ [audiences].  ‘Don’t go with whores, as you will wreck your health.’  When my father learned that I was a kept-man to Mrs Lowrey (old enough to be my mother) he let fall this wisdom-word:  ‘Far better for him to have experience with an older society woman than for him to fall in love with some silly young girl who would idolize him and make him conceited.’  So I was brow-beaten in that most meaningful of urges (sex), like most young men of my wine-year [vintage].  Even so nice-hearted a man as Statsingeriør Niels Høeg (when I told him what a noble bold being Alfhild de Luce-Sandby was) had to say: ‘Ja, er hundet!  Jag havde navnlig hørt at Hermann Sandby’s Gift mael med Fru de Luce var en afde ling han hellere shulde ha’ ladet vær’ med!’  But mating was not the only target at which ‘Better Don’t’ disheartenments were aimed  in the Blue-eyed world.  Even two such great (and kindly) tone-men as Frederick Delius and Balfour Gardiner felt driven to warn me against my use of the press-wind-box [harmonium (reed-organ)] in room music.  ‘That droning, treakly sound will spoil all your lovely music and make it as bad as that old Dom over there.’ (the organ in the Frankfurt Cathedral, clearly heard where he lived in the Dom-Platz), said Delius to me, on hearing [Frankfurt] Hillsong I rehearsals in Frankfurt, 1923.  And at about the same time, in a small town in Norway, after hearing me handle a reed-organ, Balfour Gardiner remarked: ‘The harmonium is such an intermittent instrument.’ (Factfully, there is no less gap-ful tone-tool than it - rightly played).  ‘With due restraint in its manifestation’ was a stock phrase with London music critics in my beginning years there: ‘Mr Grainger possesses an attractive tone on the piano, and he shows due restraint in its manifestation.’  One of the few clever quips that came out of the Mussolini sway were those words about ‘the strange coldness of Englishmen towards women.’  On the streets of Arkansas City, Kansas, on a Sunday, I have seen farm boys stand and whistle as the girls passed.  That was there throw-in [contribution] to the joy of the world.  On why-grounds [reasons] that maybe are made clear in Sir Elliot Smith’s thought-changing books (Human History, The Diffusion of Culture), mankind has been scared stiff about sex.  So we have great tone-works honoring Kings (Wagner’s Kaisermarch, Svendsen’s Consecration March), gloating over fight-wins (Tchaikovsky’s 1812), and belly-ache-ing over doom-strokes of love and sex (Tristan, Romeo & Juliet, Francesca da Rimini).  A tone-wright has even given thanks, in tones, for the birth of a son (Siegfried Idyll).  But I know no case where a tone-wright has tonefully gloated over his one-body-some [personal] wedlock or given thanks for the love-joys of his own one-body-some life.  Our sissy, shy, tame-cat world will not like the love-gloating in my ‘Thanksgiving Song’ any better than it did in ‘To A Nordic Princess’ (if our world puts all the spokes it can in the wheel of un-wed love-joys, am I one to with-hold my gloat-shout when the wedlock ticket is, at last, in sight?)  But they will have to put up with it.”

“The nay-ful-ness [negativeness] of English-speaking sex-thoughts reached its crest, in my case, in the hap (more than all others) that drove my beloved mother to take her own life.  Two ‘lady’ friends from London, that mother had guest-asked to stay with us at the end of the 1st German War - they riled, or hurt, it seemed, because I was over worked and could not give as much time to them as of yore in London and hatched (with the help of an American friend) the thought-germ [idea] that my mother ‘wouldn’t let me see them because mother and I were living together in close-kind-sex-sin [incest].’ ‘We will never be able to travel together again.  Everything will be misunderstood’, mother said to me.  It was also hinted, elsewhere, that my friendship for a foreign tone-wright (in Europe) was a case of same-sex-love.  I am not one to be shocked by the sundry forms of love and sex, or by folk‘s guesses about such things.  Such misunderstandings (as that about my mother‘s and my love for each other) can happen only (one would think) after a long dose of the ‘Better don’t’ code has undermined all belief in such ye-some stirs as son-and-mother-love, friendship, plato-love, man-and-woman-love.  It was such a twisted view to take of my mother’s always all-th-y [natural] and tribe-minded being-type.”

“Altho (alas) cowardly enough in many fields of life, I have always had the bravery of a selfish, self-coddling man where my love-bliss was at stake.  So I always had sweethearts (of the eye, or of the hearts, or of the body), from whose joy-bringing sways stem the tone-thoughts of the ‘Thanksgiving Song’.  Those of the first tone-bout [movement] date from Margot‘s time (The Warriors tone-stuffs), those of the slow tone-bout from Karen‘s and Lotta’s, while the last tone-bout and its tailpiece were sketched in 1928, when all my hopes were bent on my nearing wedlock with Ella.” [February 24 (train) and 25 (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1945]

“The ‘Thanksgiving Song’ is honor-tokened to all my life’s sweethearts - to those I loved long and fully, but also to those I merely looked at (on trains and the like) but never spoke to.  The work is in 3 tone-bouts; the first fast (and maybe built on tone-thoughts from ‘The Warriors’); the 2nd a long slow tone-bout (already well be-sketched); the 3rd fast and rattling (sketches nearly be-ended).  The 3rd tone-bout works up to a frenzy with side-drum hammering and ends with a sudden soundlessness.  Then comes a tailpiece, sung and played wholly behind platform by singers and players who from bar 43 on move further and further away from the hearer-host-hall, until their tone-art is lost in soundlessness.  Tone-tools like harmonium and upright piano must be wheeled away on floats.”

When tone-wrought:

Bars 1-20 Jan. 30, 1928 Greenboro, N.C.
Bars 21-25 soon afterwards
Bars 26-35 Feb. 2, 1945 White Plains, NY
Bars 36-41 mind-birthed before “L’avenir” (1933) written out June 5, 1936
Bar 42 Feb. 2, 1945 White Plains

The whole written out Feb. 4, 1945 White Plains

Dates of tone-thoughts:

Bars 53-62, 79-88 July 18, 1935, Hobart, Tasmania
Bars 63-78 pre “L’avenir” (1933) or before
Bars 93-98 Oct. 21, 1944 White Plains
Bars 43-52 Feb. 2, 1945 White Plains
Whole form bars 36-98, worked out, polished Feb. 2, 1945 White Plains


This work is to receive its world première performance during the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Grainger Festival (October, 2003).

Grainger’s manuscript compressed score and set of instrumental parts have been used to edit a new computerised full score and material and the opening 24 bars (measures) of the full score (in Sibelius Scorch format) may be viewed and heard by clicking here.  If you do not see any music, you will have to download the Scorch plug-in.  Details of how to do this are given on the page at the foot of the page when you see the music score.


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