Grofe's Musical Travelogue

Jul 9, 2009

HAS AN AUDIO PIECE AT END No matter how long I am in this business, it amazes me the wealth of music that is overlooked by orchestras and radio stations across the country and around the world.  A recent weekend trip to Niagara Falls brought to mind one of the many pieces written by Ferde Grofe about the abundant natural wonders in the United States. What?!!  He wrote something besides the Grand Canyon Suite?  Yes...A LOT more.  You've probably heard his Mississippi Suite, with evocative movement titles such as Huckleberry Finn, Old Creole Days, and Mardi Gras.  But how about the Death Valley Suite, Hollywood Suite, Hudson River Suite, or Niagara Falls Suite? Grofe was born in New York City, so it's not surprising he wrote those last two, but it was his family's move to Los Angeles which introduced young Ferde to the beauty and grandeur of the American Southwest.  The Hollywood Suite was first intended as a ballet; Death Valley Suite, commissioned for the centenary of the modern discovery of Death Valley, was performed for an audience of 65,000 at Desolation Canyon; Hudson River Suite celebrated New York City as much as the legends surrounding the river it grew up around. But as we stood on the shores of the Niagara River and heard the distant roar of the falls, the first movement, Thunder of the Waters, began to make sense.  Next, Grofe addresses the history of the region in Devil's Hole Massacre, followed by the modern day stereotype of the area, The Honeymooners.  The final movement tells the story of the origin of the suite...Power of Niagara - 1961.  The work was commissioned by the New York State Power Authority to commemorate the opening of the Robert Moses Power Plant in 1961.  Grofe would conduct the  Buffalo Philharmonic in the premiere. What a party that was!  A reception was held at the Niagara Power Project where it wasn't just the river that was flowing.  Paul K. Ferington, a retired Niagara County Community College  music professor and administrator recounted this story... "Some of the musicians that were present told me it was the only reception they had been to where there were flowing fountains of Manhattans and Martinis,â€? Ferington said. “The Grofe piece is not only interesting because of its direct relevance to Niagara County, he added, “but also because of the sound effects that it contains.  “It really captures the construction, the technology, the turbines. This is no donkeys-on-the- trail stuff. This is a pretty bombastic piece with a couple of relatively quiet sections that provide for a nice breather. But for the most part there is the sound of hammers banging, construction horns and sirens and other sounds that characterize a construction scene.â€? However, no matter how spectacular the reception, the construction, or the power project was, it's the water that remains the star.  I urge you to go see Niagara (it's an easy drive), walk along its banks, stand above the falls, then board the Maid of the Mist for a spectacular view of one of this world's natural wonders. Oh, and load the Niagara Falls Suite into your Ipod so you can listen to it while you're on the boat.  Keep it under your poncho, however, because Mother Nature is going to make certain you take a little bit of the Niagara River home with you! Niagara Falls Suite: Thunder on the Waters excerpt [audio:thunder-on-the-waters-excerpt.mp3]