I’ve been exploring Percy Grainger’s Random Round this week. The Random Round is a piece of very tonal, attractive but quite experimental music, way ahead of its time. Grainger was a truly original thinker, radical and visionary who explores ways of bringing performer-choice and invention into a composed chamber music piece. He wrote it in 1912-1913, for an unspecified range and number of “tone-tools” [instruments].
The score consists of a range of melodies, accompaniment figures and short ostinati, organised into six specific sections. There are some fixed rules about how players must go from one section to the next, and some recommendations that can be followed at the discretion of the “band-boss” [conductor]. The material isn’t interchangeable between sections.
When the Random Round gets put together it can have a very ‘composed’ feel – the sections of music and their specific material and the free order with which you can play them, give a finished version of the piece a strong sense of thematic exposition, development and recapitulation. It can be difficult to achieve this kind of structure using workshop processes; the riff-based group-devised workshop processes that I (and other exponents of the ‘Guildhall School system’) often use can sometimes be harmonically or thematically ‘static’ (unless you have a lot of time to develop and memorise other material that can link to earlier thematic material). The challenge of creating music that has a sense of development and return in a group context using workshop processes is one I have been exploring on and off for the last few years. Grainger’s Random Round offers a possible structural model, I think.
The sad news is I was supposed to be building a project around the Random Round this week, but we couldn’t get hold of an appropriate score or set of parts for the musicians to work from. I wonder if there isn’t one available in Australia? I have been working from a manuscript of the work, written in Grainger’s cursive hand, complete with crossings-out and excited afterthoughts. His ideas literally jump off the page and you get a wonderful sense of his creative energy… but it is hard to read and work from in an ensemble. I am thinking that before I return it to the library I will write out some simple parts of the various ostinati and melodies, so that I can use it with groups in the future.