Ferde Grofé

Ferde Grofe was born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofe in New York City on March 27, 1892. Grofe was still a child when his family moved to Los Angeles. His father was an actor, baritone singer, and his mother was a cellist. Grofe was raised in Los Angeles and attended public schools. He studied music with his mother, Pietro Floridia, and Ricardo Dallera. Under family pressure, Grofe attended St. Vincent’s College to study law. However, in 1908 he was hired as a violinist at convention halls as well as as a pianist and arranger of various dance bands. He produced The Elks Grand Reunion March for the Elks Convention, Los Angeles, in 1909. Grofe was also hired by the Los Angeles Symphony in that year as a violinist. This position he held for ten years. Grofe also continued to compose original works while he was with the symphony and formed his own jazz group. He met Paul Whiteman, the jazz conductor, while playing in Los Angeles clubs. Whiteman hired Grofe to be his pianist and arranger. Whiteman had an instant hit recording of “Wonderful One”, a Grofe song with lyrics by Theodora Morrise. Grofe’s arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue”, which was a commission work by George Gershwin, gained national attention the following year. The piano score was submitted to Grofe for orchestration. Grofe, Whiteman, and Gershwin would be able to claim fame with the symphony, which was premiered at New York’s Aeolian Hall on February 12, 1924. The first major Grofe suite, Mississippi Suite, was premiered by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in New York City in 1926. This was just one of many pieces Grofe wrote about American feeling and landscape. Grofe’s most well-known work, The Grand Canyon Suite (November 22nd 1931), was first presented in Chicago by the Studebaker Theater. Five movements are used to depict a different episode in Canyon life. Grofe was captivated by the Grand Canyon and had promised to make its impressions tangible. It became an obsession, he later wrote. My imagination was sparked by the richness of the land, and the rugged optimism of its inhabitants. Grofe was determined to make it all music one day.” Grofe quit Whiteman in 1932 and was appointed in 1933 as the conductor of New York’s Capitol Theater Orchestra. Grofe was a conductor, composer, and arranger for his orchestra over the next six-years. He toured throughout America and introduced several symphonic pieces, including Free Air, Tabloid and Hollywood Suite, A Day At The Farm and Wheels Suite. He was an instructor of orchestration at New York’s Julliard School of Music from 1939 to 1942. He had another hit song, “Daybreak” in 1942 with Harold Adamson. This song was a big hit for Tommy Dorsey in WWII. Grofe worked on many film scores throughout the 1940’s including Strike Up the Band and Thousands Cheer. In 1945, Grofe received an Oscar Nomination in Best Music and Scoring for a Musical Picture for Minstrel Man. He continued writing scores for films in the 1950s. He composed Rocketman X M, and The Return of Jesse James. Grofe began traveling across America with his wife Anne in 1954 as a two-piano concert performer. Grofe returned to orchestral conducting and arranging in 1955 and created the Hudson River Suite, his first orchestral suite in 16 years. The New York State Power Authority commissioned Grofe to create a suite in commemoration of the opening of Robert Moses Power Plant at Niagara Falls. Ferde Grofe conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s 1961 premiere of the Niagara Suite. Grofe’s last major work was the World’s Fair Suite. This is the official suite for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Grofe was nominated for an Oscar and also received an honorary music doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University, as well as Western State College of Colorado. He also received the Sinfonia National Honor and was presented with the Griffith Foundation Golden Eaglet for Music Composition. Grofe was also one of eight American composers featured on US commemorative stamps. They were part of the Legends of American Music series, Classical Composers, and Conductors series. Grofe later wrote that the famed Grand Canyon Suite was a result of “sight, sound, and sensations common among us all.” Because America spoke to me in this music, I believe I have spoken about America. I’m grateful to have been trained to capture a part of the American musical spirit. This music is yours, but only in the technical sense that a copyright with my name has been filed. We must always remember that there’s more to be heard. Our land is rich with music. You can listen right now. This is the music that you hear, pulsing forth, singing to each one of us. Ferde Grofe died on April 3, 1972 in Santa Monica, California. from http://www.songwritershalloffame.org

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