Saturday, 18 May 2013

Grand Canyon Suite triple post - Ferde Grofé, Eugene Ormandy, Tomita (19??, 1958, 1982)

And from Antarctica, we conclude our geographonic tour in the northern hemisphere, specifically, America’s Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Suite composed by Ferde Grofé from 1929 to 1931, is a majestic, colourful and above all accessible piece of music which to a modern listener evokes elements from soundtracks, classical music and jazz. The Grand Canyon Suite covers a huge amount of dynamic range, transitioning from quiet shimmerings of celesta, strings and reeds depicting the canyon sunset to galloping trumpets so manic they intersect somewhere near Gershwin at his liveliest and Carl Stalling. This piece is probably the most well-known of the symphonic works I’ve looked at over the last few posts and has been played by many, many ensembles over the years. I’d like to look at three such LPs that I have happened upon in op-shops and a record fair.

Ferde Grofé and The Capital Orchestra. This is an old, scratched Capital 10” record I found in an op-shop in Northcote. I haven’t been able to find any information on this particular release in any of the usual places. Although the sound quality is pretty bad due to the condition of the record, I include it for historical relevance of this version being conducted by the composer.

Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra. This is a beautifully recorded performance of the suite released sometime in the sixties (I think - the recording has no date anywhere on it*). This is the LP I probably listen to the most of these three as it is very faithful to Grofé’s own interpretation but with a far superior sound quality (and the disc is in much better condition, which doesn’t hurt). This LP was my first exposure to this piece - I was going through a phase of obsessively consuming nature documentary soundtracks and found this in an op-shop in Healesville. I saw the title and the lovely photo of the Grand Canyon on the front and thought it might give me a similar buzz.

*EDIT 4/05/2016 - According to Discogs it's probably 1958. 


Tomita. Finally we have Japanese electronic artist Isao Tomita translating this piece with the Plasma Symphony Orchestra ie. numerous Rolands, Moogs, Synclaviers, Yamahas and a Mellotron. The electronic approach works well in the hands of Tomita and his “orchestra” and this 1982 version is surprisingly faithful to Grofé’s original composition. Tomita does bring in some interesting new interpretations of particular instruments from the traditional orchestra however and introduces some great vintage synth tones in their place. The incongruity of an all electronic version of the Grand Canyon Suite was obviously not lost on the cover artist who attempts to naturalise the concept by depicting a canyon on a distant planet in space! Which planet this is supposed to be is unclear, but it is somewhere in the vicinity of Saturn (or a Saturn-like planet) and has some sort of high-tech transparent pyramid in the canyon which appears to be topped by the disembodied head of Strong Bad. This LP is concluded with an electronic rendition of Syncopated Clock, a playful jazzy tune composed by Leroy Anderson.


  1. so jazzed to hear these, particularly the Tomita. Thanks!

  2. Great bit of comparative musicology - thanks!

  3. ¡¡Mil gracias!!

    Ormandy excelente, y tus notas de primera.

    ¡¡Cordiales saludos!!