graingerThis piece came to mind while I was writing about the held Db note that runs most of the way through the second movement of Suk’s Asrael Symphony – described by critic John Stearne as “like an eye gazing fixedly into space”. Here the same technique is used to a very different effect. The Immovable “Do” or “The Ciphering “C” has a high drone on C that sounds throughout the movement. The piece, not based on folk song (as many of Grainger’s occasional pieces are), weaves an impressively complex harmonic richness around the held note. Lewis Foreman has called it “the longest pedal note in all music”. Grainger first had the idea in 1933 when a note stuck down on his harmonium, but spend the next six years developing the idea, and ended up publishing it in 1940. Like many Grainger pieces there are various scoring options (he called this “elastic scoring”), including chorus, full orchestra, strings or various wind groups – it can even be played on the piano, standing up without the offending note. I was involved in a performance while at Keele University (1978-82), and I remember the harmonium player, Nick Hancock, placing a weight on the note and then miming to the performers, hopefully out of site of the audience: “Look, no hands”.

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