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Ferde Grofé


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Ferde Grofé, (1892 – 1972) was an American pianist, arranger and composer.

Born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé on 27th March 1892 in New York City, of French Huguenot extraction, his family had four generations of classical musicians. His father, Emil von Grofé, was a baritone who sang mainly light opera and his mother, Elsa Johanna von Grofé, was a professional cellist. She was also a versatile music teacher who taught Ferde to play the violin and piano. Elsa’s father, Bernardt Bierlich, was a cellist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York and Elsa’s brother, Julius Bierlich, was first violinist and concertmaster of the Los Angeles Symphony.

Ferde’s father died in 1899 and Elsa took Ferde abroad to study piano, viola and composition in Leipzig, Germany. Given such a musical background, it is perhaps understandable that Ferde became proficient over a remarkable range of instruments including piano (his favored instrument), violin, viola (he became a violist in the Los Angeles Symphony), baritone horn, alto horn, and cornet. This command of musical instruments and composition gave Ferde the foundation to later become first an arranger of other composers’ music and then an orchestrator of his own compositions.

Grofé left home at the age of fourteen and variously worked as a milkman, truck driver, usher, newsboy, elevator operator, helper in a book bindery, iron factory worker, and as a piano player in a bar for two dollars a night and as an accompanist.


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