Folk Song Setting and Textual Symbolism in Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy

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  • Topic: Percy Grainger, Folk music, The Band
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  • Published : July 7, 2012
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Percy Grainger was a prolific composer and pianist in the 20th century. He is especially well known for his masterful compositions and pioneering for the literature of the wind band. Grainger’s works have taken on a variety of compositional approaches across a wide range of genres. His scorings, particularly for wind band, have been described as having “a rich sonority and color which compares favorably with any celebrated example of brilliant orchestration.”1 A majority of his works, specifically his wind band works, are characterized by their inclusion of folk song melodies as source material. Within his catalog of wind band compositions, Lincolnshire Posy stands out as a masterwork in the genre. While Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy included folk song sources as in his other compositions, it is his unique treatment of the folk song material that distinguishes this work from his other works and those of other composers. George Percy Aldridge Grainger was born in Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on July 8, 1882. His musical life began at the age of five when he began to take piano lessons with his mother, Rose. By the age of ten, Percy was advancing to the point that he had outgrown instruction from his mother. As Grainger’s life and musical career progressed, his studies brought him through Germany and Scotland before he arrived in England in 1901. Throughout this earlier period in his life, Grainger developed his folk song influence through the individuals with whom he studied. Karl Klimsche, one of Graingers teachers in Frankfurt, “revealed to Percy for the first time the beauties of English and Scottish folk-song.”2 Furthermore, Grainger once mentioned that Klimsch’s compositional theory was this: “If you have no theme or melody in your head, don’t compose at all. If you have a theme or melody, start off with it right away and the moment

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Richard Franko Goldman, The Concert Band (New York, Toronto: Rinehart & Company, 1946), John Bird, Percy Grainger (London: Elek Books Limited, 1976), 33.

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your melodic inspiration runs out stop your piece.”3 In 1915, Grainger and his mother moved to New York City. When America entered World War I, Percy enlisted as a bandsman and purchased a soprano saxophone.4 This experience likely served as the influence for Grainger’s propensity for wind band composition. The folk song influence on his compositions provides a characteristic quality that is unique to Grainger himself. What is also unique to Grainger was his method of folk song collection. Equipped with his backpack and an Edison-Bell Phonograph, Grainger roamed the English countryside sampling folk songs directly from the people. Grainger found this to be the most favorable method of collecting. An article by Grainger in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1908 outlines the benefits and process of collecting folk song samples with the phonograph. Grainger himself wrote: “I took records of over seventy songs and versions of songs in two days in Lincolnshire, and that without undue haste. But the quality of collecting opened up by the phonograph, is, perhaps, of even greater value than the quantity.” 5 The collection of folk songs is central to Grainger’s compositional method, and these songs are the melodic source of many of his greatest compositions. Until Lincolnshire Posy, Grainger’s folk song use was strictly for the melodic material. His Irish Tune from County Derry, which was set for military band in 1909, has internal lines that “reveal instinctively crafted counterpoint, colorful chromatic movement, and Grainger’s characteristic harmonic suspensions.”6 These qualities are also true of many other Grainger wind band works including Shepherd’s Hey and 3 4

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John Bird, Percy Grainger (London: Elek Books Limited, 1976), 33.

! Willis M. Rapp, "Percy Aldridge Grainger," in The Wind Band Masterworks of Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Grainger (Galesville, MD: Meredith Music...
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