Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.” Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age. He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918. He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers. His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, Children’s March and Molly on the Shore.
Grainger originally wrote Molly on the Shore in a 1907 string setting as birthday gift for his mother (who exerted perhaps an undue influence on him during her lifetime). The wind band setting is but one of many, and it appeared in 1920. Two quotes about this piece illustrate the uniqueness of Grainger’s approach to music:
In setting Molly on the Shore I strove to imbue the accompanying parts that made up the harmonic texture with a melodic character not too unlike that of the underlying reel tune. Melody seems to me to provide music with an initiative, whereas rhythm appears to me to exert an enslaving influence. For that reason I have tried to avoid rhythmic domination in my music — always excepting irregular rhythms, such as those of Gregorian Chant, which seem to me to make for freedom. Equally with melody I prize discordant harmony, because of the emotional and compassionate sway it exerts.
One of the reasons why things of mine like Molly on the Shore and Shepherd’s Hey are good is because there is so little gaiety and fun in them. While other composers would have been jolly in setting such dance tunes, I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.
So what does the internet have to say about Molly on the Shore? Plenty!
Molly on Wikipedia
David Goza’s informative essay entitled “Molly on the Shore: a Minor Miracle”.
As a novelty item, Molly arranged for band and 4 marimbas.
Version for alto sax and piano arranged by Paul Cohen, with excellent program note on the page.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Watch a video of a great performance in the meantime:
Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.
International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there. They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.
Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.
Finally, a listen to Grainger himself playing Molly on the Shore on the piano: