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.
Lincolnshire Posy is considered to be Grainger’s masterwork for wind band. It is based on folk songs that he and Lucy Broadwood collected in Lincolnshire in 1905-06. He intended it as a collection of “musical wildflowers” reflective not only of the songs but of the singers who sang them to Grainger and their personalities. Thus style plays a big role in each movement. Grainger uses every compositional device at his disposal to great effect: harmonies move unpredictably, meter is unstable or absent, countermelodies creep in and out of prominence, melodies go willfully in and out of phase, all in service of the singer’s implied interpretation of each folk tune. Grainger recorded each singer on wax cylinders, using those recordings as reference to faithfully recreate each tune. He began the process of assembling the various tunes into Lincolnshire Posy in 1937. It was premiered by the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer factory worker’s band in Milwaukee that same year on March 7. This premier was incomplete: as is often the case today, the PBR band was not up to the challenge of the harder movements.
Lincolnshire Posy has its own wikipedia entry, which mentions quite a few fun facts about it. This page used to host the lyrics to each of the original folk songs, but they have sadly disappeared. Instead, you’ll have to turn to individual sites for each movement:
II. “Horkstow Grange”
III. “Rufford Park Poachers”
IV. “The Brisk Young Sailor” (also known as “A Fair Maid Walking”)
V. “Lord Melbourne”
VI. “Lost Lady Found”
The score of the Frederick Fennell edition of Lincolnshire Posy features an extensive program note that is a true treasure-trove of Grainger-isms. It can be found in its entirety, along with extensive bonus material, here.
There are an incredible number of performances of Lincolnshire Posy on YouTube. Most of them are no good, but thankfully Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble and their classic recording of the piece have made their way onto YouTube:
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, I know this is already up on the other Grainger pages, but it’s just so good:
For an insight into Grainger the performer, here is a piano roll that he recorded (live) of Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt: