Percy Grainger: Lincolnshire Posy
Percy Grainger was commissioned by the American Bandmasters Association in 1937 to write a work for a concert band. The final product was named Lincolnshire Posy, a work that is considered to be one of Grainger’s finest work. The work is comprised of six movements with each one showcasing a different folk song that Grainger found whilst he was exploring Lincolnshire in 1906. Lincolnshire Posy was premiered by the Milwaukee Symphonic band in March 1937.
As aforementioned, Lincolnshire Posy is based on a collection of Lincolnshire-centric folk tunes. Grainger, unlike many of his contemporaries, decided to not modernise the tunes, but instead maintained their style in the work. Grainger wrote more on this:
“Each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who sang the underlying melody. A musical portrait of the singer’s personality no less than his habits of song – his regular or irregular interpretation of the rhythm, his preference for gaunt or ornately arabesques delivery, his contrasts of legato and staccato, his tendency towards breadth or delicacy of tone. This work is dedicated to the bunch of Wildflowers – the old folk singers who sang so sweetly to me.”
Movement I – Lisbon
The shortest of the six movements, Lisbon is comprised of a simple melody in 6/8 time. Muted trumpets lead the way at the start of the movement, with the horns and bassoons also joining in. The jaunty melody is repeated throughout the movement, with the horns and trumpets then quoting another work by Grainger called The Duke of Marlborough. The final repetition of the melody is augmented and ends the work quietly.
Movement II – Horkstow Grange
In a similar form to the first movement, Horkstow Grange’s main theme is introduced by the clarinets. The time fluctuates between 4/4 and 5/4, which adds an interesting element to the development of the melody. A central cornet solo leads this lyrical movement into the richest section of the movement. This movement, perhaps the most famous in concert band repertory, is considered one of the best-written and best-orchestrated works in the genre. The build up in texture and volume after the cornet solo leads to an explosive climax that begins to die away as this gorgeous movement comes to its conclusion.
Movement III – Rufford Park Poachers
Grainger had met folk singer Joseph Taylor whilst travelling around Lincolnshire, with this movement representing his style of singing. The asymmetrical melody between the piccolo flute and clarinet leads the opening section of this movement. Full of unusual rhythm structures and devilish counterpoint, this movement is regarded as one of the most difficult to perform. A central soprano saxophone solo begins to change the character of the music as the impending climax grows throughout the ensemble. The mysterious atmosphere carries throughout the entirety of this movement, with the piccolo making a return at the end.
Movement IV – The Brisk Young Sailor
The jaunty opening to this merry movement depicts a young man confidently walking up the road to meet his sweetheart. The fast and decorative upper wind passages add sparkle to the melody, which moves between the lower winds and brass. The baritone solo is at the heart of this movement, with its rich tone sitting comfortably in the middle of the range. This peppy movement finishes with a reprise of the opening material before concluding on an unexpected dissonant chord.
Movement V – Lord Melbourne
This powerful war song, originally called The Duke of Marlboro, is one of the boldest in the piece. The fiery brass opening leads to a trumpet solo. This movement, similar to others, changes time signature often, with Lord Melbourne going between 5/8 and 3/8. Grainger’s use of dissonance is at its most obvious in this movement, with the bombastic free-time brass chords overriding all other aspects of this movement.
Movement VI – The Lost Lady Found
The memorable 3/4 melody begins the finale movement and is based on the ballad of the same name which depicts a lady who, whilst living with her uncle, is kidnapped by gypsies. After she is missing for a long time, the villages begin to think that her uncle is to blame for her going missing. They later imprison him and sentence him to death. In the future, the young lady is found in Dublin by a young squire, who brings her back to the village. Mere moments from murdering her uncle, the villager realise their error and set the man free just in time. The lady’s return can be heard by the chiming bells from the percussion. Full of frivolity and excitement, The Lost Lady Found is a thrilling way to end this six-movement suite.
Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy encapsulates the character of tradition folk songs from the area to tell a story of love, lust, loss and frivolity.
Ⓒ Alex Burns