Percy Grainger: Willow Willow


Willow Willow was Percy Grainger’s first setting of a traditional tune, which was written for voice and piano in 1898. In years to come, Grainger wrote an orchestral version which featured strings and guitar with voice for the song, both versions are performed today, but more recently the orchestrated version has received some notable recordings. The words are familiar and come from Shakespeare’s Othello. 


The Lyrics

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,

Sing willow, willow, willow,

With his hand in his bosom and his head upon his knee,

O willow willow willow shall be my garland.

Sing all a green willow, willow, willow, willow;

Aye me the green willow must be my garland!

He sighed to his singing, and made a great moan,

Sing willow, willow, willow;

I am dead to all pleasure, my true love she is gone.

O willow willow willow shall be my garland.

Take this for my farewell and latest adieu,

Sing willow, willow, willow;

Write this on my tomb, that in love I was true.

O willow willow willow shall be my garland…


The Music

Lamenting after a lost love, the low voice enters after an elongated opening phase from the ensemble. The word ‘Willow’ is repeated a lot throughout the song, and sometimes the voice sighs through the word showing that feeling of lamenting and longing for something more. The slow-growing theme is rich in texture and with the added voices in the accompaniment, the low voice is able to soar. We find out a lot about this kind of ravishing and deep love throughout this song, with the tinge of sadness always pervading. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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