|Lyrics for each song can be accessed by following the links in the playlist above.|
All selections traditional, arr. John Roberts & Tony Barrand, except Rufford Park Poachers and A Fair Maid Walking, arr. Lisa Preston. Special thanks to Lisa for help and advice with several of the other arrangements.
We are particularly indebted to Patrick O'Shaughnessy, whose four songbooks, Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk-Songs, More Folk Songs from Lincolnshire, and Yellowbelly Ballads, Part One and Part Two, made this project feasible; and to Bill Leader for Unto Brigg Fair (Leader LEA 4050), an LP release of some of Grainger's original recordings made in 1908.
Recorded and mixed at Soundesign, Brattleboro, VT
A few years ago we were invited to take part in a weekend festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the School of Music at Salem College was hosting a festival honoring the memory of Percy Grainger. Participants included Frederick Fennell, founder and former director of the Eastman School of Music Wind Ensemble, a longtime popularizer of Grainger's compositions; Stewart Manville, archivist of the Percy Grainger Library in White Plains, New York; Nigel Coxe, a concert pianist with an all-Grainger recording among his credits; and Barbara Lister-Sink, also a pianist, and Dean of the Salem College School of Music. Our role was to present a program of some of the folksongs Grainger collected in England during the early 1900s, many of which he subsequently used in his own arrangements and compositions. This recording is an extension of that project.
In his day Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was an enormously popular concert pianist, and a highly original composer. His talent was recognized early on in his native Australia, and in 1895 his mother took him to Germany to study in Frankfurt, then on to England six years later. Influenced by some of the English colleagues he had befriended in Germany and by English composers such as Vaughan Williams, Grainger developed a keen interest in folksong. In the search for an English national style, many among the musical avant-garde considered traditional folksong as something of a Holy Grail. They felt that, while other countries in Europe had their own "national" music, most English composers were imitating German, French or Italian styles in their works. Indeed, Handel, England's most famous composer, had been German by birth and disposition. As a remedy for the situation, the old folksongs which had been passed down through successive generations of the English peasantry were viewed as a stimulating new source of musical inspiration. But these songs seemed destined for rapid extinction. The ways of the industrial revolution had replaced those of the stable, rural, agrarian society. The chain of oral transmission had been broken, and what remained of the once-vibrant folksong tradition was apparently preserved only in the fading memories of a few aged and unlettered rustics. The race was on to visit the workhouses where these repositories of the communal memory were closing out their lives, and to note down the songs before they disappeared completely.
Grainger espoused the cause of English folksong with his characteristic energetic enthusiasm. Along with Frank Kidson and Lucy Broadwood, both folksong collectors and stalwarts of the Folk Song Society, he attended the North Lincolnshire Musical Competition Festival of 1905 in the market town of Brigg. Among the events was a folksong competition won by Joseph Taylor, who was to become the best of Grainger's source singers. Grainger noted a number of songs in Brigg, some of which were published in the next issue of the Folk Song Journal. The following year, not satisfied with the simplified "on-the-fly" notations he was making on the spot with paper and pencil, Grainger purchased an Edison wax cylinder recorder and resolved to start afresh. In July of 1906 he returned to Lincolnshire with his recording equipment and collected extensively in the Brigg area; hiking through the countryside with his cumbersome load, he recorded as much as he could find.
Grainger felt that the use of the phonograph, which made possible more precise and accurate notations, would lead to a more scientific approach to the study of folksong melody. He published some of his new transcriptions in the Folk Song Journal of 1908. These were extremely detailed and attempted to capture on paper as many different aspects of the performance as possible. Where other collectors published a simple melodic line for one verse only, Grainger transcribed the whole song with precise grace notes, melodic and rhythmic variations from verse to verse, and even phonetics to indicate subtleties of accent and dialect in the text. However, the results of his efforts were not received as enthusiastically as they might have been, and some society stalwarts even viewed him as a bit of an eccentric. Grainger was always a man ahead of his time. Today, thanks to his labors, not only do we have his detailed notations revealing so much about folksong style and performance, but we also have his recordings enabling us to experience these performances for ourselves.
At the outbreak of World War I, Grainger moved with his mother to America, where he was received enthusiastically as a concert pianist. When America joined in the war, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a bandsman, consequently scoring many of his compositions for wind band ensemble. Grainger saw himself primarily as a composer rather than as a pianist; he used his career as a performer more to support his composing rather than as an end in itself. He continued to use the folk material he had collected: his all-time best-seller, Country Gardens, is a piano arrangement of an English Morris Dance tune. His best-known composition for band, the Lincolnshire Posy (1937), uses six Lincolnshire folksongs as its thematic material.
Grainger's main published contribution to folksong scholarship is in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, No.12 (1908). This contains his transcriptions of a number of the Lincolnshire songs and of several shanties, as well as a detailed rationale for collecting with the phonograph and character sketches of some of his singers. In this article he proposed the rudiments of a theory of modal folk-scales, that singers tended to sing in "one single loosely-knit modal folk-song scale" rather than casting their songs in separate and distinct modes. The powers-that-be were sceptical: "The Editing Committee, in considering Mr. Grainger's theories which are based on most careful observations, wish to point out that the general experience of collectors goes to show that English singers most rarely alter their mode in singing the same song."
A good selection of Grainger's and the Gramophone Company's original recordings, remastered for LP record, can be heard on Unto Brigg Fair, Leader Records LEA 4050 (1972), one side of which is devoted entirely to the singing of Joseph Taylor. This record also has excellent notes.
There have been a number of biographies of Percy Grainger. For a fascinating introduction, we recommend Percy Grainger: The Pictorial Biography by Robert Simon (SD Publications, Winston-Salem, 1987). This also contains a good bibliography.
All of the songs we sing here can be found in the series of books edited by Patrick O'Shaughnessy: Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk-Songs, More Folk Songs From Lincolnshire (Oxford University Press 1967, 1970) and Yellowbelly Ballads, Part One and Part Two, (Lincolnshire & Humberside Arts, 1975). Mr. O'Shaughnessy did a magnificent job editing these volumes, in which most of the songs come from Grainger's collection. We have drawn heavily on the thorough and painstaking research that went into these works, both in the presentation of the songs and in their annotations. We cannot recommend these books highly enough.
One of the major characteristics of folksongs is their constant state of change. As folksingers, we have not tried to duplicate the performances on the original cylinders. We are singing songs here that over the thirty years we have been performing together have become part and parcel of our repertoire. Some of them we have known and sung for almost all of that time; others we have learned more recently. In making our choice of material from Grainger's extensive collection, we decided to include all the songs featured in the Lincolnshire Posy (Rufford Park Poachers, A Fair Maid Walking, The Lost Lady Found, Horkstow Grange, William Taylor, and Lord Melbourne). Apart from that slight constraint, we have chosen the songs that we like to sing, done in the way that we like to sing them. This is not an archive recording of songs sung just for their folkloric significance: it is a reflection of our belief in the vibrancy, character, and immediacy of these songs, gathered together here in an attempt to express our debt to Grainger for saving them the way he did, and for giving us the opportunity to hear them in much the way as he heard them from their original singers. In Grainger's preface to the score of Lincolnshire Posy he dedicates that work "to the old folksingers, who sang so sweetly to me. Indeed, each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who sang its underlying melody-a musical portrait of the singer's personality no less than his habits of song." Grainger's efforts in the field of folksong have profoundly affected our habits of song, and we fondly dedicate this musical portrait to his memory, and to those who strive to keep that memory alive.
In a 1926 Success Magazine article, Grainger wrote:
"in the folk-song there is to be found the complete history of a people, recorded by the race itself, through the heartoutbursts of its healthiest output. It is a history compiled with deeper feeling and more understanding than can be found among the dates and data of the greatest historian"
Here, then, is our selection of these "heartoutbursts," as Grainger termed them. Characteristically, even in his language he broke new ground to express the poignancy and eloquence of these old songs, which he strove to preserve as a lasting testament to the spirit of mankind.
Seventeen Come Sunday
The White Hare
Rufford Park Poachers
The Gypsy's Wedding Day
A Fair Maid Walking
The Lost Lady Found
Sprig of Thyme
Riding Down to Portsmouth
Died for Love
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