I always enjoy hearing from readers about possible topics for this column. While at the NFA convention this summer, I asked a young piccolo player if there were any works he would like to learn more about. He quickly answered Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. This classic work for wind ensemble was composed in 1937. It is scored for two flutes and one piccolo and is 16 minutes long.
The work is sometimes performed in an incomplete fashion omitting the more difficult third and fifth movements, which were also omitted at the premiere of the work. Each movement is adapted from folk songs that Grainger recorded on a trip to Lincolnshire, England, between 1905-1906. Grainger was one of the first to introduce the use of the wax cylinder phonograph for the collection and transcription of folk songs to the English Folk Song Society. He attempted to capture the exact nuances of each individual singer and called the collection a “bunch of Musical Wildflowers” (hence the name posy which translates as a small bouquet).
The third movement, Rufford Park Poachers, features the piccolo in a prominent line. There are two versions of this movement. Version A features either flugelhorn or cornet and Version B features soprano saxophone. Grainger himself actually preferred the soprano sax instrumentation writing, “That is if the player has enough assurance to throb forth this melody with searching, piercing prominence. This solo was written partly in the hopes of convincing bandsmen of the supreme desirability of this glorious instrument.”
Grainger was one of the first composers to use flexible band scoring, allowing for differences in ensemble personnel. The long sax or flugelhorn solo starts at rehearsal 18, where the piccolo is asked to sustain a long C within the staff (30 measures). It is wise to enlist another player to cover while the piccolo player takes a breath so the long line is not disturbed. If that is not possible, try to breathe discreetly under the soloist.
Each version is written using different instrumentation. In version A, the piccolo doubles the line in unison with the Bb clarinet. The canonic voices that overlap in this version are Eb clarinet doubling bass clarinet.
In version B the piccolo player is asked to double the unison line with the alto clarinet, which seems to have a reputation for rather questionable intonation, so the part is cued in the bass clarinet and often performed this way (remember Grainger wrote with flexible scoring options in mind). The other line is played by oboe and bassoon doubling together.
These different instrument combinations also require different keys which in turn affect the harmonic relationships of the other sections of the piece.Aside from the possible intonation problems of doubling another instrument in the unison line (either Bb clarinet, alto clarinet or bass clarinet) the main difficulty with this movement is the rhythm. Although the time signatures shift from 4/8 to 5/8 to 3/4, the eighth-note pulse remains constant. This asymmetrical melody is written two eighth- notes apart in canon all the way through so it is important to subdivide carefully and not deviate from the steady pulse. The grace notes should resemble vocal inflections, so play them ahead of the beat and with lyric grace.
The dynamics seem to follow the natural rise and fall of the melody and get louder as the melody goes up, much as a vocalist would naturally inflect the line. Do not exaggerate the crescendo/diminuendo markings as it distorts this natural flow.
Movement 4, The Brisk Young Sailor, makes quite a case for practicing Bb major arpeggio patterns on a daily basis. The tempo is indeed quite brisk (about q = 104). The pattern in the second and third measures seems to be the most awkward. Practice it in small sections and do not linger over the first two notes (wide intervals in the pattern). It is helpful to practice the third and fourth notes, and sixth and first notes in pairs since they are also non-tertian patterns.
The thirds are more natural arpeggio patterns and are likely more familiar in muscle memory.
The fifth movement, Lord Melbourne, contains another piccolo solo that features 21⁄24 time. Keep the eighth note pulse constant and watch the conductor carefully during the sixteenth-note passages that are marked fast as you will take a slight accelerando here.
The final movement, The Lost Lady Found, is a dance that is conducted and felt in one.
The theme is presented at the beginning of the movement in a rather rustic and separated style. At rehearsal 50, the piccolo solo presents the same simple melody in a legato style. Gently tongue the repeated quarter-notes that occur so to hear the lilt of this melody (the articulation will happen on beat 2). Note that the dynamic is piano at 50. At 66, when the orchestration changes, the dynamic moves up to mp.
Grainger dedicated the work to “the old folksingers who sang so sweetly to me.” He also wrote a two piano/four hand version of the suite.
Percy Grainger was born in Australia. At age 13 he moved to Frankfurt to attend the Hoch Conservatory. He later went to London where he performed as a pianist and composer.
Grainger had been nothing less than a smashing success ever since the start of his European pianistic career in 1901, and tours to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, and Denmark, together with his steady emergence as a composer, had made him an outstanding young musical personality. (Frederick Fennell)
Grainger left England in 1914 for the United States to avoid the war raging in Europe. He had become interested in preserving and recording English folk songs in the preceding years.
Grainger did most of his folk song collecting in rural England during the summer months…. These folk song journeys began in the summer of 1905 with Grainger seeking out his sources by walking on foot from town to town, music pad in hand. He would hastily write down in his own kind of musical shorthand what he had heard, spending his evenings at the local inn transcribing the day’s discoveries. Skillful though he became at this, it bothered him that he could not immediately chart the subtleties of inflection that fascinated him so much in the highly personal interpretation of each singer…
On his next visit to North Lincolnshire in 1906, he fulfilled his desire to be 100% faithful to those he called “Kings and Queens of Song” by taking along one of Thomas Edison’s new cylinder-disc phonographs.
Excerpts from “Percy Aldridge Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, An Interpretive Analysis” by Frederick Fennell, The Instrumentalist, May 1980.