Percy Aldridge Grainger was born in Brighton, Australia, and is best remembered as a pianist of great skill and a composer of many memorable tunes for piano.
The arrangement and compositional skills shown in his settings of many folk songs collected by him, as well as his original works for wind ensembles, are still considered pinnacles of achievement.
Grainger composed literature for winds – especially with an emphasis on the saxophone. He wrote a series of “Hillsongs,” arranged many Scottish folk songs, and perhaps is best known for his wind band masterpiece, Lincolnshire Posy – which is based on a collection of folksongs Grainger collected in Lincolnshire, England.
Grainger would often compose his music purposely out of tune or time in order to recreate the effect of the inaccurate and imprecise folksongs.
In his own program notes about Lincolnshire Posy, Grainger wrote:
“Why this cold-shouldering of the wind band by most composers? Is the wind band, with its varied assortments of reeds, so much richer than the reeds of the symphony orchestra, its complete saxophone family that is found nowhere else (to my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments – the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man’s own voice!), its army of brass, both wide-bore and narrow-bore, not the equal of any medium ever conceived? As a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems to be unrivalled.”
In a letter to Frederick Fennell, Grainger said that:
“In setting Molly on the Shore, I strove to imbue the accompanying parts that made up the harmonic texture with a melodic character not too unlike that of the underlying reel tune. Melody seems to me to provide music with initiative; whereas rhythm appears to me to exert an enslaving influence. For that reason I have tried to avoid regular rhythmic domination in my music – always excepting irregular rhythms, such as those of Gregorian Chant, which seem to me to make for freedom. Equally with melody, I prize discordant harmony, because of the emotional and compassionate sway it exerts.”