Percy Grainger ('Ycrep Regniarg' backwards) considered himself foremost a choral composer and yet it his orchestral miniatures that have enjoyed the most exposure to date.
During his early years at the Hoch Conservatory, he heard Roger Quilter read “The Song of Solomon” aloud and was enthralled by Quilter’s voice and the words he heard spoken. Another influence was the poetry of Rudyard Kipling who works he had been introduced to by his father, John Grainger who sent him a parcel of Kipling books in an attempt to ‘tickle up the British lion in him’.
Of all the authors and poets that Grainger encountered, none had such a profound effect on his development as a composer than Kipling. He knew he wanted to set those words, and many of the other poems he knew and loved to music. He had the interest, the talent, and the developing musical skills. His fellow student at the Hoch Conservatory, Cyril Scott wrote of Grainger in 1916: He began to show a harmonic modernism which was astounding in so young a boy, and at times excruciating to our pre-Debussyan ears. At sixteen he had in fact developed a style, and that style was the outcome of a discovery, and a literary discovery, not a musical one; for he had discovered Rudyard Kipling, and, from that writer he imbibed an essence and translated it into music.
But the confidence? Not so much as he would compose some of his first choral works (Three Folktunes: Near Woodstock Town, O Mistress Mine (Morley) and A Song of Vermeland) under the pseudonym of Ycrep Regniarg, (the composer’s name spelled backwards). Of the three, only the Swedish ‘Vermelands Visa’ was published by the Vincent Music Company with funding provided by Roger Quilter.
It was shortly after Grainger’s arrival in London in 1901 that he began to organise what he described as ‘choral meetings’ to run through his latest compositions and those of friends such as Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott, Balfour Gardiner and Herman Sandby. The first performances Grainger ever heard of his own music were of five choral settings at the home of his patron Lilith Lowrey in 1903 (those mentioned above as well as some others which were also published by the Vincent Music Company.)
But it was not until Grainger’s folk-fishing trip to Lincolnshire that his skills were further developed. In this fruitful period he composed many of what were to become his British Folk-Music Settings including two versions of Six Dukes Went a Fishin’, The Gipsy’s Wedding Day and I’m Seventeen Come Sunday amongst numerous others whilst developing his choral composing skills along the way. A year later he composed perhaps his most well-known choral work Brigg Fair.
It was also through his choral music that he established two of the most important friendships of his life, those with Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg. In an article called ‘Percy Grainger: The Music and the Man’ his fellow student and friend Cyril Scott wrote: That Grainger is a choral writer of exceptional power, those people who know his works at all are aware… Grainger has, in fact, a choral technique which only the initiated can divine, for he manages to draw effects from a chorus which have remained latent heretofore, and the choral writers that will come after his day will owe him a debt in the field of technique.
Join Barry Ould, in a discussion of the early choral music, its history and its place in Grainger’s composition work. The interactive zoom discussion will begin with a brief history of the early choral works, the context in which they were created, and how Grainger presented and used them to include the melodies spinning in his head. Q&A will follow the brief presentation.
It is suggested participants review the tracks on CD 8 (of 21) of Chandos’ The Complete Grainger Edition, 60 Years, 1961-2021 before the meeting.
The zoom link will be provided after registration, this is a (free) membership meeting for the Percy Grainger Society, nonmembers, $10. If you are unable to attend, the zoom link will be available for one week. The link will permanently exist in the membership area of www.percygrainger.org
Barry Peter Ould, Huntly, Aberdeenshire, was co-founder of the Percy Grainger Society (UK) with Professor David Tall. In 1984, Barry took over the editorship of the Grainger Society Journal with Vol. 6. In 1987, he established the music publishing company, Bardic Edition, and under this imprint many new Grainger works have been published. He acted as musical consultant to the Chandos Grainger Edition (1998–2003) as well as writing the extensive liner notes.