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Notions of the universal and spiritual in Percy Grainger’s early British folk-song settings

Forbes, AM ORCID: 0000-0002-0856-9168 2018 , 'Notions of the universal and spiritual in Percy Grainger’s early British folk-song settings' , Nineteenth Century Music Review , pp. 1-20 , doi: 10.1017/S1479409817000581.

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Abstract

Between 1905 and 1908 Percy Grainger made a major contribution to the corpus of British folk-song, collecting melodies and words of ballads, shanties and work songs, and devoting himself not just to the faithful capture of pitch and rhythm, but also the nuances of performance, with his pioneering use of the phonograph. These folk-songs became for Grainger a wellspring of compositional inspiration to which he returned time and time again. Yet while he was still a student in Frankfurt, Grainger had been making settings of British traditional tunes sourced from published collections. This article contends that these early arrangements hold the key to a deeper understanding of his later persistence in folk-song arranging and collecting, and that they prefigure the recurrent textual themes in the songs he later chose to arrange. It is argued that Grainger’s attraction to folk-song was textual and musical, tied to notions of purity, freedom and an unorthodox spirituality inspired by nature and shaped by the writings of Whitman, whereby Grainger perceived folk-song as a universal utterance. For Grainger, British folk-song was not simply a source of profound melody for appropriation; the window into a nation’s soul became a door into the souls of all humanity.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Forbes, AM
Keywords: Grainger, folk-song, spirituality, Whitman, universality
Journal or Publication Title: Nineteenth Century Music Review
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISSN: 1479-4098
DOI / ID Number: 10.1017/S1479409817000581
Copyright Information:

© Cambridge University Press 2018

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