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Articles:Danny Deaver

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Danny Deever by Percy Aldridge Grainger/arr. Chalon Ragsdale
A Formal Analysis and Comparison of Orchestrational Techniques

by John Ginocchio

The wind music of Percy Aldridge Grainger has been accepted as an integral part of the modern wind band repertoire. Although many of Grainger’s works were originally composed for genres other than wind band, his transcriptions of these works have been highly successful. Chalon Ragsdale recently published a transcription of Danny Deever (Aux Arcs Music, 2004), a composition written by Grainger for voices and piano or orchestra. Because this piece has only recently been added to the wind band repertoire, little has been written about the work. The purpose of this article is to briefly describe the origin of the piece, provide a formal analysis of the work, and compare Ragsdale’s transcription and orchestrational techniques to those found in transcriptions by Grainger himself.


Danny Deever is based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Grainger considered Kipling one of his greatest cultural heroes, and he composed more than fifty settings of Kipling’s works. Danny Deever is number 12 of Grainger’s Kipling Settings and was dedicated to his mother.

Grainger began sketching this setting in July of 1903, but it wasn’t until February, 1922, that the score was finally completed. This version, scored for men’s double chorus and piano or for baritone solo, men’s chorus, and piano, was the basis of the first published edition by Schott in 1924. That same year a manuscript of the orchestra score was written by Grainger. Instrumentation included: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, double-bassoon, 4 saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, euphonium, tuba, kettledrums, side-drums, bass drum, cymbals, and strings. Unfortunately this score and the parts were never made available. In fact, it is possible that the orchestral version has never been performed.2

Form and Analysis

Like many works that Grainger derived from poetry and folk songs, Danny Deever is written in a modified strophic form; however, due to the unique structure of this poem many distinct differences can be found between this setting and Grainger’s other strophic works. Like the poem itself, the music alternates between four verses and four refrains. The piece is centered around the key of C dorian, although verses one, two, and three appear to emphasize F mixolydian, and the fourth verse, emphasizes C mixolydian before returning to C dorian for the final refrain.

As one would expect, refrains are similar throughout the piece. The tonality of each refrain is C dorian, and each refrain begins with the alternation of a C minor chord and an A-flat major #11 chord. This alternation, in straight quarter notes, creates a swaying feel to the accompaniment. The second half of each refrain briefly refers to E-flat major, but then resolves to C dorian. The final stanza of the refrain features pairs of descending parallel tritones. The parallel tritone feature is in each refrain except the fourth, and in each instance, correlates with the text, “hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.” Figure 1 shows the harmonic structure of the second refrain in relation to the lyrics.

Despite Grainger’s use of parallel tritones, the refrains in this piece are relatively typical in their structure and flow. In contrast, the narrative format of the lyrics in the verses results in an unusual trading pattern. Each verse consists of four stanzas, and each stanza has two parts, the dialogue of a specific character (or characters) and the attribution of that dialogue to the character(s). In both the original and Ragsdale’s transcription the dialogue and the attribution are each performed by different a different segment of the ensemble. Each stanza constitutes two measures of music resulting in verses of 8 measures in length. This rapid alternation of the orchestration creates a somewhat uneven feel to the verses. However, Grainger adds regularity to this alternation through repeated harmonic patterns. In verses one and three, the four dialogue phrases outline a progression of F major, F major, c minor, and F major. Verse four follows a similar pattern but is written a perfect fifth higher, and verse two is slightly different in that it begins with c minor, before going to F major, c minor, and ending with an a half-diminished seven. In each verse the attribution motives follow a consistent harmonic pattern. The first and third attributions utilize an A-flat major 7, G major 7, & C half-diminished 7 progression, while the second and fourth attributions use C minor, A-flat major 9, & G minor. Only slight variations occur at the end of verse two and in the middle of verse four. Figure 2 shows the harmonic structure of verse one in relation to the lyrics and orchestration.

Comparison of Orchestration Techniques

With a basic formal and harmonic structure determined, greater attention can be paid to the comparison Ragsdale’s transcription and the wind transcriptions by Grainger himself. In his book, Orchestrational Archetypes in Percy Grainger’s Wind Band Music, Brian Scott Wilson describes several techniques used by Grainger in the orchestration of his band works. The techniques that Wilson describes are not found in all of Grainger’s wind band works, nor should they be expected to be found in every wind piece; nonetheless, his list of common orchestration techniques is a fitting foundation for a comparison of the techniques used by Ragsdale in Danny Deever.

Melodic Settings

Wilson found that in writing solo lines, Grainger often wrote solo parts for the trumpet.3 Ragsdale also uses solo trumpet in Danny Deever. One example is from the end of verse four after Danny Deever has been hung. In response to the file’s question, “What’s that that wimpers over head?” the colour sergeant replies by way of the trumpet solo, “It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now.”

One technique commonly used by Grainger for accompaniments to solo lines is what Wilson calls “piano style chords.”4 This technique involves the simultaneous playing of harmonic lines similar to the voicings of a piano part. Ragsdale also uses this technique. With the opening euphonium solo, Ragsdale writes “piano style chords” for the bassoons, low register clarinets, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet.

In Wilson’s discussion of melodic writing for multiple unisons, two octave doublings, and three octave doublings, he focuses on common pairings of instruments within ranges. His research points to common doublings within high, middle, and low melodic ranges. For high range melodies, Wilson found two common pairings; the high flute timbre with high E-flat clarinet and the high clarinet timbre with oboe (flute is also often added to this pair). In the middle range, the most common pairing is that of mid-range clarinet and oboe timbres. The final doubling which is common in lower range melodic material is low range clarinet with English horn.5 Grainger often would combine these doublings to create two and three octave melodic textures.

Ragsdale uses many of the same doublings in his transcription of Danny Deever. One such example can be found in measures 77 to 80 of Danny Deever. Ragsdale uses a three octave melodic texture. The highest octave uses the flute, oboes, and first clarinet with the piccolo reinforcing it an octave higher. The next octave is played by the English horn, first bassoon, second clarinet, third clarinet, and French horns. The lowest octave is played by the bass clarinet and euphonium.

The final melodic setting examined by Wilson is harmonized octave melodic textures. In these settings, Wilson found that Grainger continued to use similar core pairings, but he would often use similar pairings for both the melody and harmony line in each octave.6 Ragsdale also uses similar voices to harmonize melodies; however, he uses different instrument pairings and fuller harmonizations in Danny Deever. One example can be found in the attribution phrases of verse 2 (measures 23-30) which utilize French horns and trombones.

Countermelodic Settings

In addition to considering melodic settings, Wilson also examined Grainger’s treatment of countermelodies. His findings indicate that countermelodies are most commonly found in the mid-range around the octave of middle C.7 Additionally, the most commonly used grouping of instruments for countermelodies are the oboe, with trumpet and soprano or alto sax. Often this grouping is reinforced with clarinets or French horns. This combination of instruments is so common that Wilson goes as far as to state,

The continual use of oboes, soprano sax, cornet, horns, and baritone as countermelodic color…becomes a stylistic trait throughout all his wind band music.8

Although there are very few countermelodies in Danny Deever, Ragsdale uses this core group of instruments for one prominent example. This short motif in measures 51 and 52 heralds the beginning of the third refrain in which Danny Deever is marched to the gallows. Ragsdale writes this motif for oboes, clarinets, soprano sax, and trumpets.

Part Writing Techniques

The next set of techniques discussed by Wilson relate to part writing techniques used by Grainger. Wilson identifies one of these techniques as “meandering parts.” This involves the writing of parts for a single instrument that weave between accompaniment, countermelodic, and melodic parts of a piece.9 One example of meandering parts found in Ragsdale’s transcription of Danny Deever is in measures 64-70. The French horns and euphonium weave between melodic and accompaniment parts as well as dialogue and attribution phrases.

Another part writing technique discussed by Wilson is the use of parallel fifths, primarily in low woodwinds.10 There are no true examples of parallel fifths used in Danny Deever; however, a similar effect is created by near parallel motion between the bassoons and string bass in measures 11-16. In this part, intervals alternate between perfect 5ths and minor 6ths.

Contrapuntal Dynamics

The final orchestration technique discussed by Wilson is Grainger’s use of contrapuntal dynamics. In these instances, different voices crescendo and decrescendo at varying times and rates to create different timbral effects.11 Ragsdale also uses contrapuntal dynamics in Danny Deever. One example comes from the end of the second refrain in measures 36-41.


In comparing Chalon Ragsdale’s transcription of Danny Deever to transcriptions by Grainger himself, it is important to remember that although Grainger may have regularly used specific orchestration techniques, no single piece exhibited all of the techniques described by Brian Scott Wilson. In this spirit, it should be expected that any authentic transcription of Grainger’s music should use some of these techniques, although no work should be expected to contain every technique.

Chalon Ragsdale has succeeded in writing a transcription of Danny Deever that is very true to what Grainger might have conceived himself. Ragsdale uses many of the timbral combinations common in Grainger’s wind writing including the common pairing of oboe and clarinet for high and middle range melodies; the use of low clarinets with English horn for lower range melodies; and the combination of oboe, saxophones, and trumpet for countermelodic material. Ragsdale also uses solo voices such as trumpet and euphonium regularly found in Grainger’s wind music. Although the formal structure made it difficult to use some of Grainger’s part writing techniques, Ragsdale manages to effectively utilize “meandering parts” and an adaptation of the “parallel 5ths” motion within this transcription. Finally, Ragsdale’s attention to the use of dynamics is true to Grainger’s appreciation for their potential for both expressive and timbral effect. In closing, any lover of the wind music of Percy Grainger will find Danny Deever to be a welcome addition to the wind band repertoire.

End Notes

1. Mellers, Wilfrid. Oxford Studies of Composers: Percy Grainger. (Oxford University Press: New York, 2001), 18-29.

2. Dreyfus, Kay. Percy Grainger’s Kipling Settings: A Study of the Manuscript Sources. (University of West Australia: Nedlands, Western Australia, 1980), 90-91.

3. Wilson, Brian Scott. Orchestrational Archetypes in Percy Grainger’s Wind Band Music. (The Edwin Mellen Press: Lewiston, NY, 2002), 7.

4. Ibid., 7.

5. Ibid., 8-27.

6. Ibid., 30.

7. Ibid., 47.

8. Ibid., 42.

9. Ibid., 50.

10. Ibid., 60.

11. Ibid., 63.

Figure 1

Harmonic Analysis and Lyrics of Danny Deever Refrain Two

   …hangin’   Danny         Deever,    they are       marchin’  ‘im      a-round.      They ‘ave
   cm          Ab#11         cm           Ab#11         cm      Ab#11         cm         Ab#11
   ‘alted     Danny         Deever    by ‘is       coffin    on the        ground;     an ‘e’ll
    cm        Ab#11         cm          Ab#11        cm        Ab#11         cm         Ab#11
   swing in   ‘arf a       minute    for a    sneakin’   shootin’   hound.    O’ they’re 
   cm          Ab#11        cm        Eb7       Ab           Eb        gm7        Gb7      
   hangin’   Danny   Deever   in the   morn-------------------------in’. 
   Cb7         Eb7     f7        Eb7     G/Db       F/B      Eb/A     D/Ab   Eb7 bb½dim7 Eb7 bb½dim7 Eb7 A/Eb G/Db F/B E/Bb   

Figure 2

Harmonic Analysis, Lyrics, and Orchestration of Danny Deever Verse One

Dialogue						Attribution
(euphonium solo/clarinet & bassoon harmonies)		(bassoon, saxes, French horns, marimba)
 ‘What are the bugles blowin’ for?’ 				said Files  on Par-ade.
   F         c7                F				   Ab7   G7        c½dim7
 ‘To turn you out, to turn you out,’ 				the Colour Sergeant said.
   F7        Eb7     C9          F				   c          Ab9        g
 ‘What makes you look so white, so white?’ 			said Files on Par-ade.
   c9                            eb				    Ab7  G7       c½dim7

 ‘I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,’ 			the Colour Sergeant said.
   F            a½dim7   Ab7    a½dim7			         c          Ab7         g

Figure 3

Errata for Danny Deever, transcribed by Chalon Ragsdale

Measure of error			Instrument 				Correct note
Measure 1, beat 3		Marimba 1 (bottom)			G flat
Measure 39, beat 2		Marimba 2 (bottom)			G natural
Measure 47, beat 3		Bassoon 1				B natural
Measure 84, beat 1		Trombone 1				C flat
Measure 85, beat 1		Marimba 2 (bottom)			E flat
Measure 85, beat 2		Trombone 2				G flat

Figure 4

Lyrics for Danny Deever

‘What are the bugles blowin’ for?’ said Files on Parade.
‘To turn you out, to turn you out,’ the Colour Sergeant said.
‘What makes you look so white, so white?’ said Files on Parade.
‘I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,’ the Colour Sergeant said.

For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The regiment’s in ‘ollow square – they’re hangin’ him today;
They’ve taken of his buttons off and cut his stripes away,
An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What makes the rear rank breathe so ‘ard?’ said Files on Parade.
‘It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold,’ the Colour Sergeant said.
‘What makes that front rank man fall down?’ says Files on Parade.
‘A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,’ the Colour Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ‘im around.
They ‘ave ‘alted Danny Deever by ‘is coffin on the ground;
An ‘e’ll swing in ‘arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound
O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘’Is cot was right ‘and cot to mine,’ said Files on Parade.
‘’E’s sleepin’ out an ‘far tonight,’ the Colour Sergeant said.
‘I’ve drunk ‘is beer a score o’ times,’ said Files on Parade.
‘’E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,’ the Colour Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,
For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ you must look ‘im in the face;
Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the regiment’s disgrace,
While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What’s that so black agin the sun?’ said Files on Parade.
‘It’s Danny fightin’ ‘ard for life,’ the Colour Sergeant said.
‘What’s that that whimpers over ‘ead?’ said Files on Parade.
‘It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,’ the Colour Sergeant said.

For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ‘ear the quickstep play,
The regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
Ho! The young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer today,
After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.