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Lads of Wamphray Ballad, The

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Percy Aldridge Grainger

Percy Aldridge Grainger (ed. Chalon Ragsdale)

Subtitle: Border Ballad for Chorus and Band

General Info

Year: 1905 / 2018
Duration: c. 8:00
Difficulty: V+ (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Aux Arcs Music
Cost: Score and Parts - Available July 2019


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II-III
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV-V-VI
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Euphonium I-II
Baritone I-II
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Battery (3 players)
  • Chimes
  • Marimba I-II-III-IV
  • Orchestra Chimes
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone



None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

While on sabbatical last year, University of Arkansas music professor Chal Ragsdale arranged a new edition of Lads of Wamphray Ballad -- a long-neglected ballad from the eccentric Australian composer Percy Grainger.

Ragsdale, a leading scholar on Grainger, says his instrumentation and compositions were integral to the development of modern American band music. "[He] put forward a vision of what a band could be," Ragsdale says. "What his vision was is what the wind band became particularly after World War I and World War II on into today."

Director of Choral Arts Stephen Caldwell says the process from page to performance was initially problematic. Grainger's original work calls for a significant male chorus -- more than 200 singers -- which the choir just does not have. The language provided another hurdle. Lads of Wamphray is based on the 19th century Scottish poem The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border by Sir Walter Scott. While the words are in English, Caldwell says the Scotch-English variation reads almost foreign to a contemporary American choir.

"For only an eight minute piece, it's actually taken as long to prepare as usually we would take for a 30- or a 35-minute piece," he says. "It looks simple on the page, but is much more difficult to put together."

- Program Note from KUAF

Grainger composed this march as a birthday gift for his mother in 1905, basing it on melodies and musical material from a Scottish "border ballad". The poem celebrates a bloody skirmish between two clans in 1593. In the march, Grainger sought to express the dare-deviltry of the cattle-raiding, swashbuckling English and Scottish "borderers" of the period as portrayed in collections of border ballads of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

- James Huff, 23 November 2008 (UTC) (from the program notes of The Claremont Winds, submitted with permission)

“the composer has wished to express the devil-may-care dare-deviltry of the cattle-raiding, swashbuckling English and Scottish borderers of the period so grimly yet thrillingly portrayed in the border ballads collected and published by Scott, Motherwell, Jamieson, Johnson, Buchan, Kinloch, Swinburne and others.” (Percy Grainger)

The Australian-American pianist and composer Percy Grainger’s attraction to the “Border Ballads” of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), published in Scott’s The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border in 1802, sprang from a varied set of motivations. Grainger’s trip to Scotland while a student at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in the summer of 1900 with his mother Rose, funded by their friend and his composition teacher, the lithographer Karl Klimsch, affected him deeply. He later described this trip as “the most important single artistic influence” of his life. Grainger’s Hill Songs, which he thought were his greatest compositions, were started the next year.

Grainger was motivated by an appreciation for the work of Scott, but also by a desire to promote the music and culture of Northern European countries, which he viewed as being disadvantaged by a cultural hegemony of Germany, Italy, Austria and Russia. Grainger, and a cadre of other British musicians, influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, were determined to promote British accomplishment in Art, and particularly early British accomplishment, including music from the “pre-Bach” era.

Grainger set three works of Scott’s for a variety of settings - The Lads of Wamphray Ballad (and, slightly later, The Lads of Wamphray March); The Twa Corbies; and Lord Maxwell’s Goodnight (a setting of selected portions of the ballad Lord Maxwell from Scott’s Minstrelsy). In addition to the Border Ballads collected by Scott, Grainger also set “faux Border Ballads” of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), the Pre-Raphaelite author and poet who wrote contemporary verse in the style of Scott’s Border Ballads, among these The Bride’s Tragedy, which Grainger cast as a major work for large orchestra and double chorus.

Grainger wrote The Lads of Wamphray Ballad in a typical Grainger “white heat” (he would later estimate that he never spent more than eight days a year composing...). The music was written in four days between December 5 and 20 of 1904, and scored between August 23 and September 12 of 1907, with final touches rendered on October 25, 1907.

During 1906 and ‘07, Grainger had been one of the few British composers to act on the invitation of Maj. John MacKenzie-Rogen, Bandmaster of the Band of the Coldstream Guards, to attend rehearsals and learn first-hand of the capabilities of the modern (for that time, anyway) military band. According to MacKenzie-Rogen, “Percy Grainger, the pianist, was one of the few who attended our band practice on several occasions, and he assured me that he learnt more in a few hours at the band room than from all the books he had read on instrumentation.”

It was with Rogen’s group in mind that Grainger wrote The Lads of Wamphray March using material he had distilled from The Lads of Wamphray Ballad. Rogen generously provided Grainger with rehearsal time in March of 1906 with the band, allowing him to make adjustments in a workshop setting, and a second rehearsal in March of 1907. Thirty years later, Grainger was able, in 1937, to pull that same arrangement (the March) out, and with only minor adjustments, prepare it for the now-legendary ABA performance in Milwaukee at which Lincolnshire Posy was also premiered. While the March has become a staple of the band’s repertoire, the Ballad has been rarely performed, and had become, as Grainger might have said, “lost to forgottenness.”

Grainger’s “band” instrumentation for the Ballad is: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English Horn, 2 Bassoons, Contra-bassoon, E-flat Soprano Clarinet, 3 Clarinets in A, E-flat Alto Clarinet, Bass Clarinet in A, 6 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 3 Cornets, 2 Eb Tenor Horns, 2 Euphoniums, Tuba, Timpani, and strings.

Though the composing of The Lads of Wamphray Ballad was done before Grainger worked with MacKenzie-Rogen and the Band of The Coldstream Guards, the scoring was done afterwards. His inclusion of string writing makes Grainger’s designation of the Ballad as being for “band” a bit confusing, though the seldom-discussed history of the use of strings in otherwise “band” settings should make us think twice before disqualifying an instrumentation’s being a “band” piece simply on the circumstance of the inclusion of strings. Grainger’s The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart, after all, calls for an optional string orchestra, which fact does not prevent us from considering it a masterpiece of the band repertoire. The more striking aspects of the Ballad instrumentation, I think, are Grainger’s use of a complete clarinet family, and his addition of a virtual Saxhorn family, with the Cornets, Tenor Horns, Euphoniums, and Tuba. These choices were almost certainly influenced by Grainger’s time with MacKenzie-Rogen. Grainger makes the most of the “conical bore brass ensemble versus cylindrical bore brass ensemble” opportunity, as he was also to do some five years later in his setting for choir and brasses of the folk song I'm Seventeen Come Sunday. It will be interesting to some to know that Grainger offered this piece (the Wamphray Ballad, not the March), in its original scoring, to Francis Resta as his (Grainger’s) contribution to Resta’s history-making 1952 Sesquicentennial Celebration of West Point that resulted in Morton Gould’s West Point Symphony, Darius Milhaud’s West Point Suite, and compositions for band by Roy Harris, William Grant Still, Robert Russell Bennett, Henry Cowell, and others.

Our arrangement stays pretty true to Grainger’s 1907 scoring, photographed on a 2010 visit to the Grainger Museum, with adjustments to make sure the textural threads provided by the strings are not lost. In these decisions we were guided by Grainger’s “elastic scoring” principles as laid down in his famous essay, “To Conductors and to Those Forming, or in Charge of, Amateur Orchestras, High School, College and Music School Orchestras and Chamber-Music Bodies (1926),” published in John Bird, Percy Grainger. And we were guided by Grainger’s interview with D. C. Parker identifying balance and texture, rather than color, as the prime elements of his style (re-printed in Lewis, A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger).

In Grainger’s correspondence collection at the Grainger Museum, we find comments from Grainger’s friends about performances of his other works for chorus and large ensemble, including Sir Eglamore (for men’s chorus and orchestra), and The Bride’s Tragedy (for double chorus and orchestra). Many of the comments express his friends’ wishing that “the choir had been bigger,” which suggests the likelihood of balance problems between the choral and instrumental forces. We also find Grainger reporting on choral performances of Sir Eglamore where female voices were added “to great effect”. Accordingly, our most significant alteration of Grainger’s The Lads of Wamphray Ballad was to re-score the men’s chorus for SATTBB Chorus, and to put all of the voices in their strongest registers. By re-scoring the most strident parts of the band scoring, and reducing most of Grainger’s band dynamics by two and even three levels when the chorus is singing, we hope we have given conductors a “fighting chance” to have the chorus shine while being appropriately supported by the band. As a nod to Grainger’s concept of “democratic polyphony,” we have tried to provide all participants with their moments to shine.

About The Lads of Wamphray

Lord Maxwell and The Lads of Wamphray are consecutive selections from Sir Walter Scott’s 1802 Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and the two pieces are presented in the same order in Professor Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads of 1860 (Part X). They support each other in presenting a full picture of the “noted feud” between the Johnstone and Maxwell families, and events that led up to the battle of Dryffe Sands, Scotland’s largest, bloodiest family battle.

The Crichtons were members of the Maxwell family (the term “clan” is reserved for Highland groups; “family” is the name for groups in the lowlands of Scotland). In explanation of the tale, Sir Walter Scott provides us, in the 1802 edition, with this background for The Lads of Wamphray:

“The following song celebrates the skirmish, in 1593, betwixt the Johnstones and Crichtons, which led to the revival of the ancient quarrel betwixt Johnstone and Maxwell, and finally to the battle of Dryffe Sands, in the latter [Maxwell] lost his life. Wamphray is the name of a parish in Annandale. Lethenhall was the abode of Johnstone of Wamphray, and continued to be so till of late years [This was written in 1802, remember]. William Johnstone of Wamphray, called the Galliard, was a noted freebooter [thief]. A place, near the head of Tiviotdale, retains the name of the Galliard’s Faulds, (folds) being a valley where he used to secrete and divide his spoil, with his Liddesdale and Eskdale associates. His nom de guerre seems to have been derived from the dance called The Galliard. The word is still used in Scotland [as of 1802], to express an active, gay, dissipated character. Willie of the Kirkhill, nephew to the Galliard, and his avenger, was also a noted border robber. ...

‘Leverhay, Stefenbiggin, Girth-head, &c. are [1802] all situated in the parish of Wamphray. The Biddes, where the skirmish took place betwixt the Johnstones and their pursuers, is a rivulet which takes its course among the mountains on the confines of Nithesdale and Annandale. The Wellpath is a pass by which the Johnstones were retreating to their fastnesses in Annandale. Ricklaw-holm is a place upon the Evan water, which falls into the Annan, below Moffat. Wamphray-gate was in these days an ale-house. With these local explanations, it is hoped the following ballad will be easily understood.”

The Ballad, recounting an historical skirmish, names the folk who ride with William Johnstone (“The Galliard”) - his gang of around 100. Johnstone sets out to steal one of Sim Crichton’s best horses accompanied only by his nephew, Willie (of the Kirkhill). This action is in the nature of a prank, but he steals the wrong horse -- it’s too slow to get away from Sim Crichton and his riders. The Crichtons catch the Galliard and his nephew, and after an attempt to beg for his life, Johnstone is hanged. Willie of the Kirkhill vows revenge (“But if ever I live Wamphray to see, My uncle’s death a-venged shall be.”), and returns with the Johnstone gang (the “Lads of Wamphray”) to steal the Crichton’s cattle. The Crichtons give chase, but when finally confronted, the Johnstone gang turns and wades into the Crichtons. They are led by Willie wielding a “burnished brand”, felling “both horse and man”, leading to a disastrous defeat for the Crichtons, representing the Maxwell family. The lads of Wamphray retire to an inn for “a pint” (a quatrain not included in Grainger’s setting), and celebrate their stalwartness (“A Wamphray lad’s the King of men!”).

This setting of Percy Grainger’s The Lads of Wamphray Ballad was produced as the result of a Commissioning Consortium comprised on 26 university bands, led by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

- Program Note from score


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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