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Three Tragic Ballads

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Percy Aldridge Grainger

Percy Aldridge Grainger (trans. Chalon Ragsdale)

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General Info

Year: 1924, 1902, 1909 / 2016
Duration: c. 14:00
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Aux Arcs Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $200.00   |   Score Only (print) - $60.00

Movements (may be played individually)

1. Danny Deever – 3:30
2. The Three Ravens – 4:15
3. Father and Daughter – 2:45


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Grainger was puzzled at being labeled a composer of "genial and jolly light works.” Knowing that he considered his work "a pilgrimage to sorrow" inspired me to arrange a group of his "tragic ballads" for modern concert band. As per Grainger's claim, the subjects of Three Tragic Ballads include a hanging (Danny Deever); a knight mouldering in a ditch (The Three Ravens); and murder (Father and Daughter).

Danny Deever is a poem from the Barracks Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling, who was one of Percy Grainger’s cultural heroes. Grainger reported a 1905 visit with Kipling: "He had me down at his place in Sussex to hear the choruses I have written to so many of his verses ... I played him my 'Danny Deever' and 'We Have Fed Our Sea For A Thousand Years' and he said they were like 'deaders rotting in bilge water'. Later he added, 'Till now I've had to rely on black and white, but you do the thing for me in color.’” Grainger's setting of Danny Deever is Nr. 12 of Grainger’s Kipling Settings, all of which are “lovingly dedicated” to his mother Rose. Grainger’s treatment hauntingly captures the contrasting moods of boisterousness, horror and "whistling past the graveyard" so common in a soldier's experience.

The Three Ravens is Nr. 41 of the British Folk-Music Settings. It is "lovingly and reverently dedicated to the memory of Edvard Grieg,” as are all the BFMS works. The Three Ravens carries a second dedication, "For my dear friend and tone-fellow H. Balfour Gardiner.” Gardiner, along with Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter and Grainger, formed the "Frankfurt Group", a fellowship of British musicians studying at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany, during the 1890s who pursued a dream of a British national music free of the smothering (in their opinions) influences of Continental European music. The folksong The Three Ravens was not collected by Grainger; he found the tune in an existing collection (as he had done at about the same time with Irish Tune from County Derry). The harmonization, finished in 1902, captures beautifully the transcendental nature of the text, with masterful use of chromaticism and the Grainger’s characteristic "gliding tones."

Father and Daughter is Nr. 1 of the Settings Of Dance-Folksongs From The Faeroe Islands. "Composed in 1908-9, it is scored in the original for five solo voices, described as 'narrators' because they tell the tale, with a double mixed chorus actively representing the 'tribe', and with three orchestral groups of brass, strings, and mixed mandolins and guitars (as many as possible). The tune is in fast duple time, in F major tending to pentatonicism. Many repeated notes emphasize the dance's physicality, but drama is generated by the thrilling antiphony between the choral groups and the soloists. The instrumental groups enter incrementally, enhancing the orgiastic abandon in the process. The end, when the 'massed' guitars and mandolins have entered in fullest pelt, is sensational, and one is not surprised when John Bird tells us that, at the performance at the Queen's Hall in 1912, Grainger received twelve curtain-calls, and the piece had to be repeated twice. Perhaps it isn't fortuitous that the tale that called forth so much Graingerish exuberance is violent: a father savagely murders his daughter's lover and in retribution is burnt in his house by the girl." (Wilfrid Mellers in Percy Grainger)

This arrangement was written for the University of Arkansas Wind Symphony, W. Dale Warren, conductor, and was premiered at the Southwest Division meeting of the College Band Directors National Association in Ft. Worth, Texas, in March 2004. The arrangement has been lightly edited through the years, and received a reasonably significant overhaul in the summer of 2016.

- Program Note by arranger


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