Percy Grainger-Irish Tune from County Derry (SATBBs)

Percy Grainger's relationship with the saxophone was both joyous and far-reaching. He included the saxophone (sometimes singly, other times within a complete family) in many of his orchestral, chamber, band and solo works. Grainger was convinced of the ideal musical qualities of the saxophone from his very first encounter with the instrument. In a 1943 round letter to his friends, he reminisced:

Around 1904, Balfour Gardiner & I heard our first sax-reed (a tenor) near Frome, Somerset. A man in a country band played one to us. And I knew then & there that I was hearing the world's finest wind-tone-tool -the most voice-like, the most mankind-typed.

His enthusiasm was such that he owned both a soprano and baritone, and he enlisted in a World War I armed forces band playing the soprano saxophone! His extensive public writing about the saxophone was effusive in praise, extolling its virtues to the highest degree. A typical example comes from the preface to Lincolnshire Posy, in which Grainger asserts: " my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments- the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man's own voice!..."

Grainger was especially interested in the sonority of instrumental families, and his particular favorite was the family of saxophones. For many years he wanted to write for saxophone ensemble, but was unable to find an appropriate group to try out his works. In the summer of 1943 Grainger had a particularly strong and interested group with which to work, and he enthusiastically wrote out saxophone ensemble parts to many of his own arrangements and original settings, including Lisbon, The Four Note Pavane, Prelude in the Dorian Mode, and others.

My arrangement of Irish Tune from County Derry for SATBBs saxophone ensemble attempts to extend Grainger's interest and tradition of saxophone writing to some of his more popular works. The folk tune, Irish Tune from County Derry, was collected many years ago by Miss Jane Ross of Ireland. It is also found in the Petrie Collection of Ancient Irish Music. Grainger first set it for chorus in 1920, and later adapted it for a variety of instrumental ensembles. He always cast this tune in a choral manner, with lush, piquant harmonies and thick, colorful textures; qualities preserved in my SATBBs arrangement. I have minimized the editorial markings, but all voices should be played with smooth connection and full quality. The dynamics should be followed carefully to allow the melody to be heard over the dense harmony and full texture. It is my hope that the unique warmth and poignancy of this aspect of Grainger's writing is maintained, and that players will imbue Irish Tune from County Derry with the spirit and enjoyment for which Grainger was known.

Paul Cohen

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