Jonathan Crowhurst conductor
Maidstone Wind Symphony
GUSTAV HOLST | Suite No. 2 in F Major
PERCY GRAINGER | Lincolnshire Posy
JOHN MACKEY | Wine-Dark Sea, Symphony for Band
All Saints Church, Mill Street, Maidstone ME15 6YE
£8 | £10
Suite No. 2 in F Major
ii. Song Without Words
iii. Song of the Blacksmith
iv. Fantasia on the Dargason
It was 1911 when Holst decided to write another military band suite based on English folk songs. In fact, in this piece, he uses seven Hampshire songs, ranging from Greensleeves to I'll Love My Love.
He starts the Suite No.2 in F off with a march, where the baritone melody is the folk song, Swansea Town. In the second movement, the main song is I'll Love My Love. The third movement actually gives us a glimpse of a later Holst, with the use of open fourths and fifths as a sparse accompaniment to The Song of the Blacksmith. But it is in the last movement where Holst shows how easy it had become for him to combine melodies seemlessly. He uses a catchy six eight tune that is woven throughout all the instruments, including a duet between the piccolo and tuba, and combines it with the familiar Greensleeves. It is this wistful ending that is just right for the suite. In fact, he liked it so much that he used the finale as the conclusion to his St. Paul's Suite for strings.
Lincolnshire Posy (1937) (18’)
i. Lisbon (Dublin Bay - Sailor’s Song)
ii. Horkstow Grange (narrating local history)
iii. Rufford Park Poachers (Poaching Song)
iv. The Brisk Young Sailor (returned to wed his True Love)
v. Lord Melbourne (War Song)
vi. The Lost Lady Found (Dance Song)
Lincolnshire Posy, as a whole work, was conceived and scored by Grainger for wind band in 1937. The piece was written in response to the perceived ‘snobbery’ shown by composers towards the wind band medium. Grainger highlighted “the varied assortments of reeds (so much richer than the reeds of the symphony orchestra), its complete saxophone family that is found nowhere else (to my ears, the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments – the one closest to the human voice.) and its army of brass – as a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems unrivalled”.
Five out of the six movements were written as original pieces for wind band, though most of these were indebted to unfinished sketches for a variety of mediums covering many years (in this case the sketches date from 1905-1937).
This collection of ‘musical wildflowers’ (hence the title Lincolnshire Posy) is based on folksongs collected in Lincolnshire. Grainger was introduced to the songs by old folksingers and each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who introduced and sang its underlying melody.
Dublin Bay (Lisbon) is a sailor’s song with a counter-melody based on a phrase from Duke of Marlborough. Grainger first met its singer, Mr Deane of Hibbaldstowe, in the workhouse at Brigg, North East Lincolnshire. Grainger approached Deane twice when trying to note down the song. The first was unsuccessful as the elderly Mr Deane was suffering from a very weak heart and the singing of the old song – which he had not sung for 40 years – brought back poignant memories to him and made him burst into tears. However, not to be deterred, Grainger tried again, and after careful persuasion Mr Deane recited the song on to a phonograph for Grainger to then use in what is the bright and colourful opening movement.
Harkstow (Horkstow) Grange (The Miser and his Man-a local Tragedy) was sung to Grainger by Mr George Gouldthorpe at the age of 66. Gouldthorpe possessed what Grainger described as “grating...yet he contrived to breathe a spirit of almost caressing tenderness into all he sang.”
Rufford Park Poachers is a musical depiction of a poaching game from a private hunting reserve. Grainger first heard this sung by Mr Joseph Taylor, a “perfect type of English yeoman: sturdy and robust, yet the soul of sweetness, gentleness, courteousness and geniality.” His singing, even at the age of 75 (in 1908), is described as “graceful’ and ‘birdlike” and one can hear this throughout, firstly by the piccolo and then carried on by the soprano saxophone.
The Brisk Young Sailor (who returned to wed his True Love) is a theme and variations depicting a sailor about to be married and was sung by Mrs Thompson, who, though living in Barrow-on-Humber, North Lincolnshire, came originally from Liverpool.
Lord Melbourne is a brisk war song featuring brass and percussion, with melody also a variant of Duke of Marlborough. It was introduced to Grainger by Mr George Wray, who had a “worldlier, tougher and more prosperously-coloured personality”. These traits are again highlighted by Grainger’s specific orchestration and is a genuine ‘war song’.
The Lost Lady Found is a dance song ‘caught’ by Lucy Broadwood from her Lincolnshire nurse, Mrs Hill, featuring ‘tuneful percussion’. It comes to us from the days when voices, rather than instruments, held village dances together.
Arguably Grainger’s most famous composition, Lincolnshire Posy is dedicated to ‘the folksingers who sang so sweetly to me.’
John Mackey (b. 1973)
Wine-Dark Sea, Symphony for Band (2014) (30’)
ii. Immortal thread, so weak
iii. The attention of souls
Wine-Dark Sea, Symphony for Band was commissioned by Jerry Junkin and The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. It received its UK Premiere at Cadogan Hall in 2014 during a world tour which saw the ensemble visit Honolulu, Okazaki City (Japan), Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen (China), Beijing, and of course London.
It was the composer’s wife Abby, with whom Mackey has collaborated for the past ten years, that had the initial idea to write something programmatic, and thus let the story determine the structure. The story they would choose would be the truly epic tale of Odysseus, as told thousands of years ago by Homer in The Odyssey.
The full Odyssey, it turned out, was too large, so Abby picked some of the ‘greatest hits’ from the epic poem. She wrote a truncated version of the story, and Mackey set her telling to music. Here is the story the way Abby outlined it (in three movements):
After 10 years of bloody siege, the Trojan War was won because of Odysseus' gambit: A horse full of soldiers, disguised as an offering. The people of Troy took it in as a trophy, and were slaughtered.
Odysseus gave the Greeks victory, and they left the alien shores for home. But Odysseus' journey would take as long as the war itself. Homer called the ocean on which Odysseus sailed a wine-dark sea, and for the Greek king it was as murky and disorienting as its name; he would not find his way across it without first losing himself.
Odysseus filled his ship with the spoils of war, but he carried another, more dangerous, cargo: Pride. This movement opens with his triumphal march, and continues as he and his crew maraud through every port of call on their way home.
But the arrogance of a conquering mortal has one sure consequence in this world: a demonstration of that mortal's insignificance, courtesy of the gods. Odysseus offends; Zeus strikes down his ship. The sailors drown. Odysseus is shipwrecked. The sea takes them all.
II. Immortal thread, so weak
This movement is the song of the beautiful and immortal nymph Kalypso, who finds Odysseus near death, washed up on the shore of the island where she lives all alone. She nurses him back to health, and sings as she moves back and forth with a golden shuttle at her loom. Odysseus shares her bed; seven years pass. The tapestry she began when she nursed him becomes a record of their love.
But one day Odysseus remembers his home. He tells Kalypso he wants to leave her, to return to his wife and son. He scoffs at all she has given him. Kalypso is heartbroken.
And yet, that night, Kalypso again paces at her loom. She unravels her tapestry and weaves it into a sail for Odysseus. In the morning, she shows Odysseus a raft, equipped with the sail she has made and stocked with bread and wine, and calls up a gentle and steady wind to carry him home. Shattered, she watches him go; he does not look back.
III. The attentions of souls
But other immortals are not finished with Odysseus yet. Before he can reach his home, he must sail to the end of the earth, and make a sacrifice to the dead. And so, this movement takes place at the gates of the underworld, where it is always night.
When Odysseus cuts the throats of the sacrificial animals, the spirits of the dead swarm up. They cajole him, begging for blood. They accuse him, indicting him for his sins. They taunt him, mocking his inability to get home. The spirit of his own mother does not recognise him; he tries to touch her, but she is immaterial. He sees the ghosts of the great and the humble, all hungry, all grasping.
Finally, the prophet Teiresias tells Odysseus what he must do to get home. And so Odysseus passes through a gauntlet beyond the edge of the world, beset by the surging, shrieking souls of the dead. But in the darkness he can at last see the light of home ahead.
Wine-Dark Sea is dedicated to Jerry Junkin. The second movement, Immortal thread, so weak, telling of Kalypso's broken heart, is dedicated to Abby.