(University of Melbourne Library, 2012)
At first glance, it might appear as though Percy Grainger was determined to avoid the traditional musical aesthetics to which many of his more conservative peers subscribed. Through innovations ranging from complex rhythmic structures that he called 'beatless music', to 'elastic scoring', and eventually to his microtonal or gliding 'free music', Grainger was determined to be a musical trailblazer, despite the fact that his status as a composer never managed to keep pace with his reputation as a pianist. But one of the very few places in which Grainger attempted to make some headway in a more commercially successful genre was in his settings of English folk songs for voice and piano. Song settings such as these, which had been a popular chamber and domestic genre as far back as Beethoven's settings of Scottish and Irish folk songs, had flourished throughout the 19th century, and had been further invigorated by the late- Victorian folk song revival in England, during which time folk song became the soundtrack for an insistent English nationalism.(1) / I begin here by providing a short history of Grainger's study of English folk song from 1905 to 1909. I follow this with an examination of some of Grainger's folk song settings as they compare with those of one of the more prominent arrangers of his day, Cecil Sharp. Finally, I show how Grainger's folk song arrangements influenced those of Benjamin Britten, which stand not only as sophisticated and poignant compositions, but also as representations of the way in which Britten used both the legacy of Grainger and English folk song to enact a radical politics of emancipation.