my love affair with Brigg Fair

so there’s a lot of musicological intrigue going on and believe you me, i will write about it but it’s been so very much that i thought it would be nice (for me, mainly) to take a break from all of those shenanigans and talk about something else.

so here we are, talking about Grainger. i read a great blog posted in Gramophone today about how we think about early twentieth-century British music … you know, my bread and butter. i run into this all the time: it’s all pastoral and pleasant. The Lark Ascending and The Planets and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. well those things do exist but that view is a little short-sided, especially considering the wealth of British composers at this time and their output. homogeneity is not the word that i’d tack on to them. the idea is that if you’ve heard one thing, you’ve heard them all. and since that one thing isn’t The Rite of Spring, it doesn’t merit discussion. in my discussions with friends, when i get to play them stuff they haven’t heard before, not only do they like it but are pleasantly surprised when i say, “that was Vaughan Williams!”, etc.

but that’s not really the point of this entry (though it is a life goal of mine — to re-introduce the world to the English Musical Renaissance and others. i start with my parents…) the point is to talk about a song i like. it’s my blog and i can do that.

i have been in love with Percy Aldridge Grainger since i was thirteen. (and a caveat right now because my boyfriend HATES this: Grainger was Australian who moved to London and then moved to the US but i (and pretty much everyone else) lump him in because of his compositional style. i am well aware that he’s from Australia…) i always thought he was so incredibly underrated and i never understood why. we are taught that out of the hundreds of great composers over the centuries that there are a handful who were brilliant orchestrators and arrangers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Berlioz, Ravel…i want to put Grainger up on that list (if someone hasn’t already) — his arrangements are so complex and precise that he had to use his own weird made-up pseudo-English terminology to explain what to do. and if you don’t do exactly what he says, when he says it, then the color, the line, the phrase vanishes. i used to love (not used to, still do) to listen to Grainger in my stereo headphones and track the various melodic lines, following their ebbs and flows, noting that one chord, that one sound that would stop time the moment i heard it. truly, for me, there’s no other composer quite like him.

and that brings me to Brigg Fair. the first time i heard it, i’m pretty sure time slowed down and i could feel the rotation of the earth. i instantly fell in love with it. (I will admit, Ian Bostridge played a small part in that…) it showcased all of those things that i loved about Grainger, how the solo line melted into the chorus, turning into a false entry, followed by this resplendent return — all in oohs and aahs. now granted, this is a folk song and i have heard the recording Grainger made of it in the field. it’s charming enough but what Grainger does is more that arrange — he transforms. he elevates that folk song into something so incredibly complex and intricate while still allowing it to be simple. the words seem to express something so incredibly tender and heartbreaking. and while some may be quick to call this not composing but if it’s not, i don’t know what is.

and now for the secret (well not so secret if you’ve ever talked to me) non-musical part: i loved this song so much that i decided that it would be my wedding song. that i would get married on August 5th and the whole deal. (much like girls plan their future wedding dresses and cakes, i pick out wedding music) it’s become incredibly special to me (and to my friends) and, amazingly enough, not absurdly corny. it spoke to me, not just as piece of music but as a perfect sentiment of love.

so on one August fifth in the future, i’ll be off somewhere starting a new chapter in my life with a very familiar friend accompanying me. and hopefully, it’ll will be just as beautiful and complex as the song.

"And now we're met together 
I hope we ne'er shall part".
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