Thursday, 18 January 2018

It was on the... 18th January, actually

Another musical post, another 'today in history' post, but another musical moment that deserves marking. In this case, the event being the first performance - in Bradford - of the exquisite orchestral rhapsody Brigg Fair by that rather reluctant son of the city, Frederick (or Fritz) Delius.

Delius was of German-Jewish origin, first generation Yorkshireman and longtime exile. He lived in France for most of his adult life, having spend a few formative years in America.

But if he couldn't wait to shake the dust of England from his boots, he couldn't shake the memory of this English folk song from his mind.

It was collected (by an Aussie ex-pat, Percy Grainger) early in the 20th century, during a period when finding folk song was the rage. Vaughan-Williams, Holst (of 'Planets' fame) and George Butterworth all did it.

And so did Grainger. He fetched up in Brigg, Lincolnshire, with his wax cylinder recording device in April 1905. There had been a music festival. It's said that Joseph Taylor, a carpenter from nearby Saxby, having failed to win went privately to the judges' tent and - rather than remonstrating or challenging their decision - sang another song. This one.

It was on the fifth of August-er' the weather fine and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair, for love I was inclined.

I rose up with the lark in the morning, with my heart so full of glee,
Of thinking there to meet my dear, long time I'd wished to see.

Grainger arranged the song for a capella chorus and tenor soloist, extending it by adding verses from two more folksongs: Low Down in the Broom and The Merry King. It was this arrangement that Delius heard and fell in love with while at home in Grez-sur-Loing, near Paris.

So, from Germany via Bradford, through Australia, from France and then back - for that world premiere performance - to Bradford, comes this little, local Lincolnshire folk song, nowhere else known or even mentioned. Oh, and here it is played by a Japanese orchestra.

It's a well-travelled song!


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