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Irish tune from County Derry

1911; British Folk Music Settings No 6; aslo known as 'Londonderry Air'

As a loyal Australian I might be expected to appreciate the music of Percy Grainger (1882–1961), but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating it. It’s so filled with humanity and imagination and glorious understanding of the instrument—nowhere better illustrated than in this setting of the Londonderry Air: Irish tune from County Derry (British Folk-Music Settings No 6). Grainger found it in The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. It had been submitted to the music collector George Petrie for publication in 1855, after Miss Jane Ross collected it from a local fiddle player. Grainger wrote:

For the following beautiful air I have to express my very grateful acknowledgement to Miss J. Ross, of New Town, Limavady, in the County of Londonderry—a lady who has made a large collection of the popular unpublished melodies of the county, which she has very kindly placed at my disposal, and which has added very considerably to the stock of tunes which I had previously acquired from that still very Irish county. I say still very Irish, for though it has been planted for more than two centuries by English and Scottish settlers, the old Irish race still forms the great majority of its peasant inhabitants; and there are few, if any counties in which, with less foreign admixture, the ancient melodies of the country have been so extensively preserved. The name of the tune unfortunately was not ascertained by Miss Ross, who sent it to me with the simple remark that it was ‘very old’, in the correctness of which statement I have no hesitation in expressing my perfect concurrence.

In 1902 Grainger set it for an a cappella mixed chorus. The solo piano version dates from 1911, but he arranged it eight times in all, including a rich version for piano quintet, which I’ve also enjoyed playing. The solo piano arrangement, with its tune starting in the tenor register, reminds one of all the sung Danny Boys one has ever heard. Grainger, like Chopin before him, knew perfectly how to make a piano sing. He also knew a thing or two about the emotional pull of certain harmonies. His fastidious pedal and expression marks complicate the page, but reveal again how much the man cared about music and its communication.

from notes by Piers Lane © 2013


Grainger: Piano Music
CDA66884Archive Service
Grainger: The warriors & other orchestral works
Studio Master: SIGCD2164Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Love songs
Studio Master: CDA68341RECORD OF THE MONTH Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Piers Lane goes to town
Studio Master: CDA67967Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
There is sweet music
CSCD505Download only


Track 12 on CDA66884 [3'26] Archive Service
Track 20 on CDA67967 [3'38]
Track 23 on CDA68341 [3'11] RECORD OF THE MONTH
Track 11 on CSCD505 [3'25] Download only
Track 2 on SIGCD2164 [5'26] Download only

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