By Dr. Paul Cohen
Percy Grainger’s relationship with the saxophone was both joyous and far-reaching. He included the saxophone — sometimes singly, other times within a complete family — in many of his orchestral, chamber, band and solo works. Grainger was convinced of the ideal musical qualities of the saxophone from his very first encounter with the instrument. In a 1943 round letter to his friends, he reminisced:
Around 1904, Balfour Gardiner & I heard our first sax-reed (a tenor) near Frome, Somerset. A man in a country band played one to us. And I knew then & there that I was hearing the world’s finest wind-tone-tool — the most voice-like, the most mankind-typed.
His enthusiasm was such that he owned both a soprano and baritone, and he enlisted in a World War I armed forces band playing the soprano saxophone! His extensive public writing about the saxophone was effusive in praise, extolling its virtues to the highest degree. A typical example comes from the preface to Lincolnshire Posy, in which Grainger asserts: ...to my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments — the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man’s own voice!...
Grainger was especially interested in the sonority of instrumental families, and his particular favorite was the family of saxophones. For many years he wanted to write for saxophone ensemble, but was unable to find an appropriate group to try out his works. In the summer of 1943 Grainger had a particularly strong and interested group with which to work, and he enthusiastically wrote out saxophone ensemble parts to many of his own arrangements and original settings.
This version of Lisbon, (better known as the first movement of Lincolnshire Posy) was written by Grainger on August 2, 1943 while on the summer faculty of Interlochen. He experimented with three different versions; low key of AAATB, high key of SAATB and low key of SATTB. The high key version of SAATB was the most satisfactory and is the one heard here and published.
The above copy (in the video) is an unedited edition. All of Grainger’s markings and indications as originally found in the parts and the score have been retained. Nothing has been added or deleted. The scoring - simple and imaginative - is remarkable for it's color and variety. Grainger heard his music in a very special way and knew how to let it be heard.