Grainger choral setting
Early in the 20th century, Grainger started collecting folk songs from around England, using wax cylinders to capture performances in the field as well as transcribing them. In April 1905, he recorded Joseph Taylor singing Brigg Fair shortly after a music festival in Brigg, North Lincolnshire (the recording survives and is commercially available). Grainger soon made an arrangement of the song for unaccompanied five part chorus with tenor soloist. The original song was short since Taylor could only remember two stanzas; to extend the song, Grainger added three stanzas taken from two other songs ("Low down in the broom" and "The Merry King"). The tune, in the Dorian mode, is wistful, the lyric is a happy one about true love, and Grainger's setting is atmospheric and uses a creative harmonic treatment.
The song has appeared in several different versions including one set down by Taylor and members of his family. These are the words set by Grainger:
- 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.
- I took hold of her lily-white hand, O and merrily was her heart:
- "And now we're met together, I hope we ne'er shall part".
- For it's meeting is a pleasure, and parting is a grief,
- But an unconstant lover is worse than any thief.
- The green leaves they shall wither and the branches they shall die
- If ever I prove false to her, to the girl that loves me.
Delius orchestral setting
In 1907, Delius heard the setting and was impressed by both the tune and the arrangement. With Grainger's permission, Delius used the song as the basis of an orchestral work, which was first performed in 1908. After a pastoral introduction, the Grainger setting is replicated by the woodwinds. A succession of variations on the original tune leads to a joyous finale.