Percy Grainger’s Molly on the Shore

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Molly on the Shore is based off of two contrasting Irish reels, “Temple Hill” and “Molly on the Shore.” The “Molly on the Shore” theme is used pretty exactly with only a few rhythms changing, while the “Temple Hill” theme is less recognizable, due to the wider variation in notes and rhythms. 

The “Molly on the Shore” theme drives the piece with its quick rhythms and extensive repetition; this theme is always played at the original speed and not augmented or diminished, and it is almost always being played in some part of the band, either as the melody, or as accompaniment.

Each section of the band has long stretches of thematic and counter-melodic material but Molly on the Shore especially features the clarinets and saxophones. Clarinets start and end the piece with the melodic figure, and this is fitting, since clarinets, as well as saxophones are often important to the melody in traditional Irish groups.

Grainger maintains the Irish reel style throughout the piece in terms of rhythm, harmony, and harmonic structure. Like an Irish reel, it is a quick and light dance. By keeping this style, Grainger is able to present the melodies in a variety of textures and orchestrations while maintaining this traditional Irish style in a non-Irish-traditional group. Even the low winds and brass can be made to ‘dance’ with the melodies in this piece.

Even though the piece is in the style of an Irish reel, there are multiple places in which elements of a march are used. For example, horns and bassoons often have offbeats, the brass get to play long, loud strings of notes leading to the climax, and the upper winds most often get the melody. What makes it an Irish reel is the quick speed, the groove, the Irish melodies, relatively open chords, a sparser harmony, and high instruments bouncing around several notes very quickly. This piece is a successful version of an Irish reel set for wind ensemble due to all of these elements, and Grainger’s accurate and adept use of them.



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