The Golden Wedding | A Musical Context

Today begins a two part article from guest author Agnes Leonowicz. Part II follows on Friday  

The Golden Wedding was a play written in 1910 for the City of Leeds School of Music by both Frank Kidson and Arthur Grimshaw, which was said to be to raise money for the Leeds Infirmary. The play was a musical collaboration of folk and romanticism, combining Grimshaw’s musical skills as Leeds Symphony Orchestra Conductor and Kidson’s extensive folk collection and knowledge. The play is set in 1780 in Leeds and consists of 10 traditional Yorkshire folk songs of the time, including an early transcription of the popular ‘Scarboro’ Fair’ which can be played here. Subsequently Grimshaw wrote a contemporary orchestral overture and incidental music to accompany Kidson’s collection, combing folk and romanticism.

Wood engraving of Leeds Mechanics Institute in which the City of Leeds School of Music was later located. Copyright

Originally the songs in The Golden Wedding would have been performed in a considerably different way to their adaption created 130 years later. A notable difference is that each song was written with a full orchestral accompaniment, allowing no flexibility within the structure of the melody as well distracting from the narrative, contradicting the characteristics of folk entirely. Folk song has always intended to be sung by a solo voice without harmony, following strong narrative with a responsive melody. Many folk singers and collectors consider this is inherent in the origins of folk as it is the music of the common person, intended to be sung whilst farming, in a pub, or to a child falling asleep. Grimshaw and Kidson either overlooked this importance completely – or decided that modernizing these tunes in history would allow them a new lease of life. Whichever may be the motive behind their work, we can see an example of this in Hares in The Old Plantation, that features in The Golden Wedding would have been traditionally sung like this.

Most folk music in not written using conventional major or minor scales but rather of modal tonality derived from the influence of village church every Sunday morning and hearing “church modes” such as Dorian or Lydian. The Golden Wedding and the songs that lie within its story are a great example of this – Lydian is used within ‘When Joan’s Ale Was New’ and many others. Modes are a type of scale that can be used to base a song around, similar to that of a key signature. For example, in a C Lydian mode, the fourth note would be raised from an F to an F sharp, meaning that Lydian based songs would highlight the raised fourth throughout the harmony and melody.
Here is a C major scale and C Lydian scale.

When Grimshaw wrote the orchestral music to The Golden Wedding in 1910, he would have spent his life influenced heavily by romanticism, listening to composers such as Beethoven, Liszt or Chopin. This is evident in his motivation and adaptation of Kidson’s collection, combining the characteristics of both folk and romanticism.

The exploration of traditional Yorkshire folk songs in The Golden Wedding would have been incredibly fashionable of the time. Due to the hungry industrial revolution changing our landscapes and everyday life, it was very common for romantic composers and artists to depict idyllic and past landscapes. For example, Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 is inspired by childhood walks in rural Germany. Escapism was at the very heart of romanticism, a premise recognisable in 2022.

The Golden Wedding Orchestral Score, 1910. Copyright Leeds Libraries

The Golden Wedding is a great example of combining music and time, merging heritage with modern contemporary sounds. Creating an idyllic place when the world was rapidly changing in the 19th century holds a similarity to present day lives. As technology develops and we long for a time without such complications, escapism plays a vital role in the media we consume today. Grimshaw and Kidson were simply doing just that. A creation of musically enriching escape.

If you want to hear the rest of the songs from The Golden Wedding, they can be found here. You can also visit the Art and Music Libraries in Leeds Central Library to access books and research sources on romanticism in music and arts, folk music and music theory.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bill Airey says:

    There is nothing at this link?

  2. tabitha17 says:

    The link to this post does not appear to be working. Just comes up with “the page cannot be found”.

    Glenys Da

    Sent from my iPad


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