Danny Deever is one of Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads and was published in 1892 in the First Series. Kipling's work was wildly popular at the time and Grainger whose love of poetry had been encouraged and fostered by his mother was a Kipling enthusiast. Between 1903 and 1904 Grainger was in the grip of inspiration and set several texts to music including Kipling's rather stark and grim depiction of a soldier being executed by hanging for murdering one of his comrades by shooting him as he lay sleeping.
Grainger's setting, which like all his settings of Kipling's poems he dedicated to his mother, follows the structure of Kipling's poem precisely. It's a set of dialogues between a group of young soldiers ("Files-on-Parade") and their sergeant as they watch the execution. Grim thought the text and the occasion it depicts was Grainger turns it into an almost jaunty piece of music. He loved ballads, especially ballads such as this which make heavy use of repetition because they gave him the opportunity of using one of his favourite techniques of varying the instrumental accompaniment to increase the intensity as the narrative proceeds. For Danny Deever the form he chose was that of a march a sort of "Marche Macabre" which he adorned with dissonant chromatic harmonies and cross accents to better highlight the darkness and irony of the occasion. When I first heard it I couldn't help but wonder how Grainger's mother felt at having such a piece of music dedicated to her but years later having read a biography of Grainger I decided she probably enjoyed it, she was from what I can make out well and truly weird. Don't let that put you off this is a fine piece of music that repays the time spent listening.
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