Percy Grainger
George Percy Aldridge Grainger (8 July 188220 February 1961), known as Percy Grainger, was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. In the course of a long and innovative career he played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century. He also made many adaptations of other composers' works. Although much of his work was experimental and unusual, the piece with which he is most generally associated is his piano arrangement of the folk-dance tune "Country Gardens
Country Gardens
Country Gardens is an English folk tune collected by Cecil Sharp and arranged for piano in 1918 by Percy Grainger.In 2008 was added to the .-Format of renditions:...


Grainger left Australia at the age of 13 to attend the Hoch Conservatory
Hoch Conservatory
Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium - Musikakademie was founded in Frankfurt am Main on September 22, 1878. Through the generosity of Frankfurter Joseph Hoch, who bequeathed the Conservatory one million German gold marks in his testament, a school for music and the arts was established for all age groups. ...

 in Frankfurt. Between 1901 and 1914 he was based in London, where he established himself first as a society pianist and later as a concert performer, composer and collector of original folk melodies. As his reputation grew he met many of the significant figures in European music, forming important friendships with Frederick Delius
Frederick Delius
Frederick Theodore Albert Delius, CH was an English composer. Born in the north of England to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce...

 and Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt , and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.-Biography:Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in...

. He became a champion of Nordic
Nordic countries
The Nordic countries make up a region in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic which consists of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland...

 music and culture, his enthusiasm for which he often expressed in private letters in explicitly racist and anti-Semitic terms.

In 1914 Grainger moved to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life, though he travelled widely in Europe and in Australasia. He served briefly as a bandsman in the US Army during 1917–18, and took US citizenship in 1918. After his mother's suicide in 1922 he became increasingly involved in educational work. He also experimented with music machines that he hoped would supersede human interpretation. In the 1930s he set up the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, his birthplace, as a monument to his life and works and as a future research archive. As he grew older he continued to give concerts and to revise and rearrange his own compositions, while writing little new music. After the Second World War, ill health reduced his levels of activity, and he considered his career a failure. He gave his last concert in 1960, less than a year before his death.

Family background

Percy Grainger's father, John Grainger
John Harry Grainger
John Harry Grainger , Although most sources give 1855 as the birth year, the Grainger Museum states that 1854 is the correct year. was a British-born architect who emigrated to Australia in 1877, and father of musician Percy Grainger....

 (1854–1917), was a British-born architect who emigrated to Australia in 1877. He won professional recognition for his design of the Princes Bridge
Princes Bridge
Princes Bridge may refer to:* Princes Bridge, in Melbourne over the Yarra River* Princes Bridge railway station, Melbourne* Princes Bridge, over the Barwon River in Victoria...

 across the Yarra River
Yarra River
The Yarra River, originally Birrarung, is a river in east-central Victoria, Australia. The lower stretches of the river is where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835 and today Greater Melbourne dominates and influences the landscape of its lower reaches...

 in Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

. In October 1880 he married Rose Annie Aldridge, daughter of an Adelaide hotel-keeper; the couple settled in New St, Brighton, a suburb of Melbourne, where their only son, christened George Percy Grainger, was born on 8 July 1882. The Grainger house at 305 New St, Brighton has recently been redeveloped, with the original structure intact.

John Grainger was an accomplished artist, with broad cultural interests and a wide circle of friends. These included David Mitchell, whose daughter Helen later gained worldwide fame as an operatic soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

 under the name Nellie Melba
Nellie Melba
Dame Nellie Melba GBE , born Helen "Nellie" Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and the early 20th century...

. John's claims to have "discovered" her are unfounded, although he may have offered her encouragement. John was a heavy drinker and a womaniser who, Rose learned after the marriage, had fathered a child in England before coming to Australia. His promiscuous lifestyle placed heavy strains upon the relationship, particularly when Rose discovered shortly after Percy's birth that she had contracted a form of syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; however, it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis...

 from her husband. Despite this, the Graingers stayed together until 1890, when John went to England for medical treatment. After his return to Australia they lived apart; the burden of raising Percy fell to Rose, while John pursued his career as chief architect to the Western Australian Department of Public Works. He also designed Nellie Melba's home, Coombe Cottage, at Coldstream
Coldstream, Victoria
Coldstream is a locality and township within Greater Melbourne beyond the Melbourne metropolitan area Urban Growth Boundary, 36 km north-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges...



Except for three months' formal schooling as a 12-year-old, during which he was bullied and ridiculed by his classmates, Percy was educated at home. Rose, an autodidact
Autodidacticism is self-education or self-directed learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is "learning on your own" or "by yourself", and an autodidact is a person who teaches him or herself something. The term has its roots in the Ancient Greek words αὐτός and διδακτικός...

 with a dominating presence, supervised his music and literature studies and engaged other tutors for languages, art and drama. From his earliest lessons Percy developed a lifelong fascination with Nordic culture; writing late in life he maintained that the Icelandic "Saga of Grettir the Strong"
Grettis saga
Grettis saga is one of the Icelanders' sagas. It details the life of Grettir Ásmundarson, a bellicose Icelandic outlaw.- Overview :...

 was "the strongest single artistic influence on my life". As well as showing precocious musical talents, he displayed considerable early gifts as an artist, to the extent that his tutors thought his future might lie in art rather than music. At the age of 10 he began studying piano under Louis Pabst, a German emigré then considered to be Melbourne's leading piano teacher. Grainger's first known composition, "A Birthday Gift to Mother", is dated 1893. Pabst arranged Grainger's first public concert appearances, at Melbourne's Masonic Hall in July and September 1894. The boy played works by Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

, Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

, Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 and Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style...

, and was warmly complimented in the Melbourne press.

After Pabst returned to Europe in the autumn of 1894, Grainger's new piano tutor, Adelaide Burkitt, arranged for his appearances at a series of concerts in October 1894, at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building
Royal Exhibition Building
The Royal Exhibition Building is a World Heritage Site-listed building in Melbourne, Australia, completed in 1880. It is located at 9 Nicholson Street in the Carlton Gardens, flanked by Victoria, Nicholson, Carlton and Rathdowne Streets, at the north-eastern edge of the central business district...

. The size of this enormous venue horrified the young pianist; nevertheless, his performance delighted the Melbourne critics who dubbed him "the flaxen haired phenomenon who plays like a master". This public acclaim helped Rose to decide that her son should continue his studies at the Hoch Conservatory
Hoch Conservatory
Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium - Musikakademie was founded in Frankfurt am Main on September 22, 1878. Through the generosity of Frankfurter Joseph Hoch, who bequeathed the Conservatory one million German gold marks in his testament, a school for music and the arts was established for all age groups. ...

 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany—she had been recommended to this institution by William Laver, head of piano studies at Melbourne's Conservatorium of music. Financial assistance was secured through a fund-raising benefit concert in Melbourne and a final recital in Adelaide, after which mother and son left Australia for Europe on 29 May 1895. Although he never returned permanently to Australia, Grainger maintained considerable patriotic feelings for his native land, and was proud of his Australian heritage.


In Frankfurt, Rose established herself as a teacher of English; her earnings were supplemented by contributions from John Grainger, who had settled in Perth
Perth, Western Australia
Perth is the capital and largest city of the Australian state of Western Australia and the fourth most populous city in Australia. The Perth metropolitan area has an estimated population of almost 1,700,000....

. The Hoch Conservatory's reputation for piano teaching had been enhanced by the tenure, until 1892, of Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era...

 as head of piano studies. Grainger's piano tutor was James Kwast
James Kwast
James Kwast was a Dutch-German pianist and renowned teacher of many other notable pianists. He was also a minor composer and editor.-Biography:Jacob James Kwast was born in Nijkerk, Netherlands, in 1852...

, who developed his young pupil's skills to the extent that, within a year, Grainger was being lauded as a prodigy. Grainger had difficult relations with his original composition teacher, Iwan Knorr
Iwan Knorr
Iwan Knorr was a German composer and teacher of music. A native of Mewe, he attended the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied with Ignaz Moscheles, Ernst Friedrich Richter and Carl Reinecke. In 1874 he became a teacher and in 1878 director of music theory instruction at the Imperial...

; he withdrew from Knorr's classes to study composition privately with an amateur composer and folk-music enthusiast, Karl Klimsch, whom he would later honour as "my only composition teacher".

Together with a group of slightly older British students — Roger Quilter
Roger Quilter
Roger Quilter was an English composer, known particularly for his songs.-Biography:Born in Hove, Sussex, Quilter was a younger son of Sir William Quilter, 1st Baronet, who was a noted art collector...

, Balfour Gardiner, Cyril Scott
Cyril Scott
Cyril Meir Scott was an English composer, writer, and poet.-Biography:Scott was born in Oxton, England to a shipper and scholar of Greek and Hebrew, and Mary Scott , an amateur pianist. He showed a talent for music from an early age and was sent to the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany to...

 and Norman O'Neill, all of whom became his friends — Grainger helped form the "Frankfurt Group", whose long-term objective was to rescue British and Scandinavian music from what they considered the negative influences of central European music. Encouraged by Klimsch, Grainger turned away from composing classical pastiches reminiscent of Handel
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music...

, Haydn
Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn , known as Joseph Haydn , was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms...

 and Mozart, and developed a personal compositional style the originality and maturity of which quickly impressed and astonished his friends. At this time Grainger discovered the poetry of Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

 and began setting it to music; according to Scott, "No poet and composer have been so suitably wedded since Heine
Heinrich Heine
Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder by composers such as Robert Schumann...

 & Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....


After accompanying her son on an extended European tour in the summer of 1900 Rose, whose health had been poor for some time, suffered a nervous collapse and could no longer work. To replace lost income Grainger began giving piano lessons and public performances; his first solo recital was in Frankfurt on 6 December 1900. Meanwhile he continued his studies with Kwast, and increased his repertoire until he was confident he could maintain himself and his mother as a concert pianist. Having chosen London as his future base, in May 1901 Grainger abandoned his studies and, with Rose, left Frankfurt for England.

Before leaving Frankfurt, Grainger had fallen in love with Kwast's daughter Mimi; in an autobiographical essay dated 1947 he admits to being "already sex-crazy" at this time. (Mimi Kwast, who was the grand-daughter of Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller was a German composer, conductor, writer and music-director.-Biography:Ferdinand Hiller was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main, where his father Justus was a merchant in English textiles – a business eventually continued by Ferdinand’s brother Joseph...

, married another of her father's pupils, Hans Pfitzner
Hans Pfitzner
Hans Erich Pfitzner was a German composer and self-described anti-modernist. His best known work is the post-Romantic opera Palestrina, loosely based on the life of the great sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.-Biography:Pfitzner was born in Moscow, Russia, where his...

.) John Bird, Grainger's biographer, also records that during his Frankfurt years Grainger began to develop sexual appetites that were "distinctly abnormal"; by the age of 16 he had started to experiment in flagellation and other sado-masochistic practices, which he continued to pursue through most of his adult life. Bird surmises that Grainger's fascination with themes of punishment and pain derived from the harsh discipline which Rose had subjected him as a child.

Concert pianist

In London, Grainger's charm, good looks and talent (with some assistance from the local Australian community) ensured that he was quickly taken up as a pianist by wealthy patrons, and was soon performing in concerts in private homes. The Times critic recorded after one such appearance that Grainger's playing "revealed rare intelligence and a good deal of artistic insight". In 1902 he was presented by the socialite Lillith Lowrey to Queen Alexandra
Alexandra of Denmark
Alexandra of Denmark was the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom...

, who thereafter frequently attended his London recitals. Lowrey, 20 years Grainger's senior, traded patronage and contacts for sexual favours — he termed the relationship a "love-serve job". She was the first woman with whom he had sex; he later wrote of this initial encounter that he had experienced "an overpowering landslide" of feeling, and that "I thought I was about to die. If I remember correctly, I only experienced fear of death. I don't think that any joy entered into it".

In February 1902 Grainger made his first appearance as a piano soloist with an orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky)
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between November 1874 and February 1875. It was revised in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888. The first version received heavy criticism from Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky's desired pianist....

 with the Bath Pump Room Orchestra. In October of that year he toured Britain in a concert party with Adelina Patti
Adelina Patti
Adelina Patti was a highly acclaimed 19th-century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851 and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914...

, the Italian-born opera singer. Patti was greatly taken by the young pianist and prophesied a glorious career for him. The following year he met the German-Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni
Ferruccio Busoni
Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian composer, pianist, editor, writer, piano and composition teacher, and conductor.-Biography:...

. Initially the two men were on cordial terms (Busoni offered to give Grainger lessons free of charge) and as a result, Grainger spent part of the 1903 summer in Berlin as Busoni's pupil. However, the visit was not a success; as Bird notes, Busoni had expected "a willing slave and adoring disciple", a role Grainger was not willing to fulfil. Grainger returned to London in July 1903; almost immediately he departed with Rose on a 10-month tour of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as a member of a party organised by the Australian contralto Ada Crossley
Ada Crossley
Ada Jemima Crossley was an Australian singer.Crossley was a daughter of E. Wallis Crossley, a farmer. She was born at Tarraville, Gippsland, Victoria...


Emergent composer

Before going to London Grainger had composed numerous Kipling settings, and his first mature orchestral pieces. In London, when he found time he continued to compose; a letter to Balfour Gardiner dated 21 July 1901 indicates that he was working on his "Marching Song of Democracy" (a Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman
Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse...

 setting), and had made good progress with the experimental works "Train Music" and "Charging Irishrey". In his early London years he also composed "Hill-song Number 1" (1902), an instrumental piece much admired by Busoni.

In 1905, inspired by a lecture given by the pioneer folksong historian Lucy Broadwood
Lucy Broadwood
Lucy Etheldred Broadwood was principally an English folksong collector and researcher during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As one of the founder members of the Folk-Song Society and Editor of the Folk Song Journal, she was one of the main influences of the English folk revival of that...

, Grainger began to collect original folksongs. Starting at Brigg
Brigg is a small market town in North Lincolnshire, England, with a population of 5,076 in 2,213 households . The town lies at the junction of the River Ancholme and east-west transport routes across northern Lincolnshire...

 in Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

, over the next five years he gathered and transcribed more than 300 songs from all over the country, including much material that had never been written down before. From 1906 Grainger used a phonograph, one of the first collectors to do so, and by this means he assembled more than 200 Edison cylinder
Phonograph cylinder
Phonograph cylinders were the earliest commercial medium for recording and reproducing sound. Commonly known simply as "records" in their era of greatest popularity , these cylinder shaped objects had an audio recording engraved on the outside surface which could be reproduced when the cylinder was...

 recordings of native folk singers. These activities coincided with what Bird calls "the halcyon days of the 'First English Folksong Revival'".

As his stature in the music world increased, Grainger became acquainted with many of its leading figures, including Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

, Elgar
Edward Elgar
Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet OM, GCVO was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos...

, Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 and Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

. In 1907 he met Frederick Delius
Frederick Delius
Frederick Theodore Albert Delius, CH was an English composer. Born in the north of England to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce...

, with whom he achieved an immediate rapport — the two musicians had similar ideas about composition and harmony, and shared a dislike for the classical German masters. Both were inspired by folk music; Grainger gave Delius his setting of the folksong Brigg Fair
Brigg Fair
"Brigg Fair" is an English folk song. It is best known in a choral arrangement by Percy Grainger and a subsequent set of orchestral variations by Frederick Delius....

, which the older composer developed into his famous orchestral rhapsody, dedicated to Grainger. The two remained close friends until Delius's death in 1934.

Grainger first met Grieg at the home of the London financier Sir Edgar Speyer
Edgar Speyer
Sir Edgar Speyer, 1st Baronet was an American-born financier and philanthropist. He became a British subject in 1892 and was chairman of Speyer Brothers, the British branch of his family's international finance house, and a partner in the German and American branches...

, in May 1906. As a student Grainger had learned to appreciate the Norwegian's harmonic originality, and by 1906 had several Grieg pieces in his concert repertoire, including the piano concerto
Piano Concerto (Grieg)
The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, composed by Edvard Grieg in 1868, was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.-Structure :The concerto is in three movements:...

. Grieg was greatly impressed with Grainger's playing, and wrote that the Australian was "a genius that we Scandinavians cannot do other than love." Through 1906–7 the two maintained a mutually complimentary correspondence, which culminated in Grainger's ten-day visit in July 1907 to the composer's Norwegian home, "Troldhaugen" near Bergen
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway with a population of as of , . Bergen is the administrative centre of Hordaland county. Greater Bergen or Bergen Metropolitan Area as defined by Statistics Norway, has a population of as of , ....

. Here the two spent much time revising and rehearsing the piano concerto in preparation for that year's Leeds Festival
Leeds Festival (classical music)
The Leeds Festival was a classical music festival which took place between 1858 and 1985 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.The first festival celebrated the opening of Leeds Town Hall by Queen Victoria on 7 September 1858...

. Their plans for a long-term working relationship were thwarted by Grieg's sudden death in September 1907; this relatively brief acquaintance had a considerable impact on Grainger, and he championed Grieg's music for the rest of his life.

After fulfilling a hectic schedule of concert engagements in Britain and continental Europe, in August 1908 Grainger accompanied Ada Crossley on a second Australasian tour, during which he added several cylinders of Maori and Polynesian music to his collection of recordings. He had resolved to establish himself as a top-ranking pianist before promoting himself as a composer, though he continued to compose both original works and folksong settings. Some of his most successful and most characteristic pieces, such as "Mock Morris", "Handel in the Strand", "Shepherd's Hey" and "Molly on the Shore" date from this period. In 1908 he obtained the tune of "Country Gardens" from the folk music specialist Cecil Sharp
Cecil Sharp
Cecil James Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England in the early 20th century, and many of England's traditional dances and music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them.-Early life:Sharp was born in Camberwell, London, the eldest son of...

, though he did not fashion it into a performable piece for another ten years. In 1911 Grainger finally felt confident enough of his standing as a pianist to begin large-scale publishing of his compositions, at the same time adopting the professional name of "Percy Aldridge Grainger".

In a series of concerts arranged by Balfour Gardiner at London's Queen's Hall
Queen's Hall
The Queen's Hall was a concert hall in Langham Place, London, opened in 1893. Designed by the architect T.E. Knightley, it had room for an audience of about 2,500 people. It became London's principal concert venue. From 1895 until 1941, it was the home of the promenade concerts founded by Robert...

 in March 1912, five of Grainger's works were performed to great public acclaim; the band of thirty guitars and mandolins for the performance of "Fathers and Daughters" created a particular impression. On 21 May 1912 Grainger presented the first concert devoted entirely to his own compositions, at the Aeolian Hall, London; the concert was, he reported, "a sensational success". A similarly enthusiastic reception was given to Grainger's music at a second series of Gardiner concerts the following year.

In 1905 Grainger began a close friendship with Karen Holten, a Danish music student who had been recommended to him as a piano pupil. She became an important confidante; the relationship persisted for eight years, largely through correspondence. After her marriage in 1916 she and Grainger continued to correspond and occasionally meet until her death in 1953. Grainger was briefly engaged in 1913 to another pupil, Margot Harrison, but the relationship foundered through a mixture of Rose's over-possessiveness and Grainger's indecision.

Departure for America

In April 1914 Grainger gave his first performance of Delius's piano concerto, at a music festival in Torquay
Torquay is a town in the unitary authority area of Torbay and ceremonial county of Devon, England. It lies south of Exeter along the A380 on the north of Torbay, north-east of Plymouth and adjoins the neighbouring town of Paignton on the west of the bay. Torquay’s population of 63,998 during the...

. Thomas Beecham, who was one of the festival's guest conductors, reported to Delius that "Percy was good in the forte passages, but made far too much noise in the quieter bits". Grainger was receiving increasing recognition as a composer; leading musicians and orchestras were adding his works to their repertoires. His decision to leave England for America in early September 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, damaged his reputation among his patriotically minded British friends. Grainger wrote that the reason for this abrupt departure was "to give mother a change". However, according to Bird, Grainger often explained that his reason for leaving London was that "he wanted to emerge as Australia's first composer of worth, and to have laid himself open to the possibility of being killed would have rendered his goal unattainable". The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B...

music critic Robin Legge accused him of cowardice, and told him not to expect a welcome in England after the war, words that hurt Grainger deeply.

Grainger's first American tour began on 11 February 1915 with a recital at New York's Aeolian Hall
Aeolian Hall (New York)
Aeolian Hall was a concert hall near Times Square in Midtown Manhattan, New York City located on the third floor of 29-33 West 42nd Street across the street from Bryant Park. The Aeolian Building was built in 1912 for the Aeolian Company, which manufactured pianos...

. He played works by Bach, Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene...

, Handel and Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

 alongside two of his own compositions: "Colonial Song" and "Mock Morris". In July 1915 Grainger had formally registered his intention to apply for US citizenship. Over the next two years his engagements included concerts with Nellie Melba in Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 and Pittsburgh and a command performance before President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

. In addition to his concert performances, Grainger secured a contract with the Duo-Art Company for making pianola rolls, and signed a recording contract with Columbia.

In April 1917 Grainger received news of John Grainger's death in Perth. On 9 June 1917, after America's entry into the war, he enlisted as a bandsman in the Coast Artillery Corps of the US Army. He had joined as a saxophonist
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

, though he records learning the oboe
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" , "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca...

: "I long for the time when I can blow my oboe well enough to play in the band". In his 18 months' service, Grainger made frequent appearances as a pianist at Red Cross
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross , also known as the American National Red Cross, is a volunteer-led, humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education inside the United States. It is the designated U.S...

 and Liberty bond
Liberty bond
A Liberty Bond was a war bond that was sold in the United States to support the allied cause in World War I. Subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty in the United States and introduced the idea of financial securities to many citizens for the first time. The Act of Congress which...

 concerts. As a regular encore he began to play a piano setting of the tune "Country Gardens". The piece became instantly popular; sheet music sales quickly broke many publishing records. The work was to become synonymous with Grainger's name through the rest of his life, though he came in time to detest it. On 3 June 1918 he became a naturalised American citizen.

Career zenith

After leaving the army in January 1919, Grainger refused an offer to become conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra is an American symphony orchestra based in St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1880 by Joseph Otten as the St. Louis Choral Society, the SLSO is the second-oldest symphony orchestra in the United States as it is preceded by the New York Philharmonic.-History:The St...

 and resumed his career as a concert pianist. He was soon performing around 120 concerts a year, generally to great critical acclaim, and in April 1921 reached a wider audience by performing in a cinema, New York's Capitol Theatre
Capitol Theatre (New York City)
The Capitol Theatre was a movie palace located at 1645 Broadway, just north of Times Square in New York City, across from the Winter Garden Theatre. Designed by Thomas W. Lamb, the Capitol seated 4000 and opened October 24, 1919. It was one of the first of the large lavish movie theaters that...

. Grainger commented that the huge audiences at these cinema concerts often showed greater appreciation for his playing than those at established concert venues such as Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States, located at 881 Seventh Avenue, occupying the east stretch of Seventh Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park....

 and the Aeolian. In the summer of 1919 he led a course in piano technique at Chicago Musical College
Chicago Musical College
Chicago Musical College is a division of Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt UniversityIt was founded in 1867, less than four decades after the city of Chicago was incorporated...

, the first of many such educational duties he would undertake in later years.

Amid his concert and teaching duties, Grainger found time to rescore many of his works (a habit he continued throughout his life) and also to compose new pieces: his "Children's March: Over the Hills and Far Away", and the orchestral version of "The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart" both originated in this period. He also began to develop the technique of elastic scoring
Elastic Scoring
Elastic scoring is a style of orchestration or music arrangement that was first used by the Australian composer Percy Grainger.-Purpose:This technique of orchestration is used to provide composers with the option of allowing a diverse group of voices or instrumentalists the ability to perform their...

, a form of flexible orchestration which enabled works to be performed by different numbers of players and instrument types, from small chamber
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

 groups up to full orchestral strength.

In April 1921 Grainger moved with his mother to a large house in White Plains, New York
White Plains, New York
White Plains is a city and the county seat of Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located in south-central Westchester, about east of the Hudson River and northwest of Long Island Sound...

. This was his home for the remainder of his life. From the beginning of 1922 Rose's health deteriorated sharply; she was suffering from delusions and nightmares, and became fearful that her illness would harm her son's career. Because of the closeness of the bond between the two, there had long been rumours that their relationship was incestuous; in April 1922 Rose was directly challenged over this issue by her friend Lotta Hough. From her last letter to Grainger, dated 29 April, it seems that this confrontation unbalanced Rose; on 30 April, while Grainger was touring on the West Coast, she jumped to her death from an office window on the 18th floor of the Aeolian Building in New York City. The letter, which began "I am out of my mind and cannot think properly", asked Grainger if he had ever spoken to Lotta of "improper love". She signed the letter: "Your poor insane mother".


After Rose's funeral, Grainger sought solace in a return to work. In autumn 1922 he left for a year-long trip to Europe, where he collected and recorded Danish folksongs before a concert tour that took him to Norway, Holland, Germany and England. In Norway he stayed with Delius at the latter's summer home. Delius was by now almost blind; Grainger helped fulfil his friend's wish to see a Norwegian sunset by carrying him (with some assistance) to the top of a nearby mountain peak. He returned to White Plains in August 1923.

Although now less committed to a year-round schedule of concerts, Grainger remained a very popular performer. His eccentricities, often exaggerated for publicity reasons, reportedly included running into auditoriums in gym kit and leaping over the grand piano to create a grand entrance. While he continued to revise and rescore his compositions, he increasingly worked on arrangements of music by other composers, in particular works by Bach, Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene...

, Fauré
Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers...

 and Delius. Away from music, Grainger's preoccupation with Nordic culture led him to develop a form of English which, he maintained, reflected the character of the language before the Norman conquest. Words of Norman or Latin origin were replaced by supposedly Nordic word-forms, such as "blend-band" (orchestra), "forthspeaker" (lecturer) and "writ-piece" (article). He called this "blue-eyed" English. His convictions of Nordic superiority eventually led Grainger, in letters to friends, to express his views in crudely racial and anti-Semitic terms; the music historian David Pear describes Grainger as, "at root, a racial bigot of no small order".

Grainger made further trips to Europe in 1925 and 1927, collecting more Danish folk music with the aid of the octogenarian ethnologist Evald Tang Kristensen
Evald Tang Kristensen
Evald Tang Kristensen was a Danish folklore collector and author. Working first as a schoolteacher and later solely as a collector, he assembled and published a huge amount of detailed information on all aspects of folklore as he visited country people throughout his native Jutland.-Early...

; this work formed the basis of the Suite on Danish Folksongs of 1928–30. He also visited Australia and New Zealand, in 1924 and again in 1926. In November 1926, while returning to America, he met Ella Ström, a Swedish-born artist with whom he developed a close friendship. On arrival in America the pair separated, but were reunited in England the following autumn after Grainger's final folksong expedition to Denmark. In October 1927 the couple agreed to marry. Ella had a daughter, Elsie, who had been born out of wedlock in 1909. Grainger always acknowledged her as a family member, and developed a warm personal relationship with her.

Although Bird asserts that before her marriage, Ella knew nothing of Grainger's sado-masochistic interests, in a letter dated 23 April 1928 (four months before the wedding) Grainger writes to her: "As far as my taste goes, blows [with the whip] are most thrilling on breasts, bottom, inner thighs, sexparts". He later adds, "I shall thoroly thoroly understand if you cannot in any way see yr way to follow up this hot wish of mine". The couple were married on 9 August 1928 at the Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is a modern amphitheater in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, United States that is used primarily for music performances...

, at the end of a concert which, in honour of the bride, had included the first performance of Grainger's bridal song "To a Nordic Princess".


From the late 1920s and early 1930s Grainger became involved increasingly with educational work in schools and colleges, and in late 1931 accepted a year's appointment for 1932–33 as professor of music at New York University
New York University
New York University is a private, nonsectarian research university based in New York City. NYU's main campus is situated in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan...

 (NYU). In this role he delivered a series of lectures under the heading "A General Study of the Manifold Nature of Music", which introduced his students to a wide range of ancient and modern works. On 25 October 1932 his lecture was illustrated by Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions...

 and his band, who appeared in person; Grainger admired Ellington's music, seeing harmonic similarities with Delius. On the whole, however, Grainger did not enjoy his tenure at NYU; he disliked the institutional formality, and found the university generally unreceptive to his ideas. Despite many offers he never accepted another formal academic appointment, and refused all offers of honorary degree
Honorary degree
An honorary degree or a degree honoris causa is an academic degree for which a university has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study, and the passing of examinations...

s. His New York lectures became the basis for a series of radio talks which he gave for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1934–35; these were later summarised and published as Music: A Commonsense View of All Types.On 3rd and 4th September 1934 Grainger adjudicated at the Sydney Eisteddfod
Sydney Eisteddfod
The Sydney Eisteddfod is an independent community based non-profit organisation limited by guarantee a registered charity in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and listed on the federal Register of Cultural Organisations eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. Directors and advisors are...

 on Sections 10 (Vocal Ensemble) and 45 (String Ensemble) for which he selected and provided the music. In 1937 Grainger began an association with the Interlochen International Music Camp
Interlochen Center for the Arts
Interlochen Center for the Arts is a privately owned, 1,200 acre arts education institution in Interlochen, Michigan, roughly 15 miles southwest of Traverse City...

, and taught regularly at its summer schools until 1944.


The idea of establishing a Grainger Museum in Australia had first occurred to Grainger in 1932. He began collecting and recovering from friends letters and artefacts, even those demonstrating the most private aspects of his life, such as whips, bloodstained shirts and revealing photographs. In September 1933 he and Ella went to Australia to begin supervising the building work. To finance the project, Grainger embarked on a series of concerts and broadcasts, in which he subjected his audiences to a vast range of the world's music in accordance with his "universalist" view. Controversially, he argued for the superior achievements of Nordic composers over traditionally recognised masters such as Mozart and Beethoven.

Among various new ideas, Grainger introduced his so-called "free-music" theories. He believed that conformity with the traditional rules of set scales, rhythms and harmonic procedures amounted to "absurd goose-stepping", from which music should be set free. He demonstrated two experimental compositions of free music, performed initially by a string quartet and later by the use of electronic theremins. He believed that ideally, free music required non-human performance, and spent much of his later life developing machines to fulfil this vision.

While the building of the museum proceeded, the Graingers visited England for several months in 1936, during which Grainger made his first BBC broadcast. In this, he conducted "Love Verses from The Song of Solomon" in which the tenor soloist was the then unknown Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears CBE was an English tenor who was knighted in 1978. His career was closely associated with the composer Edward Benjamin Britten....

. After spending 1937 in America, Grainger returned to Melbourne in 1938 for the official opening of the museum; among those present at the ceremony was his old piano teacher Adelaide Burkitt. The museum did not open to the general public during Grainger's lifetime, but was available to scholars for research. In the late 1930s Grainger spent much time arranging his works in settings for wind bands. He wrote A Lincolnshire Posy for the March 1937 convention of the American Band Masters' Association in Milwaukee, and in 1939, on his last visit to England before the Second World War, he composed "The Duke of Marlborough's Fanfare", giving it the subtitle "British War Mood Grows".

Second World War

The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 curtailed Grainger's overseas travelling. In the autumn of 1940, alarmed that the war might precipitate an invasion of the United States eastern seaboard, he and Ella moved to Springfield, Missouri
Springfield, Missouri
Springfield is the third largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. According to the 2010 census data, the population was 159,498, an increase of 5.2% since the 2000 census. The Springfield Metropolitan Area, population 436,712, includes the counties of...

, in the centre of the continent. From 1940 Grainger played regularly in charity concerts, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 brought the United States into the war in December 1941; historian Robert Simon calculates that Grainger made a total of 274 charity appearances during the war years, many of them at Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 and Air force
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 camps. In 1942 a collection of his Kipling settings, the Jungle Book cycle, was performed in eight cities by the choir of the Gustavus Adolphus College
Gustavus Adolphus College
Gustavus Adolphus College is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America located in St. Peter, Minnesota, United States. A coeducational, four-year, residential institution, it was founded in 1862 by Swedish Americans. To this day the school is firmly...

 from St. Peter, Minnesota
St. Peter, Minnesota
St. Peter is a city in Nicollet County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 11,196 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Nicollet County.St...


Postwar decline

Exhausted from his wartime concerts routine, Grainger spent much of 1946 on holiday in Europe. He was experiencing a sense of career failure; in 1947, when refusing the Chair of Music at Adelaide University
University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide is a public university located in Adelaide, South Australia. Established in 1874, it is the third oldest university in Australia...

, he wrote: "If I were 40 years younger, and not so crushed by defeat in every branch of music I have essayed, I am sure I would have welcomed such a chance". In January 1948 he conducted the premiere of his wind band setting of "The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart", written for the Goldman Band
Goldman Band
The Goldman Band was formed by American musician and composer Edwin Franko Goldman in 1918 from the earlier New York Military Band. Goldman had organized the New York Military Band in 1911...

 to celebrate the 70th birthday of its founder. Afterwards, Grainger denigrated his own music as "commonplace" while praising Darius Milhaud
Darius Milhaud
Darius Milhaud was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality...

's Suite Française, with which it had shared the programme.
On 10 August 1948, Grainger appeared at the London Proms
The Proms
The Proms, more formally known as The BBC Proms, or The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC, is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in London...

, playing the piano part in his Suite on Danish Folksongs with the London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...

 under Basil Cameron
Basil Cameron
Basil Cameron, CBE was an English conductor. He was born in Reading, Berkshire, England, the son of a German immigrant family. His birth name was Basil George Cameron Hindenberg. -Career:...

. On 18 September he attended the last night of the Proms, standing in the promenade section for Delius's Summer Night on the River. Over the next few years several friends died: Gardiner in 1950, Quilter and Karen Holten in 1953. In October 1953 Grainger was operated on for abdominal cancer; his fight against this disease would last for the rest of his life. He continued to appear at concerts, often in church halls and educational establishments rather than major concert venues. In 1954, after his last Carnegie Hall appearance, Grainger's long promotion of Grieg's music was recognised when he was awarded the St. Olav Medal by King Haakon of Norway
Haakon VII of Norway
Haakon VII , known as Prince Carl of Denmark until 1905, was the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of the personal union with Sweden. He was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg...

. However, a growing bitterness was becoming evident in his writings and correspondence; in a letter to his lifelong friend, the Danish composer Herman Sandby, he bemoaned the continuing ascendency in music of the "German form", and asserted that "all my compositional life I have been a leader without followers".

After 1950 Grainger virtually ceased to compose. His principal creative activity in the last decade of his life was his work with Burnett Cross, a young physics teacher, on free music machines. The first of these was a relatively simple device controlled by an adapted pianola. Next was the "Estey-reed tone-tool", a form of giant harmonica which, Grainger expectantly informed his stepdaughter Elsie in April 1951, would be ready to play free music "in a few weeks". A third machine, the "Cross-Grainger Kangaroo-pouch", was completed by 1952. Developments in transistor technology encouraged Grainger and Cross to begin work on a fourth, entirely electronic machine, which was incomplete when Grainger died.

In September 1955 Grainger made his final visit to Australia, where he spent nine months organising and arranging exhibits for the museum. He refused to consider a "Grainger Festival", as suggested by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, because he felt that his homeland had rejected him and his music. Before leaving Melbourne, he deposited in a bank a parcel that contained an essay and photographs related to his sex life, not to be opened until 10 years after his death.

Last years

By 1957 Grainger's physical health had markedly declined, as had his powers of concentration. Nevertheless, he continued to visit Britain regularly; in May of that year he made his only television appearance, in a BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 "Concert Hour" programme when he played "Handel in the Strand" on the piano. Back home, after further surgery he recovered sufficiently to undertake a modest winter concerts season. On his 1958 visit to England he met Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

, the two having previously maintained a mutually complimentary correspondence. He agreed to visit Britten's Aldeburgh Festival
Aldeburgh Festival
The Aldeburgh Festival is an English arts festival devoted mainly to classical music. It takes place each June in the Aldeburgh area of Suffolk, centred on the main concert hall at Snape Maltings...

 in 1959, but was prevented by illness. Sensing that death was drawing near, he made a new will, bequeathing his skeleton "for preservation and possible display in the Grainger Museum". This wish was not carried out.

Through the winter of 1959–60 Grainger continued to perform his own music, often covering long distances by bus or train; he would not travel by air. On 29 April 1960 he gave his last public concert, at Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College is a private, Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. The institution comprises a liberal arts college, Dartmouth Medical School, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business, as well as 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences...

 in Hanover, New Hampshire
Hanover, New Hampshire
Hanover is a town along the Connecticut River in Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 11,260 at the 2010 census. CNN and Money magazine rated Hanover the sixth best place to live in America in 2011, and the second best in 2007....

, although by now his illness was affecting his concentration. On this occasion his morning recital went well, but his conducting in the afternoon was, in his own words, "a fiasco". Subsequently confined to his home, he continued to revise his music and arrange that of others; in August he informed Elsie that he was working on an adaptation of one of Cyril Scott's early songs. His last letters, written from hospital in December 1960 and January 1961, record attempts to work, despite failing eyesight and hallucinations: "I have been trying to write score for several days. But I have not succeeded yet." Grainger died in the White Plains hospital on 20 February 1961, at the age of 78. His body was flown to Adelaide where, on 2 March, he was buried in the Aldridge family vault in the West Terrace Cemetery
West Terrace Cemetery
The West Terrace Cemetery is South Australia’s oldest cemetery, first appearing on Colonel William Light’s 1837 plan of Adelaide. The 27.6 hectare site is located in the south-west corner of the Adelaide central business district, between West Terrace, Anzac Highway, Sir Donald Bradman Drive and...

, alongside Rose's ashes. Ella survived him by 18 years; in 1972, aged 83, she married a young archivist, Stewart Manville. She died at White Plains on 17 July 1979.


Grainger's own works fall into two categories: original compositions and folk music arrangements. Besides these, he wrote many settings of other composers' works. Despite his conservatory training he rebelled against the disciplines of the central European tradition, largely rejecting conventional forms such as symphony, sonata, concerto and opera. With few exceptions his original compositions are miniatures, lasting between two and eight minutes. Only a few of his works originated as piano pieces, though in due course almost all of them were, in his phrase, "dished up" in piano versions.

The conductor John Eliot Gardner describes Grainger as "a true original in terms of orchestration and imaginative instrumentation", whose terseness of expression is reminiscent in style both of the 20th century Second Viennese School
Second Viennese School
The Second Viennese School is the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna, where he lived and taught, sporadically, between 1903 and 1925...

 and the Italian madrigalists
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

 of the 16th and 17th centuries. Malcolm Gillies
Malcolm Gillies
Professor Malcolm George William Gillies is Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University.-Career:Gillies graduated with a degree in classics from the Australian National University, and subsequently earned a further degree in music from the University of Cambridge...

, a Grainger scholar, writes of Grainger's style that "you know it is 'Grainger' when you have heard about one second of a piece". The music's most individual characteristic, Gillies argues, is its texture — "the weft of the fabric", according to Grainger. Different textures are defined by Grainger as "smooth", "grained" and "prickly".

Grainger was a musical democrat; he believed that in a performance each player's role should be of equal importance. His elastic scoring technique was developed to enable groups of all sizes and combinations of instruments to give effective performances of his music. Experimentation is evident in Grainger's earliest works; irregular rhythms based on rapid changes of time signature
Time signature
The time signature is a notational convention used in Western musical notation to specify how many beats are in each measure and which note value constitutes one beat....

 were employed in "Love Verses from The Song of Solomon" (1899), and "Train Music" (1901), long before Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

 adopted this practice. In search of specific sounds Grainger employed unconventional instruments and techniques: solovoxes, theremins, marimba
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys ...

s, musical glasses
Glass harp
A glass harp is an instrument made of upright wine glasses....

, harmoniums, banjos, and ukulele
The ukulele, ; from ; it is a subset of the guitar family of instruments, generally with four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings....

s. In one early concert of folk music, Quilter and Scott were conscripted as performers, to whistle various parts. In "Random Round" (1912–14), inspired by the communal music-making he had heard in the Pacific Islands on his second Australasian tour, Grainger introduced an element of chance into performances; individual vocalists and instrumentalists could make random choices from a menu of variations. This experiment in "aleatory" composition presaged by many decades the use of similar procedures by avant-garde composers such as Berio
Luciano Berio
Luciano Berio, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI was an Italian composer. He is noted for his experimental work and also for his pioneering work in electronic music.-Biography:Berio was born at Oneglia Luciano Berio, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (October 24, 1925 – May 27, 2003) was an Italian...

 and Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Another critic calls him "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music"...


The brief "Sea Song" of 1907 was an early attempt by Grainger to write "beatless" music. This work, initially set over 14 irregular bars
Bar (music)
In musical notation, a bar is a segment of time defined by a given number of beats of a given duration. Typically, a piece consists of several bars of the same length, and in modern musical notation the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the top number of a...

 and occupying about 15 seconds of performing time, was a forerunner of Grainger's free music experiments of the 1930s. Grainger wrote: "It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying, and yet not be able to execute tonal glides and curves". The idea of tonal freedom, he said, had been in his head since as a boy of eleven or twelve he had observed the wave-movements in the sea. "Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching "free" (non-harmonic) combinations of tones; yet we are unable to take up these beauties ... into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony". In a 1941 letter to Scott, Grainger acknowledged that he had failed to produce any large-scale works in the manner of a Bach oratorio, a Wagner opera or a Brahms symphony, but excused this failure on the grounds that all his works prior to the mid-1930s had been mere preparations for his free music.

As a student, Grainger had learned to appreciate the music of Grieg, and came to regard the Norwegian as a paragon of Nordic beauty and greatness. Grieg in turn described Grainger as a new way forward for English composition, "quite different from Elgar, very original". After a lifetime interpreting Grieg's works, in 1944 Grainger began adapting the Norwegian's E minor Piano Sonata, Op. 7 as a "Grieg-Grainger Symphony", but abandoned the project after writing 16 bars of music. By this time, Grainger acknowledged that he had not fulfilled Grieg's high expectations of him, either as a composer or as a pianist. He also reflected on whether it would have been better, from the point of view of his development as a composer, had he never met the Griegs, "sweet and dear though they were to me".

Grainger was known for his musical experimentation and did not hesitate to exploit the capabilities of the orchestra. Train music was intended for 150 players and Country Gardens
Country Gardens
Country Gardens is an English folk tune collected by Cecil Sharp and arranged for piano in 1918 by Percy Grainger.In 2008 was added to the .-Format of renditions:...

 has some some lush harmonic invention. Perhaps his most ambitious work was The Warriors
The Warriors
The Warriors is a 1979 American cult action/thriller film directed by Walter Hill and based on Sol Yurick's 1965 novel of the same name. Like the novel, the film borrows elements from the Anabasis by Xenophon.-Plot:...

, an 18 minute 'imaginary ballet' of frenzied 'danceable music', entrusted to a huge orchestral ensemble incorporating a large 'tuneful percussion' mixture alongside at least three pianos—in one performance, Grainger used nineteen pianos with thirty pianists—to be played by "exceptionally strong vigorous players".


Grainger considered himself an Australian composer who, he said, wrote music "in the hopes of bringing honor and fame to my native land". However, much of Grainger's working life was spent elsewhere, and the extent to which he influenced Australian music, within his lifetime and thereafter, is debatable. His efforts to educate the Australian musical public in the mid-1930s were indifferently received, and did not attract disciples; writing in 2010, the academic and critic Roger Covell
Roger Covell
Roger David Covell AM is an eminent Australian musicologist, critic and author. He is Professor Emeritus in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, and continues to contribute articles and reviews to the Sydney Morning Herald, where he...

 identifies only one significant contemporary Australian musician — the English-born horn player, pianist and conductor David Stanhope — working in the Grainger idiom. In 1956, the suggestion by the composer Keith Humble that Grainger be invited to write music for the opening of the 1956 Summer Olympics
1956 Summer Olympics
The 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVI Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956, with the exception of the equestrian events, which could not be held in Australia due to quarantine regulations...

 in Melbourne had been rejected by the organisers of the Games.
Grainger was a life long atheist and believed he would only endure in the body of work he left behind. From this belief he took action to ensure that survival with the establishment of his own museum to Australia. The Grainger Museum was given little attention before the mid-1970s; it was initially regarded as evidence either of an over-large ego or of extreme eccentricity. Since then the University of Melbourne's commitment to the museum has, Covell asserts, "rescued [it] permanently from academic denigration and belittlement". Its vast quantities of materials have been used to investigate not only Grainger's life and works, but those of contemporaries whom Grainger had known: Grieg, Delius, Scott and others. The Grainger home at 7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, is now the Percy Grainger Library and is a further repository of memorabilia and historic performance material, open to researchers and visitors.

In Britain, Grainger's main legacy is the revival of interest in folk music. His pioneering work in the recording and setting of folksongs greatly influenced the following generation of English composers; Benjamin Britten acknowledged the Australian as his master in this respect. After hearing a broadcast of some Grainger settings, Britten reportedly declared that these "[knocked] all the Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

 and R. O. Morris
R. O. Morris
Reginald Owen Morris , almost universally cited in sources and referred to even by his friends by his initials, as 'R.O. Morris', was a British composer whose compositions have been overshadowed by his formidable reputation as a teacher.He was born in York...

 arrangements into a cocked hat". In the United States, Grainger left a strong educational legacy through his involvement, over 40 years, with high school, summer school and college students. Likewise, his innovative approaches to instrumentation and scoring have left their mark on modern American band music; Timothy Reynish, a conductor and teacher of band music in Europe and America, has described him as "the only composer of stature to consider military bands the equal, if not the superior, in expressive potential to symphony orchestras." Grainger's attempts to produce "free music" by mechanical and later electronic means, which he considered his most important work, produced no follow-up; they were quickly overtaken and nullified by new technological advances. Covell nevertheless remarks that in this endeavour, Grainger's dogged resourcefulness and ingenious use of available materials demonstrate a particularly Australian aspect of the composer's character — one of which Grainger would have been proud.


In 1945 Grainger devised an informal ratings system for composers and musical styles, based on criteria that included originality, complexity and beauty. Of forty composers and styles, he ranked himself equal ninth—behind Wagner and
Delius, but well ahead of Grieg and Tchaikovsky. Nevertheless, in his later years he frequently denigrated his career, for example writing to Scott: "I have never been a true musician or true artist". His failure to be recognised as a composer for anything beyond his popular folk-song arrangements was a source of frustration and disappointment; for years after his death the bulk of his output remained largely unperformed. From the 1990s an increase in the number of Grainger recordings has brought a revival of interest in his works, and has enhanced his reputation as a composer. An unsigned tribute published on the Gramophone website in February 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Grainger's death opined that "though he would never be put on a pedestal to join the pantheon of immortals, he is unorthodox, original and deserves better than to be dismissed by the more snooty arbiters of musical taste".

Of Grainger the pianist, The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

critic Harold Schonberg wrote that his unique style was expressed with "amazing skill, personality and vigor". The early enthusiasm which had greeted his concert appearances became muted in later years, and reviews of his performances during the final ten years of his life were often harsh. However, Britten regarded Grainger's late recording of the Grieg concerto, from a live performance at Aarhus
Aarhus or Århus is the second-largest city in Denmark. The principal port of Denmark, Aarhus is on the east side of the peninsula of Jutland in the geographical center of Denmark...

 in 1957, as "one of the noblest ever committed to record"—despite the suppression of the disc for many years, because of the proliferation of wrong notes and other faults. Brian Allison from the Grainger Museum, referring to Grainger's early displays of artistic skills, has speculated that had John Grainger's influence not been removed, "Percy Aldridge Grainger may today be remembered as one of Australia's leading painters and designers, who just happened to have a latent talent as a pianist and composer". The ethnomusicologist
Ethnomusicology is defined as "the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts."Coined by the musician Jaap Kunst from the Greek words ἔθνος ethnos and μουσική mousike , it is often considered the anthropology or ethnography of music...

 John Blacking, while acknowledging Grainger's contribution to social and cultural aspects of music, nevertheless writes that if the continental foundation of Grainger's musical education had not been "undermined by dilettantism and the disastrous influence of his mother, I am sure that his ultimate contribution to the world of music would have been much greater".


Between 1908 and 1957 Grainger made numerous recordings, usually as pianist or conductor, of his own and other composers' music. His first recordings, for The Gramophone Company Ltd (later HMV), included the cadenza
In music, a cadenza is, generically, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a "free" rhythmic style, and often allowing for virtuosic display....

 to Grieg's piano concerto; he did not record a complete version of this work on disc until 1945. Much of his recording work was done between 1917 and 1931, under contract with Columbia
Columbia Records
Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

. At other times he recorded for Decca
Decca Records
Decca Records began as a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934; however, owing to World War II, the link with the British company was broken for several decades....

 (1944–45 and 1957), and Vanguard
Vanguard Records
Vanguard Records is a record label set up in 1950 by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon in New York. It started as a classical label, but is perhaps best known for its catalogue of recordings by a number of pivotal folk and blues artists from the 1960s; the Bach Guild was a subsidiary...

 (1957). Of his own compositions and arrangements, "Country Gardens", "Shepherd's Hey" and "Molly on the Shore" were recorded most frequently; in recordings of other composers, piano works by Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Grieg, Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 and Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

  figure most often. Grainger's complete 78 rpm solo piano recordings are now available on compact disc as a CD box set on APR records
Appian Publications & Recordings
Appian Publications & Recordings is a British company specialising in the restoration and re-issue of early recordings of classical music.Known as APR, the company was apparently the brainchild of Edwin Alan and much of the transferring and remastering of historical recordings was done by Bryan...

 in transfers made by Ward Marston. During his association with the Duo-Art
Duo-Art was one of the leading reproducing piano technologies of the early 20th century, the others being American Piano Company , introduced in 1913 too, and Welte-Mignon in 1905. These technologies flourished at that time because of the poor quality of the early Phonograph...

 company between 1915 and 1932, Grainger made around 80 piano roll
Piano roll
A piano roll is a music storage medium used to operate a player piano, piano player or reproducing piano. A piano roll is a continuous roll of paper with perforations punched into it. The peforations represent note control data...

s of his own and others' music, many of which have subsequently been transferred to CD, using a wooden robot designed to play a concert grand piano via an array of precision mechanical fingers and feet. This reproduction system allowed Grainger to make a posthumous appearance in the Albert Hall
Albert Hall
Albert P. Hall is an American actor.Born in Brighton, Alabama, Hall graduated from the Columbia University School of the Arts in 1971. That same year he appeared Off-Broadway in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and on Broadway in the Melvin Van Peebles musical Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death...

, London, during the 1988 last night of the Proms as soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Grieg's Piano Concerto
Piano Concerto (Grieg)
The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, composed by Edvard Grieg in 1868, was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.-Structure :The concerto is in three movements:...


Since Grainger's death, recordings of his works have been undertaken by many artists and issued under many different labels. In 1995 Chandos Records
Chandos Records
Chandos Records is an independent classical music recording company based in Colchester, Essex, in the United Kingdom, founded in 1979 by Brian Couzens.- Background :...

 began to compile a complete recorded edition of Grainger's original compositions and folk settings. Of 25 anticipated volumes, 19 had been completed as of 2010; these were issued as a CD boxed set in 2011, to mark the 50th anniversary of the composer's death.


  • Triplow, Leighton H. "An Analysis of 'The Warriors' (1916) by Percy Grainger", 2011.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.