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Percy Grainger (1882-1961) : Represented Artist

Grainger was a musician of unusual breadth of vision, a composer of a broad spectrum of works from the highly experimental to the overtly popular

Random Audio Sample: Early one morning (satb choir with soloists and orchestra) by Percy Grainger, from the CD Works for chorus and orchestra.


Photo of Percy Grainger

Percy Aldridge Grainger was born at Brighton, near Melbourne, in 1882 and from an early age showed a precocious musical talent, making his first public appearance at the age of ten.

Following studies in Germany, he began a concert career in England and toured South Africa and Australia. In 1906 he met Grieg, who became enthusiastic about Grainger's talent. He settled in the USA, giving a sensational debut in New York in 1915 and gave summer sessions in Chicago from 1919 to 1931.

At his marriage to Ella Viola Strom in 1928, a spectacular affair staged at the Hollywood Bowl, he conducted his work To a Nordic Princess. His wide-ranging musical output was influenced by his studies of folk music, and featured experimental combinations of traditional tonality with "gliding" intervals, the use of polyrhythm and unusual, even electronic, instruments.

As early as 1937, he wrote a quartet for electronic instruments, notating the pitch by zigzags and curves. and rejected common Italian designations of tempi and dynamics.

He founded a Museum in Melbourne to house his manuscripts, and instructed that his bones be preserved, and possibly displayed, within it (his request was declined and upon his death in 1961, he was buried in an ordinary manner). An energetic eccentric, Percy Grainger has gained a certain measure of affection and stature in the public mind as an Australian musical pioneer.

Extract from the opening essay of the Percy Grainger Centennial Volume (University of Western Australia Studies in Music) by David Tall Chairman, The Percy Grainger Society:

The Australian Percy Aldridge Grainger was a musician of unusual breadth of vision, a composer of a broad spectrum of works from the highly experimental to the overtly popular, a musical innovator, a virtuoso pianist, a perceptive collector of folksongs (the first major collector in Britain to use recording techniques), an arranger of other people's music from Mediaeval times to the twentieth century and a pioneer in what he termed "free music".

With every activity he touched he wished to involve himself to his fullest capacity, be it in studying the technical side of making piano rolls so that he could edit his own recordings, or dressing up as a South Sea islander to learn more of their culture, or constructing his own machines on which he could realise the flights of his musical fancy direct, free from conventional restrictions on rhythm and pitch. Such are the many talents of this fascinating man that it has taken the energies of many writers to begin to build up a total picture of his musical achievements.

Conscious of the way his name seemed always to be linked with folksong, Grainger was often at pains to emphasise what he regarded as his more important work: his original compositions using entirely his own ideas. For us who wish to perform and hear his music, this is too narrow a limitation, for Grainger is not just a composer, he is the door to a vast musical world suffused with his own vital influence. His scholarly attitude, his love of all kinds of music and his refreshing desire to become involved in all things has left us a legacy of music which includes experimental pieces, original works, folksettings and a considerable number of transcriptions and free arrangements of other composers that he imbued with his own special brand of musical magic.


Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Walking tune : symphonic wind band (1940) Written at the request of Euege Goossens for the wind and brass forces of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Analysis & Media

Book: Try whistling this : writings about music / Andrew Ford.

Book: One hand on the manuscript : music in Australian cultural history, 1930-1960 / edited by Nicholas Brown, Peter Campbell, Robyn Holmes, Peter Read & Larry Sitsky.

Book: The new Percy Grainger companion / edited by Penelope Thwaites.

Book: Percy Grainger's Kipling settings : a study of the manuscript sources / Kay Dreyfus.

Book: Portrait of Percy Grainger / Malcolm Gillies and David Pear.

Book: The all-round man : selected letters of Percy Grainger, 1914-1961 / edited by Malcolm Gillies and David Pear.

Book: A complete catalogue of the works of Percy Grainger / edited, catalogued and with a foreword, afterword and explanatory notes by Teresa Balough.

Book: Facing Percy Grainger / compiled and edited David Pear.

Book: A musical genius from Australia : selected writings by and about Percy Grainger / compiled and with commentary by Teresa Balough.

Book: Percy Aldridge Grainger : symposium / compiled by Frank Callaway.

Book: Percy Grainger / Wilfrid Mellers.

Book: Percy Grainger : the inveterate innovator / by Thomas C. Slattery.

Book: Percy Grainger / John Bird.

Book: Percy Grainger / by Cole Thompson.

Book: Percy Grainger : the man behind the music / Eileen Dorum.

Book: Percy Grainger music collection. Part 1: music by Percy Aldridge Grainger / Kay Dreyfus.

Book: Studies in music no. 16, 1982 : Percy Grainger centennial volume.

Article: 'Mr Percy Grainger', a prophet of modernism : how Grainger brought ultra-modernism to Australia, 1934-1935

- Document: Blithe Bells: A free ramble on Johann Sebastian Bach’s aria ‘Sheep may safely graze’

- Document: Grainger arrangement of La Vallee des cloches (The Valley of the Bells)

- Article: Scored in black and white

- Program note: Flower Songs Ross Edwards

- CD booklet notes: Songs for baritone [Chandos: CHAN 9503]
by Penelope Thwaites

- CD booklet notes: Songs for mezzo [Chandos: CHAN 9730]
by Barry Peter Ould