Percy Aldridge Grainger

Forthcoming Concerts/Events

Grainger Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

The University Library’s new scholarly publication, Grainger Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal was launched in May 2011. Edited by Dr David Pear (London) and Dr Belinda Nemec (Melbourne), Grainger Studies is an annual peer-reviewed journal. True to Grainger’s life philosophy with its ‘all-rounded’ attempt to savour as much in life as possible, Grainger Studies is not merely a journal about Percy Grainger — though he figures prominently in it and it is intended that he will continue to do so in future annual issues. But to reflect the wide intellectual scope of Grainger’s interests, the journal is intended to represent as authentically as possible the style in which he devoured knowledge so gluttonously.

In June 1941 Grainger wrote to his friend Henry Balfour Gardiner: ‘Most museums, most cultural endeavors, suffer from being subjected to TOO MUCH TASTE, TOO MUCH ELIMINATION, TOO MUCH SELECTION, TOO MUCH SPECIALISATION! What we want (in museums & cultural records) is ALL-SIDEDNESS, side-lights, cross-references.’ The editors hope that Grainger Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal will also realise this ambition.

The first issue includes articles on a diversity of topics: Kay Dreyfus’s tricky task of writing Grainger’s entry in the Australian dictionary of biography (Michael Piggott); Grainger, early music, democracy and freedom (Malcolm Gillies); racial stereotypes in colonial stage music (Mark Pinner); Chinese joss houses and postmodern architecture (Derham Groves); standardisation of performing pitch in Melbourne (Simon Purtell); kitsch in Grainger’s music (Peter Tregear); dress, moral reform and masculinity in Australia (Sharon Peoples) and a review by Eleanor Tan of The new Percy Grainger companion.

Now that issue #1 has been published, submissions are welcome for issue #2, which will be published in 2012. Submissions should be sent to one or both of the editors ( or by 30 September 2011. Full details are available on the Grainger Studies web site. It is not essential for articles to discuss Percy Grainger or his work explicitly, but there must be a link between the topic of the article and something in Grainger’s range of interests.

The journal is published primarily in electronic format and is therefore available free of charge – see issue #1. Readers preferring a traditional printed format can purchase copies either in person or online from the Melbourne University Bookshop or at the Grainger Museum.


I have a question regarding Grainger that I'm hoping someone can answer.  Grainger championed Cyril Scott's Op.66 Piano Sonata for several decades, in concerts from about 1910 to the 1950s.  I have not found any reference to the existence of a recording or a tape of Grainger playing this sonata.  Does anyone know if such a tape (private or otherwise) might exist?  He was concertizing with it in the 1950s, when reel-to-reel tape recorders were around.  I wouldn't be surprised if someone has such a tape.  I would be very interested in hearing his rendition, since I am releasing my own recording of the work, which has been influenced by Grainger's profusely annotated working copy of it in the Grainger Museum.

Many thanks

Leslie De'Ath

37 Chisholm Street
N1R 4E3

Percy Grainger was born in Australia on July 8th, 1882.  He studied in Frankfurt before beginning a successful career as a concert pianist in England at the turn of the century.  His first compositions were experimental in nature, culminating with Hill Song I in 1902.  He subsequently modified his style in the popular British Folk-Music Settings and the Room-Music Tit- Bits.

In 1914 he sailed for America and took up residence, becoming an American citizen after a period in the US army.  He toured North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia on several occasions, setting up the Grainger Museum in the grounds of Melbourne University during visits to Australia in the 1930’s.

He had a musical mind of unusual breadth and vision, with interests spanning the ages from Mediaeval music to the latest twentieth century developments.  With Dom Anselm Hughes and Arnold Dolmetsch he made modern transcriptions of early music; in later life he devoted his energies to the design and construction of Free Music machines on which a composer could write his music as graphs on transparent sheets to be performed by the machine free of restrictions on rhythm and pitch.

In his own compositions he was mainly a miniaturist, though he composed a number of larger works including The Warriors, Marching Song of Democracy and the two Hill Songs.  During his early career he regarded himself primarily as a choral composer, developing new choral textures in his Kipling settings and folk-music arrangements.  In later life he composed and arranged many works for wind band, including his masterpiece, the Lincolnshire Posy, based mainly on his meticulous notations of folksongs taken down in the first decade of the twentieth century using an Edison phonograph.  Grainger was the first collector in England to make extensive recordings of folksong. In the 1920’s he made further recordings in Denmark which gave rise to his Danish Folk-Music Suite and other Danish folk-music settings.

He studied the Grieg Piano Concerto with the composer in 1907 and published the definitive annotated edition containing Grieg’s explicit directions.  For his piano recitals he transcribed his favourite melodies from a wide variety of composers including Dowland, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Delius, Fauré and Strauss.  He worked unceasingly to promote the music by his contemporaries , especially Cyril Scott, Delius and Grieg.

Of Grainger’s own music, the Norwegian Spaare Olsen wrote:

He masters the whole scale of human feeling - the soft, the tender, the lyrical, the intense, the dramatic, the wild.

He died at White Plains, New York in 1961.

Artistic verdicts on a composer like Percy Aldridge Grainger can only be passed when all known facts have been considered without prejudice, an axiom which condemned Grainger himself to misunderstanding in his lifetime and has postponed an accurate appraisal of his contribution to modern music until the recent past.  Virtuoso pianist, folksong collector and arranger, composer of salon tit-bits and experimental free music, musical theorist and musical pragmatist, he suffered from a surfeit of talent that in his lifetime obscured his virtues, not least the supreme virtue of never being dull.  Unwilling to listen with unbiased ears, his contemporaries mistook his vitality for clowning.   Following his death in 1961, it was this version of events that was accepted by many of the avant-garde, who at a time of Cage, world music and a general damning of tradition, should quite rightly have known otherwise.

Today, with our century’s history all but written, we can see that Grainger was a man born out of his time, though which time may have been more suited to his talents remains an open question.  A composer not of evolving technique and sensibility but of parallel interests pursued in a more or less arbitrary fashion, he left a diverse output which reflects his enthusiasms in its extraordinary internal chronologies and tireless revision of the same basic ideas.  Like his late flowering interest in synthetic sound-scores, or “free music”, the context of his work sounds prescient of recent cultural developments, yet also reflects his extraordinary honesty and consistency of purpose that even in his student days had inspired his quest for a natural democracy of musical sound.  Critics could describe this rapport with his surroundings and his ability to divorce expressive ends from their familiar means as in essence post modernist, a formula that admits every factor into the equation except the single one, personality, that Grainger possessed in abundance.

His life began in Brighton, Melbourne, in 1882 - not in itself a fact auspicious of great originality, but combined with the dominant influence of his mother, Rose, a distinctive symbol of the unorthodox creative spirit that ruled his life.  A child prodigy, he came to Europe in 1895 and studied at Frankfurt's Hoch Conservatoire for four years, absorbing Teutonic culture but not much liking it.  Then, in 1901, Percy and his mother moved on to London, where his fame as a concert pianist and composer rapidly increased.  Schott published his music from 1911, at which time his reputation was consolidated by the inclusion of his music in concerts at London's Queen's Hall and Aeolian Hall. Doubtless his fame would have resounded even further but for the intervention of fate, which in September 1914 caused mother and son to journey to America just a month after the outbreak of the First World War.

In a sense, much of the essence of Grainger’s achievement can be traced to these Edwardian years. Though the last four decades of his life encompassed many unusual incidents - his service as a US bandsman, his marriage to the poet Ella Viola Strom at the Hollywood Bowl and his foundation of the Grainger Museum at Melbourne University - all his characteristic enthusiasms were asserted most fruitfully during this earlier period.   A major influence was folk song, of which he collected over 500 examples to form the basis of his British Folk Music Settings including Country Gardens, Molly on the Shore and Shepherd’s Hey!  So popular have many of these pieces become that his brilliantly original way with the tunes has often been overlooked: the almost Ivesian drift of chords, for example, in the Irish Tune from County Derry, or the thrillingly cumulative energy of Bold William Taylor.   An unacknowledged master of the choral idiom, Grainger was not less skilful in creating orchestral versions of the songs, whether in the Lincolnshire Posy for wind band, or the haunting Danish Folk Music Suite, reflecting his lifelong interest in Scandinavian culture.

Many of these pieces were “dished up” for ensembles as diverse as wind quintet and piano duet, a practice which Grainger followed all his life, and which, with the often extensive period between a work's conception and completion, renders opus numbers invalid as a register of his output.  His own division of the oeuvre into the general categories of Kipling Settings, Room Music Tit-Bits like Mock Morris and the In a Nutshell Suite, Sentimentals like the Colonial Song and Sea Chanty Settings such as Shallow Brown, seems on first impression to reflect his odd penchant for inventing down-to-earth musical terms, endearing or infuriating according to taste.  Yet even here there is much sense in the humorous tone, a typically frank self-understanding of his work and an unusual candour of expression that paid little regard to diplomacy or convention.

Yet another aspect of this honesty, Grainger’s celebrated candour about aspects of his domestic life, would in itself today be the foundation of a successful celebrity career.  His imperishable legacy resides in the music, however, which in turn enshrines the memory of a sensitive and truly inventive intelligence.  His genius may well have found any age inimical to its unusual gifts. And yet in any epoch the vigour and freshness of a work such as The Warriors would rightly be regarded as displaying the essence of great musical art.  Widely regarded as his masterpiece, this orchestral fantasia on a programme of Grainger’s own devising enshrines his idea of “democratic polyphony” for a range of exotic instruments and music as a source of wholesome, positive energy.  Within the repertoire its status remains as unique as that of Grainger himself.  And in our present age of nine-day wonders and flexible agendas, its steadfast unity of purpose makes it a shining example of how one man pursued his own lifelong vision of artistic truth without compromising his integrity or the role of music as a true reflection of the self.

Nicholas Williams © 1996

World première recordings on Chandos:

Grainger Edition (Volumes 1 - 19 now available)
An introduction to Percy Grainger - from Chandos Records CD: CHAN 2029
Grainger's “Chosen Gems for Winds and other works for wind band” - forthcoming from Chandos Records

CD recordings by Penelope Thwaites:

Penelope Thwaites, piano:


Grainger Edition Vol. 16 (music for piano solo I) - from Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9895
Grainger Edition Vol. 17 (music for piano solo II) - from Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9919
Grainger Edition vol. 19 (music for piano solo III) - from Chandos Records CD: CHAN 10205
Chosen Gems for Piano - Unicorn-Kanchana CD: DKP 9127
(Although this recording is now unavailable in the UK, copies can still be obtained from the Berkshire Record Outlet in the USA)
Re-released as ‘Shepherd's Hey!’ Gems for Piano on Regis Records CD RRC 1107 - review

DUO RECORDINGS with John Lavender

Piano Music for 4 Hands Vol. 1 - Pavilion Records (Pearl) CD: SHE CD 9611
Piano Music for 4 Hands Vol. 2 - Pavilion Records (Pearl) CD: SHE CD 9623
Piano Music for 4 Hands Vol. 3 - Pavilion Records (Pearl) CD: SHE CD 9631
Grainger Edition (music for 4 hands I) - forthcoming from Chandos Records
Grainger Edition (music for 4 hands II) - forthcoming from Chandos Records

MULTI-PIANO with John Lavender, Wayne Marshall, Rhonda Gillespie, Anthony Gray and Barry Peter Ould

Grainger Edition Vol. 10 - Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9702

SONG RECORDINGS with Stephen Varcoe, Martyn Hill and Della Jones

Grainger Edition Vol. 2:     Songs for Baritone - Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9503 - review - Also available as MP3 download
Grainger Edition Vol. 7:     Songs for Tenor - Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9610
Grainger Edition Vol. 12:   Songs for Mezzo -
Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9730


Debussy - Pagodes (arr. Grainger) - Cala Records CD: CACDS4025
“Jungle-Book Cycle” - Hyperion Records CD: CDA66863
Grainger Edition Vol. 3 - Handel in the Strand - Chandos Records CD: CHAN 9499 - Also available as MP3 download

Full details of Penelope Thwaites’ important Grainger recordings can be viewed by clicking here.

ABC (Australia) Grainger recordings:

The Best of Percy Grainger (Collection) - ABC Classics/Eloquence CD
Over the Hills and Far Away (Piano Music Vol. 1, Leslie Howard, piano) - ABC Classics/Eloquence CD
Country Gardens (Piano Music Vol. 2, Leslie Howard, piano) - ABC Classics/Eloquence CD
Ye Banks and Braes (Collection - Cantillation) - ABC Classics

Piano Roll Recordings from Dal Segno

The Great Pianists, Vol. 4 - Percy Grainger

World première recordings on Hyperion:

Polyphony/Stephen Layton:

Grainger: ‘At Twilight’ (CDA66793)
Grainger: Jungle Book (CDA66863)

Marc-André Hamelin, piano:

Grainger: Piano Music (CDA66884)

Piers Lane, piano:

Rambles and Reflections (Grainger transcriptions) (CDA67279)
Bach Transcriptions (CDA 67344)

Other albums from Hyperion featuring Grainger’s music:

English Music for Viola (CDH 55085)

Shakespeare's Kingdom (CDA 66136)

Smörgasbord (CDA 67184)

World première recordings on Mark Custom Records:

The Music of Percy Grainger Vol. I (University of Houston Wind Ensemble, Eddie Green, Conductor)
The Music of Percy Grainger Vol. II (University of Houston Wind Ensemble, Eddie Green, Conductor)
The Music of Percy Grainger Vol. III (University of Houston Wind Ensemble, Eddie Green, Conductor)
The Music of Percy Grainger Vol. IV (University of Houston Wind Ensemble, Tom Bennett, Conductor)
The Begian Years Vol. I (University of Illinois Symphonic Band, Harry Begian, Conductor) - Music of Percy Grainger [1st time on CD]
The Begian Years Vol. II (University of Illinois Symphonic Band, Harry Begian, Conductor) - Music of Percy Grainger [1st time on CD]

Visit the website of Mark Custom Recording Service, Inc.

World première recordings on Mode Records:

Lydia Kavina plays “Free Music No. 1” for 4 Theremins
Lydia Kavina plays “Free Music No. 2” and “Beatless Music” for 6 Theremins (also includes a different recording of “Free Music No. 1”)
Cowell and Grainger Saxophone Music - forthcoming

World première recordings on Move Records:

List of Grainger CD albums available

Pioneering CD recordings of Grainger’s piano music by Martin Jones

Other CD albums:

Janine Sowden, piano:

“Free Rambles Dished Up” by Percy Grainger

Dallas Wind Symphony Recordings (Reference Recordings):

Lincolnshire Posy: Music for Band by Percy Grainger (Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, conductor) - HDCD RR-117
Crown Imperial: Festive Music for Organ, Winds, Brass and Percussion (Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, conductor; Mary Preston, organ) - HDCD - RR112 (includes: County Derry Air)
Pomp and Pipes: Powerful Music for Organ, Winds, Brass and Percussion (Dallas Wind Symphony, Frederick Fennell, conductor; Paul Riedo, organ) - HDCD - RR-58CD (includes: The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart)
Beachcomber (Dallas Wind Symphony, Frederick Fennell, conductor) - HDCD - RR62CD (includes: Ye Banks and Braes O Bonnie Doon)

New Publications:

The New Percy Grainger Companion (Edited Penelope Thwaites)

Self-Portrait of Percy Grainger (Edited Malcolm Gillies, David Pear and Matt Carroll)

Country Gardens and other works for piano (Edited by Joseph Smith)

His name was Percy Grainger (Edited by Leroy Osmon)

Orchestrational Archetypes in Percy Grainger’s Band Music (Brian Scott Wilson)

Percy Grainger: The Pictorial Biography

A Portrait of Percy Grainger (Edited by Malcolm Gillies and David Pear)

Hill Song I (the first Grainger study score) published by MPH, Germany

Carl Fischer Inc - New Critical Editions of Band Works

Associated Links:

The Age - Eminent Australians (Percy Grainger)

Alphabetical List of Works

Alphabetical List of Grainger’s arrangements of other composers’ music - new! - an alphabetical listing of Grainger’s compositions giving the number of CD albums they are available on.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Interview with Warren Burt and Barry Ould on the George Negus show

Australian Music Centre’s Grainger Pages

Bardic Edition (Music Publisher) - List of works available for sale

Classical Music Archives (Grainger midi files)

Collaborating with Grainger (Burnett Cross)

The “Danny Boy” connection

David Tall (Founder Chairman of the Percy Grainger Society)

Dutch Grainger Web Site (maintained by Kees Kramer)

Edwin F. Kalmus (USA Music Publisher issuing various Grainger works)

English Composers and the Military Band

Forthcoming Concerts featuring Grainger’s Music

The Free Music Machines of Percy Grainger (Rainer Linz)

Grainger and Adelaide (Adelaide Symphony Orchestra's webpage by James Koehne)

Grainger-Burnard Correspondence

Grainger and Denmark (in Danish)

Grainger Obituary by Cyril Scott from the Musical Times

Grainger's Promotion of Grieg (Lionel Carley) [pdf document - needs Acrobat Reader]

Grainger: Grieg’s Interpreter and Propagator [pdf document - needs Acrobat Reader]

Grainger’s Saxophone music (compiled by Barry Peter Ould)

Grainger and Theremin (Free Music article with illustrations)

Grainger and the White House, Washington DC.

Grainger Wind Symphony, The (Australia)

Percy Aldridge Grainger

The Percy Grainger Composition Prize

Percy Grainger Youth Orchestra - Melbourne

The International Percy Grainger Society (USA)

Jacques-Emile Blanche's Portrait of Percy Grainger 

Jon Rose Website about Grainger

Joseph Taylor (Unto Brigg Fair - information about the Leader recording) - Hear Joseph Taylor sing "Brigg Fair"

Joseph Taylor - detailed genealogical site with articles, photographs and sound files

The Kangaroo Pouch Machine

Kitty Parker (Site devoted to the Tasmanian pianist-composer who was a pupil of Grainger - musical examples of her compositions)

Lincolnshire Folk Archive Grainger Collection

Lincolnshire Posy (Information about the music and words as used in Grainger’s compositions)

Masters Music Publications, Inc. Grainger Editions of Wind Band Music

Natalie Curtis, Busoni and Percy Grainger

Penelope Thwaites (A Grainger Discography)

The Percy Project

Random Round - An interactive realisation of Grainger's celebrated composition by the Virtual Ensemble of the Philharmonia Orchestra - new!

Schott Music (Music Publisher)

Selection of texts set to music by Percy Aldridge Grainger

The Significance of Percy Grainger - Timothy Reynish

Silver Burdett Group - Percy Grainger Page

Thou Gracious Power SATB [Scorch file]

United States Marine Band “The President’s Own” - latest news about new Grainger CD

Unto Brigg Fair - Recordings of Joseph Taylor etc.

The Warriors - Servadei, Alessandro (1996) A critical edition and exploration of Percy Grainger's The Warriors - Music to an Imaginary Ballet. Research Master thesis, Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne.

West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide - Grainger's final resting place

White Hat Tours (Australia) - Grainger Page

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Created: 28th June, 1999
Last modified: 10th October, 2011

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