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Percy Grainger

Percy Grainger

The Australian-born American pianist and composer, Percy Aldridge Grainger, was born to a father who was an architect who emigrated from London, England, and and to a mother, Rose, who was the daughter of hoteliers from Adelaide, South Australia, also of English immigrant stock. His father was an alcoholic. When Grainger was age 11, his parents separated after his mother contracted syphilis from his father, who then returned to London. Grainger's mother was domineering and possessive, although cultured; she recognised his musical abilities, and took him to Europe in 1895 to study at Dr. Hoch's conservatory in Frankfurt. There he displayed his talents as a musical experimenter, using irregular and unusual meters.

From 1901 to 1914 Percy Grainger lived in London, where he befriended and was influenced by composer Edvard Grieg. Grieg had a longstanding interest in the folk songs of his native Norway, and Grainger developed a particular interest in recording the folk songs of rural England. During this period, Grainger also wrote and performed piano compositions that presaged the forthcoming popularization of the tone cluster by Leo Ornstein and Henry Cowell.

Percy Grainger moved to the USA at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. His 1916 piano composition In a Nutshell is the first by a classical music professional in the Western tradition to require direct, non-keyed sounding of the strings - in this case, with a mallet-which would come to be known as a "string piano" technique. When the USA entered the war in 1917, he enlisted into a United States Army band playing the oboe and soprano saxophone, and spent the duration of the war giving dozens of concerts in aid of War Bonds and Liberty Loans. In 1918, he became a naturalized citizen of the USA.

His piano solo Country Gardens became a smash hit, securing his reputation, although Grainger grew to detest the piece. With his newfound wealth, Grainger and his mother settled in the suburb of White Plains, New York after the war. Rose Grainger's health, however, both mental and physical, was in decline. She committed suicide in 1922 by jumping from the building where her son's manager, Antonia Sawyer, had her office. This did serve to free Grainger from an over-intimate relationship which many had incorrectly assumed to be incestuous, although his mother's memory remained dear to him for the rest of his life. In the same year, he traveled to Denmark, his first folk-music collecting trip to Scandinavia (although he had visited Grieg there in 1906), and the orchestration of the music of the region would shape much of his finest output.

In November 1926 Percy Grainger met the Swedish artist and poet Ella Viola Strom and, freed from his mother's domination, fell in love at first sight. Their wedding was one of the most remarkable on record. It took place on 9 August 1928 on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, following a concert before an audience of 20,000, with an orchestra of 126 musicians and an a cappella choir, which sang his new composition, To a Nordic Princess, dedicated to Ella. In December, 1929 Grainger established himself as a musical innovator with a style of orchestration or arranging that he called "Elastic Scoring". He outlined his concept in an essay that he called, "To Conductors, and those forming, or in charge of, Amateur Orchestras, High School, College and Music School Orchestras and Chamber-Music Bodies." In 1932 he became Dean of Music at New York University, and underscored his reputation as an experimenter by putting jazz on the syllabus and inviting Duke Ellington as a guest lecturer, although he found academic life difficult and soon abandoned it forever.

In 1940, the Graingers moved to Springfield, Missouri, from which base Grainger again toured to give a series of army concerts during World War II. However, after the war, poor health, declining ability as a pianist and the gradual decline in popularity of classical music hit his spirits hard. He last appeared in public at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1960. In his last years, working in collaboration with Burnett Cross, Percy Grainger invented the "Free Music Machine" which was the forerunner of the electric synthesizer. He died in White Plains, New York and he was buried in Adelaide, Australia. His personal files and records have been preserved at The Grainger Museum in the grounds of the University of Melbourne, the design and construction of which he oversaw. Many of his instruments and scores are located at the Grainger house in White Plains, New York, now the headquarters of the International Percy Grainger Society.

His music aside, he remains controversial on two accounts. Firstly, Percy Grainger was an enthusiastic sado-masochist. Secondly, he was a cheerful believer in the racial superiority of blond-haired and blue-eyed northern Europeans. This led to attempts, in his letters and musical manuscripts, to use only what he called "blue-eyed English" (akin to Anglish and the 'Pure English' of Dorset poet William Barnes) which expunged all foreign (i.e. non-Germanic) influences. Thus many Grainger scores use words such as "louden," "soften," and "holding back" in place of standard Italian musical terms such as "crescendo," "diminuendo," and "meno mosso."

This racial thinking (with its concomitant overtones of xenophobia and antisemitism) was, however, inconsistently and eccentrically applied: he was friends with and an admirer of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. He eagerly collected folk music tunes, forms, and instruments from around the world, from Ireland to Bali, and incorporated them into his own works. Furthermore, alongside his love for Scandinavia was a deep distaste for German academic music theory; he almost always shunned such standard (and ubiquitous) musical structures as sonata form, calling them "German" impositions. He was ready to extend his admiration for the wild, free life of the ancient Vikings to other groups around the world which in his view shared their way of life, such as the ancient Greece of the Homeric epics.

Featured Items (See Related Items.)

Displaying 1-3 of 3 items.


Academy of St Martins In The Field Chorus : Grainger: A Cappella Choral Works : 00  1 CD : Richard Hickox : Percy Grainger : CHN 9987

Academy of St Martins In The Field Chorus : Grainger: A Cappella Choral Works

Review: When Laszlo Heltay founded the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus in 1975, he set the standards for the fresh, clear tone now admired throughout the choral world. Grammy-winning conductor Richard Hickox leads the Chorus in a selection of 12 "Works for Unaccompanied Chorus" by the beloved Australian composer/arranger Percy Grainger. Grainger wrote original pieces, and arranged folk songs that he sought out in the English and Scottish countryside and around the world. Included are "My Love's in Germanie," "Six Dukes Went A-fishin'," "O Mistress Mine," "Mary Thomson," "Early One Morning," "Irish Tune from County Derry," "Agincourt Song," "Australian Up-Country Song, "Recessional," "At Twilight," "The Gypsy's Wedding Day" and "Mo Nighean Dubh." Wonderful, authentic folk songs, beautifully sung by a top-drawer chorus!

Songlist: My Love's in Germanie, Six Dukes Went A-fishin', O Mistress Mine, Mary Thomson, Early one Morning, Irish Tune from Country Derry, Agincourt Song, Australian Up-Country Song, Recessional, At Twilight, The Gipsy's Wedding Day, Mo Nighean Dubh (My dark-haired maiden), Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon, Soldier, Soldier, Jungle-Book Verses, Near Woodstock Town, Love at First Sight

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6778c | 1 CD $16.98 add item to cart Mixed Choirs CDs


Polyphony : At Twilight : 00  1 CD : Stephen Layton : Percy GraingerCrieg, Edvard : CDH 55236

Polyphony : At Twilight

Review: The pairing of music by Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg at first may seem odd. In fact, though, the two composers were good friends. Grieg lauded Grainger's folk song settings as helping to create "an independent English music." The choral music of Grainger and Grieg on this CD, sung gloriously by Polyphony, was written in the early 1900's. Most of Grainger's settings are of English folk songs, though there are a few Irish and Scotch ones as well. The CD also includes a song from Grainger's native Australia (Track 18 Australian Up-Country Song). The Four Psalms by Grieg are his last completed works and are based on Norwegian church melodies. To further connect the composers, the English translations of the psalms were written by Grainger. This wonderful recording also features soloists tenor Paul Agnew and baritone David Wilson-Johnson.

Songlist: Percy Grainger:, Irish Tune from County Derry, Dollar and a Half a Day, Shenandoah, Stormy, The Gypsy's Wedding Day, Brigg Fair, Mo nighean dubh, O Mistress Mine, Edvard Grieg, Four Psalms, How Fair is Thy face, God's Son hath set me free, Jesus Christ our Lord is risen, In heav'n above, Ave, Maris Stella, Percy Grainger, Soldier, soldier, Mary Thomson, Ye banks and braes, Dalvisa, Australian Up-Country Song, Near Woodstock Town, The Sussex Mummers' Carol, A Song of Varmeland, At Twilight

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7157c | 1 CD $12.98 add item to cart English Choral CDs


Polyphony : Jungle Book & other choral works : 00  1 CD : Stephen Layton : Percy Grainger : 55433

Polyphony : Jungle Book & other choral works

Review: This reissue commemorates the 50th anniversary of Grainger's death in February 1961. Harmonium, four guitars, two mandolas, two mandolins, two ukuleles, piccolo, three clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two alto saxophones, horn, strings, piano, baritone and choir: and that's just the scoring for one piece, the famous sea shanty Shallow Brown. Grainger's Jungle Book cycle is here recorded for the first time. The eleven contrasting movements vividly portray the sentiments of Kipling's poetry and Grainger wrote of the cycle that it was 'composed as a protest against civilization'.

Songlist: Shallow Brown , The fall of the stone , Morning song in the jungle, Night-song in the jungle, The Inuit, The beaches of Lukannon , Red Dog, The peora hunt, Hunting-song of the Seeonee pack, Tiger! Tiger!, The only son, Good-bye to love, Died for love, The power of love, The Rival Brothers, Six dukes went afishin', The sprig of thyme, Willow, willow, Recessional, Lord Maxwell's goodnight, The Three Ravens, The running of shindand, The love song of Har Dyal, My love's in Germanie

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6127c | 1 CD $11.95 add item to cart English Choral CDs

Related Items ( See Featured Items )

Displaying 1-50 of 51 items.

Song NameArrangerComposerArtistItem TitleFormatTrax
A Song of VarmelandPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Agincourt SongPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
At TwilightPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
At TwilightPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Australian Up-Country SongPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Australian Up-Country SongPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
DalvisaPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Danny DeeverPercy Aldridge GraingerChor LeoniSongs of War & Peace 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Died for lovePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Early one MorningPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Good-bye to lovePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Hunting-song of the Seeonee packPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Irish Tune from Country DerryPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Jungle-Book VersesPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Lord Maxwell's goodnightPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Love at First SightPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Mary ThomsonPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Mary ThomsonPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Mo Nighean Dubh (My dark-haired maiden)Percy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Morning song in the junglePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
My Love's in GermaniePercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
My love's in GermaniePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Near Woodstock TownPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Near Woodstock TownPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Night-song in the junglePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
O Mistress MinePercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
RecessionalPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
RecessionalPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Red DogPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Shallow Brown Percy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Six Dukes Went A-fishin'Percy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Six dukes went afishin'Percy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Soldier, SoldierPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Soldier, soldierPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The beaches of Lukannon Percy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The fall of the stone Percy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The Gipsy's Wedding DayPercy GraingerAcademy of St Martins In The Field ChorusGrainger: A Cappella Choral Works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The InuitPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The love song of Har DyalPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The only sonPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The peora huntPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The power of lovePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The Rival BrothersPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The running of shindandPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The sprig of thymePercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The Sussex Mummers' CarolPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
The Three RavensPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Tiger! Tiger!Percy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Willow, willowPercy GraingerPolyphonyJungle Book & other choral works 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
Ye banks and braesPercy GraingerPolyphonyAt Twilight 1 CDMORE DETAILS 
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