Aldridge, George Percy Percy Grainger, an Australian–born composer, arranger, and pianist, was better known around the world as Grainger. His main claim to fame is as a composer of unique and innovative music, which was distinguished by its departure from the norm. He used meters that were unique and erratic. Grainger was a true oddball, and his personal life was as well-known and examined as his work. His travels and studies took him to several places, including his long stay in Germany and England. He was born in Australia to an architect father and a dominating mother, who was allegedly a key influence in his life. He eventually made his home in the United States. During his time in Germany, he gained a strong interest in Nordic music, which he maintained with him throughout his life, taking steps to promote it around the world. In the biography below, learn more about Percy Grainger’s life and achievements.
Childhood and Early Years of Percy Grainger
On July 8, 1882, Percy Grainger was born in Melbourne, Australia parents John Grainger and Rose Annie Aldridge. In 1877, John Grainger, a British architect, emigrated to Australia. He is well-known as the designer of Melbourne’s famed Princes Bridge, which spans the Yarra River. Rose Aldridge was born into a family of hoteliers in Adelaide. John was an alcoholic and a womanizer, which caused problems in his marriage. In 1890, the marriage ended in divorce. As a result, Rose was left with the responsibility of raising Percy on her own.
Rose Aldridge was a self-taught artist. Percy’s life was shaped and influenced by her domineering influence during his childhood, and the traces and consequences of that influence continued to shape and impact him throughout his life. She oversaw Percy’s music and literature studies and arranged for tutors in languages, painting, and theatre. Percy developed an interest in Nordic culture during these classes, and it was this passion that had the biggest influence on his musical career.
At the age of ten, Percy began learning piano with Louis Pabst. Pabst, a German immigrant, was regarded as Melbourne’s best teacher. Percy wrote his first known work, ‘A Birthday Gift to Mother,’ (1893), and performed his first public performance in 1894 while studying with him. In October 1894, Percy delivered a series of concerts at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building under the direction of his new professor Adelaide Burkitt. These concerts received a lot of positive press and identified Percy Grainger as a musical prodigy with a lot of potentials. Because of the positive response to Percy’s abilities, Rose decided that Percy should continue his musical studies at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1895, Rose and Percy left Australia. Except for brief vacations, Percy never returned to Australia.
Germany’s Influence on the World
Percy’s experience in Frankfurt deepened his appreciation for Nordic music and culture. This was bolstered by his affiliation with Karl Klimsch, with whom he studied composition. Percy didn’t get along with his composition teacher at Koch Conservatory, hence this arrangement came about. Klimsch, in addition to being a composer, was also a fan of folk music. Percy moved away from the conventional compositions of Mozart, Handel, and Haydn, and developed his own style of creative compositions, thanks to his encouragement.
Percy created the ‘Frankfurt Group’ with a group of English students while studying in Frankfurt. The members of the group were all of the same minds, believing that the influence of Central European music on British and Scandinavian music was negative. Their long–term goal was to eliminate this influence. It was also in Germany that Grainger came upon Rudyard Kipling’s poems, which he later composed.
Rose, who had been supporting them as an English teacher, experienced a nervous breakdown in 1900, rendering her unable to work. Percy had to compensate for the loss of money by teaching piano lessons and performing in public. On December 6, 1900, he had his debut solo recital in Frankfurt. He abandoned his studies, left Frankfurt, and came to London in 1901 when he was certain that he understood enough to support himself and his mother.
England’s way of life
Percy Grainger became a household name in the music world after establishing himself in England. In February 1902, he made his first appearance as a piano soloist with an orchestra. Percy Grainger experienced a watershed moment in his life in 1905 when he began collecting original versions of folk tunes after being inspired by a lecture given by folksong scholar Lucy Broadwood. This project netted him a collection of more than 300 folk tunes, many of which were recorded for the first time in written form. Grainger was also an early adopter of the phonograph, which he used to record these tunes. He had almost 200 Edison cylinders filled with music by local folk performers.
It was also at this time that Grainger grew in prominence to the point where he became acquainted with well-known musicians of the day. In 1907, he met Frederick Delius. This marked the beginning of a friendship that would remain until Delius’ death in 1934. Because of Grieg’s untimely death, his friendship with Edvard Hagerup Grieg, a Norwegian composer, died before it could flourish. The two musicians not only had similar beliefs about composition and harmony, but they also despised the classical German masters. The similarities extend to both of their tastes in folk music. Grainger also embarked on globe tours during this time, notably to Australia and New Zealand. During his journeys, he would gather folk tunes, including New Zealand’s Mayo songs. He got the tune for his renowned ‘Country Songs’ in 1908, but it wasn’t until later that he turned it into a performable composition.
During this time, he also wrote some of his most famous works, including ‘Mock Morris,’ ‘Molly on the Shore,’ and ‘Shepherd’s Hey,’ among others. He began releasing his own pieces in 1911, certain that he had established himself as a great pianist. For the first time, Grainger presented a concert in the Aeolian Hall in London in 1912, in which solely his pieces were performed.
Taking up residence in the United States
Percy Grainger and his mother left England for the United States of America in 1914, when World War I broke out. Grainger joined the US Army as a bandsman in the Coast Artillery Corps after a few tours of the country and many concerts over two years and has filed for citizenship there. During this time, Grainger began work on the artwork ‘Country Gardens,’ which is more closely linked with him than any of his other works. Grainger became a naturalized citizen of the United States in June 1918.
Percy Grainger was at his best in the years immediately following the war. He might give up to 120 concerts every year. When he appeared at New York’s Capitol Theatre, his popularity grew exponentially. Grainger’s first job as an educator, when he gave a course in piano technique at the Chicago Musical College, was another significant event from this time period.
He also began rescoring his own works around this time, something he continued to do for the rest of his life. Grainger worked on an elastic scoring approach in addition to producing new works. From a modest chamber performance to a full-fledged orchestral performance, this sort of orchestration allowed a piece to be performed by as many musicians and types of instruments as the venue allowed.
He moved to White Plains, New York, in 1921 and resided there for the remainder of his life. His life there began in a horrible way. Rose’s health was rapidly worsening, and she was suffering from frequent nervous breakdowns. To make matters worse, some of their close acquaintances suspected her of having an incestuous relationship with her son. She committed suicide by jumping off a building on April 30, 1922, while Percy was on a tour of the West Coast.
While Rose’s death was a huge loss for Grainger, it also served to release him from the constraints of a relationship, which were often an obstacle to the development of other female relationships. In fact, while in England, Grainger was briefly engaged to a student, but did not pursue the relationship further, supposedly due to Rose’s possessiveness.
Grainger met Ella Strom, a Swedish–born artist, in 1926 while returning from one of his European trips. Two years later, they married.
In his work as an educator, Grainger took on a variety of projects beginning in the late 1920s and continuing through the 1930s. For the academic year 1932–1933, he was even a music professor at New York University. During this time, he did everything he could to expose the kids to a diverse spectrum of ancient and current works. However, due to Grainger’s aversion to rigid institutional formality and the university’s apparent lack of acceptance of his ideas, it was not a happy relationship. As a result, Grainger refused to take another academic position. In addition, he turned down all honorary degrees. He did, however, teach at Interlochen International Music Camp’s summer programs from 1937 until 1944.
The Grainger Museum is located in Grainger, Texas.
The idea for the Grainger Museum was conceived in 1932. It was Grainger’s intention for it to be his legacy. The museum would include all of his memorabilia, including highly personal objects, in order to spread his works and musical philosophy.
His Philosophy and Life
Grainger was a proponent of “free music” (as he called it). This form reflected Grainger’s disdain for the ‘constraints’ that a defined meter, note, and pitch impose on music production. He claimed that several Nordic masters were far superior to well-known masters such as Mozart and Beethoven. He even went to the trouble of rescoring the works of numerous other composers to fit his own viewpoints. He believed that machines should be able to perform ‘free–music.’
The years leading up to the war were spent giving concerts in order to raise funds for the museum’s construction. He also went on tour around the world and composed additional music.
The Most Recent Years
Due to the outbreak of World War II, Grainger was no longer able to travel abroad on a regular basis. He spent much of the war years performing charity performances. In a given year, he could do up to 140 performances due to his hectic schedule. After the war, his health deteriorated as a result of his hectic schedule. It also contributed to Percy Grainger’s demise as a composer.
Disillusionment with his life and profession began to dominate his thoughts to the point where he began to see himself as a failure. Even his most popular composition, ‘Country Gardens,’ grew on him. His perceived failure to promote Nordic music, as well as the pervasive influence of German music, contributed significantly to his disenchantment.
Grainger had stopped creating new compositions by 1950. He limited himself to restoring his own and other people’s works. However, a large portion of his efforts was devoted to developing devices that would make music when fed notes by the composer. He collaborated on this with Burnett Cross, a physics teacher. They were even somewhat successful in developing a few devices. In 1955, he made his final trip to Australia, where he worked on museum-related projects. The St. Olav medal he got in 1954 from King Haakon of Norway in honor of his promotion of Grieg’s works was a feather in his cap. In the 1950s, Grainger had to have surgery for stomach cancer, which he would have to battle for the remainder of his life.
His health deteriorated in his later years. On April 29, 1960, he gave his final public performance at Dartmouth College in Hanover. Even when attempting to work, he was tormented with loss of concentration and hallucinations. Percy Grainger died on February 20, 1961, in White Plains, at the age of 78. He was laid to rest in the Aldridge family vault in Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery.
Grainger’s contributions and efforts to have the folk tunes recorded will be remembered. He is responsible for the collection that enthusiasts can now access; without him, many songs would have faded into obscurity. His works have also influenced the music scene in the United States. He will be remembered for his contributions to the world of music, both in terms of creativity and quirkiness.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Percy Grainger is unknown.