Percy Grainger 1882-1961

Percy Grainger

Percy Grainger

Grainger’s later years were dogged by illness. Nevertheless he continued to give concerts, though less frequently, and commenced experimenting with what he called ‘free music’.

Percy Aldridge Grainger died in White Plains on 20 February 1961.

 

Grainger’s later years were dogged by illness. Nevertheless he continued to give concerts, though less frequently, and commenced experimenting with what he called ‘free music’. As early as 1900 he had written that ‘the future of music lay in machines’. Now he had time to concentrate on attempting to release the composer from the straightjacket of fixed pitch and regular metre. In this he was years ahead of his time, and his clumsy, homemade contraptions were forerunners of the synthesisers that only electronics later made possible.

While Grainger’s lighter compositions, such as ‘Country Gardens’, ‘Shepherd’s Hey’, ‘Handel in the Strand’, ‘Molly on the Shore’, ‘Mock Morris’ and ‘Irish Tune from County Derry’ (‘Danny Boy’), retained their popularity, he was disappointed and frustrated by what he perceived as the indifference accorded to what he regarded as his more serious work.

He visited Australia for the last time in 1955-56. Soon his mind began to wander. On 29 April 1960 he gave his final public concert performance; his wife described the event as ‘a pathetic disaster’.  Percy Aldridge Grainger died in White Plains on 20 February 1961. He left an estate valued in the United States at $208,293. He was buried with his mother in the West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide.

Grainger was survived by his wife, who had her own achievements as a poet, composer, and occasional percussionist in her husband’s concerts. In 1972 she married musicologist Stewart Manville. She died seven years later. Manville continues to live in the Grainger home at White Plains, caring for the memorabilia it contains.

Grainger’s legacy is enormous: more than 1000 published and unpublished compositions, hundreds of arrangements for anything from brass band to harmonium, chorus to marimba; hundreds of gramophone recordings and reproducing piano rolls; plus his collections in White Plains and, most notably in the extraordinary museum he built and endowed in Melbourne. The .museum contains everything from Grieg’s watch to Grainger’s old shopping lists. His mother’s clothes are there, as well as some of his ingenious ‘free music’ machines. And thousands of letters, photographs, manuscripts and minutiae. The museum also houses the memorabilia of several other significant local music organisations.

Media Gallery

Photograph taken by Morse courtesy National Library of Australia pic-an12401036

Biographical references

John Bird: Percy Grainger, Paul Elek, 1976
Eileen Dorum: Percy Grainger – The Man behind the Music, privately published, 1986
Kay Dreyfus: ‘George Percy Grainger’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 9, Melbourne University Press