Percy Grainger 1882-1961
The publication in 1976, 15 years after the composer’s death, of British musicologist John Bird’s Grainger biography sparked renewed international interest in this exceptional Australian. It was followed by many further books, several important exhibitions, two plays and a film.
The Grainger Museum’s most controversial contents, however, relate aspects of its founder’s robust sexuality and his penchant for flagellation. This is believed to have stemmed from his reaction to his father’s frequent beatings of his mother. It was a practice that continued between Rose and her son and, later, Grainger and his wife. Grainger believed that his creativity was tied to his sexual drive, and that flagellation triggered them both. His approach was somewhat clinical: he recorded his activities with notes and photographs, some of which were taken with strategically placed mirrors. He devised protective garments to avoid permanent physical damage and experimented with different kinds of whips. Among the 83 whips preserved in the Museum are some he made from recycled conductors’ batons!
The publication in 1976, 15 years after the composer’s death, of British musicologist John Bird’s Grainger biography sparked renewed international interest in this exceptional Australian. It was followed by many further books, several important exhibitions, two plays and a film. Thérèse Radic’s play A Whip Round for Percy Grainger was premiered by Playbox in Melbourne in 1982. That same year, Rob George’s Percy and Rose was produced for the Adelaide Festival, with Dennis Olsen as Grainger. John Bird’s book and George’s play were the basis for the 1999 film Passion with Richard Roxburgh as Grainger and Barbara Hershey as his mother.
Today, new generations are exploring and celebrating the life and work of Percy Grainger. His compositions are being programmed for concerts and broadcasts and his music is being recorded anew. The Grainger Museum’s collection is widely used but, sadly, the building that Grainger built to house it is far from ideal. It is on the Heritage Council of Victoria’s Register of Historic Buildings and the University of Melbourne is committed to its restoration and upgrading.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Photograph taken by Morse courtesy National Library of Australia pic-an12401036
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