Selected Chapters from
A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger
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|1. Biographical/Artistic Vignettes|
|4. Program Notes|
1. BIOGRAPHICAL/ARTISTIC VIGNETTES
[This chapter, occupying this and the following four Web pages, contains biographical and artistic reminiscences of Percy Grainger by a variety of friends, associates, and critics, and by Grainger himself.
[The following are the sections of the chapter. Click on the name to go to any section. Footnotes in the original printed version are embedded in the text, in [boldface, surrounded by square brackets]. To go to the next Web page, click on "Go to next page" at the bottom of this page. Clicking on the name of a section will automatically take you to the correct page.
[In the process of converting the text from the word-processing format used in the original printed version to the format used on the Web, some glitches and funny characters may remain. I apologize for these possible flaws, which I hope do not detract from the readability of the text.]
"For many years, Percy Grainger has retained his reputation as one of this century's foremost composers of `fripperies', genial compositions such as Irish Tune from County Derry, Molly on the Shore, Country Gardens, and Shepherd's Hey, and for his brilliant pianism. In actuality, he was a pioneer in the collection and transcription of folk songs, being one of the first `ethno-musicologists' to utilize the wax cylinder phonograph for this purpose. Whether folk-song based or base d on original themes, his boldly conceived compositions explore new sonorities along with novel structural and rhythmical problems. He anticipated the possibilities of electronic music, designing and building a series of electronic tone-producing machines in his own living-room. Such inventions as the 'Kangaroo Pouch' were created in order that Grainger could explore his concepts of `free music'. (Residents of White Plains, New York--as was the case with most communities in 1950--were not generally involved with building electronic tone-producing instruments in their own homes.) Grainger was one of the first composers to embrace the wind band as a viable medium for expression. His innovative approach to wind-band scoring led to the formation of tech niques which are still being taught and studied.
"Born in Brighton, Melbourne, Australia, on July 8, 1882, Grainger spent his childhood in his native city, where he was educated by his mother and studied piano with Louis Pabst. He attended the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main from 18 95 until 1899, studying piano with James Kwast and composition with Iwan Knorr. While in attendance there, he made friends with a few `English' students, namely Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter, Norman O'Neill, and Balfour Gardiner. Together, these youths forme d `The Frankfurt Group' since they were united in their total abhorrence of anything German, particularly its music. Later, Grainger became a piano student of Ferrucio Busoni and often programmed Busoni's piano transcriptions of J.S. Bach's music. He sett led in London in 1901 and began to establish his career as a concert pianist. Starting in April 1905, he noted his first folk songs in Brigg, Lincolnshire. Among these tunes was `Brigg Fair`, which he would later `dish-up' in a version for tenor solo and chorus. With these initial folk tunes being transcribed onto paper, he began a collection which would eventually contain and document some 500 English folk tunes. During this same period he developed friendships with Delius and Grieg. His edition of the G rieg Piano Concerto which he had played for the composer is still available, having been published by G. Schirmer around 1920. Delius was much enamored of Grainger's music and used the tune of `Brigg Fair' as the basis for his English Rhapsody of the same title. (That score is dedicated to Percy Grainger.)
"By 1905, Grainger was performing his own music in concert, but, it was not until a 1912 concert presented in London's Aeolian Hall devoted entirely to his works that he truly established his reputation as a composer--the first Australian to do so. In 1914 he moved to New York, spending two years in the U.S. Army Band nearby from 1917 to 1919 (playing oboe and saxophone). He acquired U. S. citizenship in 1918. In 1921 he settled into his White Plains, New York, home which would remain his primary address for the remainder of his life. At one time he was offered the position of conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony, but refused the job. The suicide of his mother in 1922 was a devastating blow to Grainger. He embarked on a folk song-collect ing trip to Jutland that summer and collected some 200 Danish songs from that trip and two others he would take in 1925 and 1927, respectively. During the 1920s, Grainger became quite active in the music life of Chicago. He taught piano at Chicago Musical College, participated in the Evanston Music Festival, and made a number of appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both as piano soloist and as conductor.[On one occasion, he performed The Warriors.] In an attempt to rediscover his roots, he made a trip to Australia in 1924 (which was his first in 15 years).
"As chairman of the music department at New York University during the brief period of 1932-1933, he was instrumental in bringing Duke Ellington's uptown Cotton Club jazz band to the downtown campus--a first for that institution of higher learning at a time when jazz and, especially Ellington's special brand of it, were not widely accepted by the academic community. Grainger returned to Australia in 1934-35 to present a series of radio programs on music. On one program, he discussed the p rinciples behind his concepts of a `free music', a means of liberating music from all of its traditional constraints of scale, beat, harmony, and predetermined expression. In 1938 he inaugurated the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne as a repository for his works and personal effects. Grainger moved to Springfield, Missouri, shortly after the museum was inaugurated and remained there throughout World War II. During this period, he mounted many concerts on behalf of the war effort, and also tau ght music briefly at Interlochen.
"During the final years of his life, Grainger returned to White Plains, exploring `free music' and completing or rescoring earlier compositions. He finalized his concepts of `elastic scoring': a technique of scoring in a manner whereby any n umber of players--from as few as two or three to an orchestra of 100--can play the same work without distortion of the basic content. Percy Grainger died in White Plains on February 20, 1961, leaving the world a rich legacy of work which has only be en properly assessed during recent years."--Dana Perna.
"From the time he took up residence at 7 Cromwell Place in White Plains in 1921 until his death in that house four decades later on February 20, 1961, at the age of seventy-eight, Percy Aldridge Grainger had been a familiar figure in the com munity.
"Fond of walking, Grainger was frequently observed striding along Post Road, North Broadway, or along Lake Street on the way to Silver Lake. Sometimes he was accompanied by his beautiful Swedish-born wife, Ella.
"Neighbors still recall with amusement his use of a flatbed wheelbarrow to transport heavy luggage between his house and the railway station. As an international touring concert pianist, his departures and returns were many, so a convenient baggage room with an attendant was always waiting at the station where he could store the wheelbarrow until his return home.
"This fine-looking man, brimming with intelligent vitality, famous for his ever-popular composition Country Gardens, was a permanent fixture on the White Plains scene. He played brilliantly at local fund raising events. He directed or chestra and chorus in some of the earliest concerts which were presented at the Westchester County Center when it was first opened....
"When Grainger settled in London in 1901, he was already an experienced concert artist.
"About this time Grainger began to set songs to texts written by Scott, Swinburne, and Longfellow, and embarked on a cycle of Kipling settings that would occupy him for the next fifty years. 'I began,' Grainger explained, 'the practice of ac companying voice or voices with "large chanmber music" (six to twenty-four players) as a result of noticing the effectiveness of such procedures in the Bach Passions.'
"At the same time, Grainger developed an intense interest in wind instruments. He was constantly walking to Boosey & Hawkes, to borrow instruments, which he taught himself how to play. Having mastered one instrument, he would return it in exchange for another. Ultimately he had an intimate working knowledge of virtually every wind instrument then known [including the saxophone].
"His recognition of these instruments' singular expressivity led to the composition of chamber works with more than twenty individual wind parts in which Grainger experimented with new types of scales, irregular meters, extensions of the triad, and unconventional formal structures. He also developed a fondness for massed brasses, perhaps from exposure in London to the innumerable appearances by military bands in the parks of that city. It was on the basis of these developments that his later work came to occupy such an important place in the repertory of every concert band in the United States....
"During his London years, Grainger's circle of acquaintances ranged from Arnold Bennett to Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Galsworthy, William Butler Yeats, John Singer Sargent, and Frederick Delius.
"At the outbreak of the First World War, Grainger and his mother, the former Rose Aldridge, settled in New York, where he continued his concert career to critical acclaim. His unofficial debut occurred on January 23, 1915, when Walter Damros ch led the Symphony Society of New York in performances of Molly on the Shore, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Shepherd's Hey at one of their Saturday afternoon concerts, with the composer taking the piano part in the last named piece. Alt hough little personal publicity was made for this concert, Grainger being an integral part of the orchestra rather than a soloist, he was noticed, and his apperance immediately brought him an enthusiastic following.
"By the time of his New York solo debut on February 11th, a sold-out Aeolian Hall roared its approval of the newcomer. The music critics of all New York's newspapers were there, as was Enrico Caruso, who had asked that a box be put at his disposal. The critics were ecstatic, almost as much about Grainger's handsome looks as about his playing.
"The following day James Huneker of the World described him as the 'Siegfried of the Piano' and Henry T. Finck of the Evening Post wrote: 'Hats off! A genius!... in less than half an hour he had convinced his critical audience that he belongs in the same rank as Paderewski and Kreisler, sharing their artistic abilities, and yet as unique as they are, something new and sui generis. The audience was stunned, bewildered, delighted.'...
"Grainger habitually practiced intensively, sometimes five or six hours at a time. While residing at various locations in Manhattan his constant playing sometimes proved disquieting to those living within hearing range. While residing at the Southern Hotel on Madison Avenue his rooms were above those of actor Lionel Barrymore. Out of consideration for his neighbors the pianist bought himself a dummy keyboard. Presumably, however, he created such clacking noises with his new 'silent' instrume nt that Barrymore soon appeared to beg him to return to playing the piano. His ultimate move from the city [to White Plains] is thought to have been at least partly in response to his need for an opportunity to practice as much and as long as need be, even late at night when he wanted to do so....
"More than a few lifelong residents of White Plains remember and tell of stopping on their way home from school during the warm weather to sit with friends on the curb in front of the Grainger house to listen to his 'marvelous playing' for a s long as they could remain. The mother of the compiler of this article [The author (Stewart Manville), now 64, has lived in White Plains his whole life. (Ed.)] on occasion wheeled his baby carriage from their home a short block away to join other bewitc hed listeners.
"Here in White Plains Lincolnshire Posy was composed, a suite for band that has won general acceptance as Grainger's masterpiece. Completed in 1937, the work was based on some of the folk songs collected at Lincolnshire [in England]. Although composed for the American Band Masters Association, the suite was first performed in its entirety by the Goldman Band in New York City during the summer of 1937....
"Many other compositions were conceived or brought to completion during Grainger's White Plains years. It is [also] interesting to note his own statement as to their character and as to the purpose of art as he felt it:
We live in an art-rich age because of all the heartbreaking things that are happening all around us, young men needlessly killed in the wars, people dying before their time.... In such an age the only thing an artist can do is to let out one ev erlasting protest.... And that is why my compositions are full of hangings: Dedication, The Reiver's Neck-Verse, Danny Deever, drownings: The Bride's Tragedy, The Sea Wife, murders: Father and Daughter, The Rival Brothers, jailings: < MI>The Running of Shindand, death for love's sake: Died for Love, Near Woodstock Town, the sad fates of young men killed before their time: The Power of Rome, The Christian Heart, The Warriors, The Widow's Party and Soldier, Soldier, slain knights, mouldering in ditches: The Three Ravens, The Twa Corbies, and protests against civilization: Kipling 'Jungle Book' Cycle.
Almost the only part of my music that isn't doom-mooded is that dealing with the mankind-less world of the hills, the sea, the sand wastes. And if it is true that art in our time is merely a protest about the destruction and sorrow of an only h alf pity swayed world, what will art do in the fair years to come when all such wrongs are righted and most of these sorrows are blunted...? Art can come to an end and stop smearing life with its tale of woe. But with life as it is, an endless repetition of preventable tragedies, I deem myself an oversoul because I answer so sharply to life's agonies....
"During the Second World War Grainger's concert duties included extensive performances for hospitals and for members of the armed services. He once calculated that during his wartime tours he passed an average of four nights a month in a pro per bed, the other nights were spent sleeping in crowded, smoke filled train coaches or in railway station waiting rooms. After his expenses had been paid, most of his earnings were donated to the Red Cross and other war charities. He even returned his co ncert grand piano to Steinway & Sons to help the war effort.
"In preparation for a recording of several of Grainger's shorter works made in 1950 under the direction of Leopold Stokowski on R.C.A. Victor, when it was desirable to rescore to suit the requirements of the maestro's large virtuoso orchestr a, Stokowski made frequent visits to 7 Cromwell Place. Here the two men worked on the music together at the dining room table.
"During the last years of Grainger's life [when he was suffering from cancer] he constructed in the living room at White Plains a series of mechanical devices in an attempt to produce in actual sound his ideal of Free Music [discussed elsewhere in the present volume]. Declining health in the midst of continuing concert commitments, however, allowed him little time to devote to the undertaking, so it never saw completion. He appeared in public for the last time in 1960 when he participated in a two-day seminar at Dartmouth College where he conducted his last major work, The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart....
"Grainger was a consummate pianist whose achievement was limited only by his lack of interest in the conventional repertory. He is remembered as a man of immense personal kindness, a striking curiosity and exuberant energy, together with a w onderful generosity to friends and strangers, to colleagues and students.
"In summarizing his life, the musicologist, David Josephson, currently  head of the music department at Brown University, has stated:
We have not yet encompassed Grainger's successes or failures. To study his life can both exhilarate and depress; to listen to his music can charm and perplex. Something about the man grips and touches and finally eludes us. Our century has produced few musicians so interesting.
"Since the mid-1960s the Grainger house in White Plains has been administered by the board of the Percy Grainger Society, recently renamed International Percy Grainger Society, which maintains a library of performing material and memorabilia in the care of its archivist/curator. Visitors and researchers are admitted by appointment. On one occasion the house was included in a tour by the Victorian Society in America." [Others in a long list of guests have been Ralph and Ursula Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and--in the year before his death--David Stivender, late Chorus Master of the Metropolitan Opera. (Ed.)]--Stewart Manville.
"Talking about his friend [Edvard] Grieg, Grainger said: `Grieg was a very independent fellow. I have seen him in a railroad carriage tear the slip off his ticket and flourish it under the conductor's nose, simply because the ticket had read , "Not good if detached." He loved to do things like that.'"--Henry T. Finck.
Grainger (Grainger Society Journal IX/1): "Ignorance of Norwegian folk-song has made it possible to ascribe to Grieg's music an exaggerated indebtedness to folk-song. Actually, Grieg brought a great deal more to folk-song than he took from it. In his most successful and most performed works, such as the Peer Gynt Suite, the Piano Concerto and the Sonatas, no folk-song material at all is used.
"Another mistaken notion is that of the extreme Norwegian-ness of Grieg's music. Is there anything Grieg-like in Norwegian music before Grieg? Is it not more realistic to view Grieg as a strictly cosmopolitan sophistication that entered into and enirched Norwegian music through the agency of one man? It is well to remember that the Grieg family (Scottish 'Greig') in Bergen moved almost exclusively in circles consisting of the Bull, Kroepelin, Christie, Hals and Hagerup families (originally E nglish, German, Scottish, Dutch and Danish respectively) and that Edvard Grieg's father--British Consul in Bergen--took many trips to Britain 'to attend concerts and to buy music', according to Edvard Grieg. The extreme Scottish character of many of Grieg's most typical phrases may have some connection with this.
"Maurice Ravel--always a discriminating genius--sensed the injustice involved in ignoring ('killing with silence') Grieg's stupendous influence on later composers--Debussy, Cyril Scott, Stravinsky, for instance. Delius recounted the following conversation, which took place around the turn of the century. He was with Ravel and some other French composers and the talk turned on the origins of modern French music. There was the usual platitudinous dictum: 'It all comes from Couperin and Rameau.' At this point Delius could not refrain from saying: 'Fiddlesticks! Modern French music is just Grieg plus the Prelude to the third Act of Tristan' To which Ravel replied: 'C'est vrai. Nous sommes toujours très injuste envers Grieg .'
"[It] was the aesthetic injustice of his native land that weighed most heavily on Grieg--the thought that the three compositions that he considered by far the finest of his whole life's output were hardly ever heard in Norway: the Album for Male Chorus, Op. 30; the Four Symphonic Dances; and 'Den bergtekne [Lost in the Hills]' for baritone voice, two horns and string orchestra.
"The last-mentioned is a setting of a medieval folk-poem relating the plight of a man who has lost his way in the mountains and is set upon by the giant-folk. Grieg told me that he had written 'Den bergtekne' with his 'heart's-blood', and he felt the poem to be a perfect tally of his own forlorn and 'lost' condition. Perhaps it was partly Grieg's sense of defeat that made him so tender-hearted and sweetly-spoken to all men--as long as his sense of injustice was not aroused.
"Typical of Grieg's self-criticism and humility is the following sentence, contained in a letter to me dated 30 June 1907:
Just take care that you choose what is intrinsically important and do not allow yourself to be caught by what is unimportant--as I, unfortunately, so often have done."
"The first [36-page] monograph on Grainger's work was written by the Scottish music critic D[ouglas] C[harles] Parker and published by Schirmer in 1918. In preparing for this publication, Parker wrote to Grainger asking for information that might be of use in his assessment. Grainger replied with a 28-page letter on August 23rd 1916. He was at the height of his powers with the major portion of his original composition already behind him. Parker's monograph is based largely on Grainger's lett er and it goes without saying that this document yields a valuable insight into Grainger, as seen through his own eyes, at a very significant point in his development."--David Tall.
My dear Mr Parker,
Mr Sonneck of "The Musical Quarterly" has just written me that you are providing him with 2 articles. That is charming news, & I shall keenly look forward to reading what you have to say. I shall always continue to cherish your strongly individual witty and generous article on me with a special joy. The time has now come for me to jot down the details you so kindly asked me for some time ago in connection with a possible article on me. I take the freedom of jotting down all sorts of odds & ends, thoughts, opinions, tendencies, out of the jumble of which you will so excellently know what to use & reject.
Anyhow, I take it, what you are wanting is simply a mass of data on which to base, or with which to garnish, your possible article.
The strongest factor of my musical [cross out "musical'] artistic life is my mother. Altho herself not coming from an artistic family she has clearly all her life been in love with art; a hungry musician, a greedy reader of poetry, prose & fairy tales from a very young girl, & more than all this, all her life long instinctively imbued with an adoration of art, a marked predilection for people showing creative powers, & the yearning to foster, further & project the creative sprou tings, whenever & however shown. Thus art has always been close at hand with me--art has always been an easy abetted act with me--my thoughts have never been turned away from it, & I have never failed to get artistic support, criticism & the instinc tive insight of a born artist from my mother. It is my strong belief that every born creature is artistic. All birds & animals seems to me artistic. They give way to expressing their feelings, their bodily states & moods in a splendid way, & seldom choose to be silent & inartistic. Savage primitive mankind also seems to be almost unfailingly artistic. Birds, beasts & savage races have time to be artistic. A bird in a cage, a beast in a yoke cannot be such a slave as a civilised man, because you can 't enslave his mind. A civilised wage slave not only has laughably little time to be artistic, but he is held back from the natural unreasoning self abandonment of art by 1000 and one ideals, ideas--rights and wrongs. Even if he likes "art" well enough to devote himself to it, to look at it, hear it, "go in for it", he is still held back from the true full fearless self-confession of art by ideas of "good art" & "bad art" & by a (to me) unexplainable, nerverfailing wish to like the good rather than the bad art. I can't see why a being impelled to such a random untramelled untamable affair as art at all shall still have about him this queer timid goody-goodiness.
Personally I do not feel like a modern person at all. I feel quite at home in South Sea Island music, in Maori legends, in the Icelandic Sagas, in the Anglosaxon "Battle of Brunnanburh", feel very close in Negros in various countries, b ut hardly understand modern folk at all. I do not dislike modern people, but simply cannot learn to understand their reason for being, can never get a true insight into their ways of feeling & acting, & feel among them as among kind but very strange stran gers with whom I will take a mighty long time to get acclimatised. I do not tell you this in order to appear "funny", but in order to throw light on the well-springs of my music. Art with me arises out of the longing to escape out of the (to me) m eaningless present into the past, which to me is full of meaning, or into some imaginary world full of keeness & exagerated excitement. I shall not go into the question of whether my preference for thinking of the past is unreasonable or justified, nor sh all I try to find what foolishness it is in me that makes me turn instinctively away from modern clothes to naked races, from modern morals to the selfcontrolled individualistic fitness of Icelandic manners of the 10th century, etc. The instinct & the prejudice are there, unuprootably, & I think my music arises to a big extent out of it. When a boy I read Freeman's "Anglo-Saxon History" with passion. The A-Saxons have always stirred me beyond all reason. THe knowledge that the Battle of Hastings had really happened was for years one of the bitterest experiences of my life. As a boy I longed to some day compose music that would seem to me "really Anglosaxon" full of the sweet ever flowing sturdy good humor I thought I saw in that rac e, music in which I could feel the more dramatic tense harsher mentality of the Norman race would seem to be lacking. I wished to "make good" for Hastings musically. Even nowadays, again & again I instinctively ask myself: "is 'Mock Morris' perhaps somewhat Anglosaxon; is it closer to Beowolf than to Malory; --am I really carrying out occasionally what I yearned to do as a child?"
Anglosaxon (the tongue) has always drawn me (I am studying it now) & the old Norse tongue & their tales & their view of life has always been a beaconlight to me. I love their fearless readiness to try all things, yet cautiously & without foolhardiness. They were the least foolhardy race thinkable. Many races believe in ghosts & are terrified of them & show it in a lot of ways. The old Scandinavians were afraid of ghosts too, but that did not hinder them from breaking open a ghost-ridden barrow if they thought there was anything inside they'd like to have. I do not admire courage in itself particularly, but I do think inquisitiveness should exceed fear if there is to be much freedom in the world. It was my boyhood's wild & ignorant adoration of old Norse things that took me to modern Scandinavia, that made me study Danish before I went to Denmark, & has made me learn other Scandinavian languages & dialects so that I can speak or read Danish, Swedish, Jutish, Norwegian, Landsmaal, old Icelandic, Faroese. In modern Scandinavia I have found life more lovely than elsewhere yet, though I have fond hopes of finding a haven of joy in the South Seas. I was drawn to Scandinavia by my old love of the old Norse, but I soon grew to love the modern North for its own sake too. They still have the old fearless free ways of going about things, & all the old [?] cautiousness too.
They dash into divorce just as their forbears dashed into a haunted barrow. No doubt they are afraid, but they are more inquisitive than afraid. I love woman to hold a free place in the world, to walk a free path in all ways unquestioned. "Votes for women", easy divorce, Selma Lagerlöfs & Ellen Keys come painlessly & effortlessly to races whose womankind from the dimmest past onwards has always been a free sex and an obstreperous sex. The Northern races are platonic in the splendid sens e that they are chiefly interested in all things rather than in a very few things.
The Scottish borderballads have been another strong & neverwaning influence & delight. I have a big choral work on "The Lads of Wamphray", (unperformed) an already performed setting for voice & solo strings of "the twa corbies"; one of my favorite unperformed things is Swinburne's "The bride's tragedy" (Scotch words) (for double chorus & orch.) then there is my song in Scotch, Swinburne's "A reiver's neckverse", etc. In fact, with the exception of many Kipling se ttings (a few published & a host still unfinished) my only settings of English poems are in Scotch!
My favorite book is The Saga of Grettir the Strong (in Icelandic). Otherwise my favorite literature is Icelandic sagas, Faeroe folkpoems, Danish folkpoems collected by Evald Tang Kristensen, Scotch borderballads, Walt Whitman, Hans Christian Andersen, J.P. Jacobsen's novels (Danish), Mark Twain, Walt Whitman & Kipling. Kipling's verse had more artistic influence on me (between the age of 15-25) than the art of any other single man but Walt Whitman is to me the most ideal artist & artistic type I know anything about. I really adore Walt Whitman, artistically & personally, though I am not modern enough in my feelings or instincts to share his beliefs & to hope his hopes. I am, personally, far closer to Grettir than to Walt Whitman, but I envy Walt more than I do Grettir, but would not change all the same.
I would like my music to breathe something I see in Grettir & in the Maori proverb "Die like the shark, fighting to the last gasp". A spider does not need hope, or consolation, or encouragement, or "moral support". When a spider is in a tight place he just does the best he can, like Grettir, like "Niels Lyhne" in Jacobsen's novel of that name, like most characters in Ibsen, & like the shark in the Maori proverb. It is not necessarily hope or "uplift" or ideas tha t keep us going, I feel, but largely just the force of life itself. Chesterton once made fun of Shaw calling sex "the Life Force" & then imploring humanity to rally to its assistance. Chesterton said something about that he would expect anything called by such a name to forage by itself.
Some force like that, a force not of beliefs, morals, ideals & ideas but the bodily force of life itself, is what I always long to invest my music with. I wish to leave the uplifting ennobling work to others, but wish in my art to try & voice t he unbeatable freshness & undowned ever-trying ever-daring life instinct of men & beasts, the stubbornness of the spider, the tough endurance of Grettir, in "The Bride's Tragedy" a couple not upset by disaster but trying their best as long as the machinery lasts, etc. The solid even (unheroised) vigor of the Faeroese tunes & texts (such as in "Father & daughter" for instance) strike a deep chord in me, & I am sketching a "Deathsong for Hjalmar Thuren" (the Dane who collected the lo vely Faeroe tunes) on one of the staunchest of the Faeroe tunes.
Apart from the vigor of folk dances, & the tragic heroism of rhythmic verse such as the border ballads, Scandinavian ballads, Kipling's & Swinburne's heroic ballads, what stirs me to music most is nature, & walking in nature. My "Hill-Song" (performed at a Balfour Gardiner concert) is one of my favorite of my own compositions. Barren, treeless, greenless nature I like best, like barren hill-country, flat heather-land like in Jutland, or the sea. My love of the sea is so strong that life feels to me only 1/2 lived on land. Since a boy I have longed to write "Sea Songs" for orchestra (or chorus & orchestra) very many voiced, utterly irregular in rhythm, with no rhythmic "beats" at all, each voice going its own way. Longing for the rhythmic irregularity (beatless music) needed for these "Sea Songs" made me develop the irregularly barred rhythmic scheme of my Hill-Song, [See program notes to Hill-Song No. 1, below. (Ed.)] Marching Song of Democracy, Train Music, Song of Solomon sketches etc. The "Marching Song of Democracy" voices Australian democratic yearnings close to W. Whitman in type, & is a semi-religious composition, a sort of modern & Australian version of the "Gloria" of the Mass.
My favorite composer is Bach, & the strongest influence on my compositional style. Chopin I admire deeply as a formist & an instinctive polyphonist, & Wagner, Grieg & Delius are especial admirations.
My strongest musical instinct is for many-voicedness, harmony is the next strongest instinct, while an instinct for melody was never properly stirred until my contact with English folksongs, which, as regards the strengh & variety of resources in "pure line", seem to me, personally, almost unequal amongst the folktunes of the world. Bach appeals to me also in a Democratic sense. Bach composed music practically as popular as Tipperary & music as abstract (as suited for the "special f ew" of study & a lifetime's devotion) as Reger's worst & C. Franck's best (I don't mean anything against Reger by that). If Bach were living today I feel he would include Ragtime, Schönbergism, Musical Comedy, Strauss & all the grades in between. As a n Australian I hate to see any art limited to any class. It pains me to think that the ragtime class can't enjoy Bach or Debussy fully or that the classical class cannot enjoy ragtime fully. Music, surely, belongs to all, to birds, to savages, to overcivi lised folk, to the overrefined, to the vulgar, all alike. As long as a being feels, why should he not have his special art? He always has. Then why not admire it all, enjoy all types? Artisticly speaking, it seems to me just as necessary & desirable that a vulgar man's art is vulgar, that a so called decadent man's art is decadent, or that Bach's art is, like himself, cosmopolitan, subtle but lusty.
Just as I feel towards every class, so do I feel towards every race. I feel that I, as a modern composer, have just as much to learn from Chinese or Zulu music as from Schönberg or Scarlatti. I feel that genius is everywhere. No life no talent, also no talent no life. A creature without talent would soon snuff out. A creature with talent enough to live 6 months can generally be relied on to be some sort of an artist. Almost my strongest artistic feeling is a motherly artistic instinct. I hate t o think of the world being constantly full of artistic outpouring, in every land, in every class, & most of it going to waste for lack of an artisticly motherly instinct. Artistic infanticide is to me no better than any other. When we are more cultural, I feel, a Fiji song, a Burmese orchestra, a Javanese Gamelan will mean to us what far Eastern colorprints do now. I feel it is only the artisticly undeveloped ones that see such a vast gulf between the stonescratchings of the Bushmen & a Rembrandt, such a gulf between Beethoven & a Maori Haka. To prove to you my own great artisticness (!), I may tell you that no lesson in polyphony (not Bach, Wagner, Strauss) has ever been so deeply instinctive so fruitful as the polyphony of the improvised partsinging of Raratongan natives from the South Seas. I long to spend years collecting native musics in Africa, the South Seas, etc. I feel that to be the deepest duty I know. Those natives will still create quite unconsciously, or comparatively so. Once we know musica l notation this blissful unconsciousness dwindles or vanishes. I do not think it better to be unconscious than conscious, but it is different, & both states have golden messages. I would like to see at least some small portion of the unconscious musical products gathered in before this musical state disappears altogether.
As a democratic Australian, also a lover of the natural & the universal, I long to see everyone somewhat of a musician, not a world divided between musically abnormally undeveloped amateurs & overdeveloped professional musical prigs. Therefore I long to write for amateurs, to help build up a "home music", a "room music" similar to Haydn's in his time, only more valid as to color. I turn, therefore, willingly to instruments (such as guitar, mandolin, whistling, singing, percussio n instruments such as the Marimbaphone, bells, Nabimba, etc.) that amateurs can readily learn, instruments that encourage artistic pleasure in performers rather than yearly labors of preparation for finally joy-poor performances. To me, music is not only, not chiefly, in how it sounds but almost equally in how it plays. How music sounds to the takerspart is nearly (if not quite) as serious a question to me as how the music sounds to drone-listeners. Before I die I hope to leave behind a goodly sheaf of stuff that may give pleasure in this way, music in this respect closer to the musical origin of African or American Negro music than to the origin of Schönberg's (whom I intensely admire & am grateful to) music. I think that is a lesson that t he study of primitive music helps to teach one, & a perusal of modern musical conditions points to the same story.
May I be allowed to add a few words as to what seems to me the salient characteristics of my compositional style? It always seems to me that the "texture" (the actual distribution of notes in a chord, the critical or unconscious choice of invertions--whether they are close or spread; in short the weft of the fabric, the actual stuff (sonority) produced by the polyphony or by a "chordy" style of writing) of a composer is the determining factor of his work, at lea st to other composers, at least, so it seems to me.
The unmusical hearers speak of "structure" (as if music were a subway or a building) of "form", of "development" (I haven't the faintest idea what is meant by this latter) of "clarification" (Verklärung) but the composer (so it seems to me) asks first, or asks early, "what is the texture?". "Is it sodden texture like linoleum, or a bright hard-shell texture like Chinese porcelain, is it transparent texture like Bach, Debussy & Chopin, or muddy texture like ---- * ----?"
Music seems almost to have a "surface", a smooth surface, a grained surface, a prickly surface to the ear. All these distinguishing characteristics (scarcely hinted at in the above silly similes) are to me the "body of music", a re to music what "looks", skin, hair are in a person, the actual stuff & manifestation whereby we know it & recognise it--"though there is more behind" (as Chevy Chase has it). Rightly or wrong, a composer stands or falls by his "te xture" as far as I am concerned. Is not the beauty of Chopin 2 thirds texture? That means to me that he is an essentially musical musician, the sort of musician I would like to be. I would know Chopin's greatness by 2 or three chords out of any of his pieces, just the mere distribution of notes proclaims his sensitive ear, his individual choice of sonorities. 2 or 3 chords at random from almost anything of C. Scott's would convince me of the presence of an exquisite creative musician, a few chords (torn from their fellows before or behind) out of Delius's Sea Drift or Dance Rhapsody would bring me into the presence of one of the most transcendental geniuses of all time. Bach's texture is as fresh today as it ever was, baffling, su preme. Fine, personal texture never ages, nor does even performance on another instrument destroy its individual message, as a rule! This is a long subject, however! As I see myself, if anything in my art is of any worth, means anything, then it is my tex ture. By it I would like to stand or fall. Folk say my "Irish Tune from Co Derry" is poetic or sad, "Molly on the Shore" is merry, folk talk of my "vitality". All that may be true. I cannot judge such things. To me the question "how does such a chord, such a passage tickle, or grate upon, or smooth out my ear when I listen? How do the ant-like armies of polyphonous parts move as they go about their business? Can one trace their paths, or are their movements hid in fog. Do their movements jostle & rub & irritate one another (I love my parts to jostle & rub & irritate) or do they glow together (like glorious passages in Wagner & Brahms) or do they flow sweetly harmoniously yet somewhat tamely side by side as in Mendelssohn (whom I dearly love)?"
We hear of perpendicularists (Grieg, Debussy, C. Scott, Delius) & horizontalists (Strauss, Schönberg, etc.). I believe that any originality that may exist in my "texture" can be brought home to the particular blend of horizontal & perpe ndicular that has always been my fate from my earliest childhood's composings beginnings. The whole lifegiving element in my music comes from the flow of my parts (rather than from my melodic invention or my rhythmic impulses as some believe) but my critical influence is always applied horizontally. My chords grow out of the moving paths of my polyphony, but I listen to the results as a chordal result rather than a polyphonous result. I would not tolerate good partwriting that did not produce the particular harmonic color I want at each moment, nor would I for long be satisfied with successions of chords that did not arise out of wandering parts. Where my partwriting produces dischords and collisions it is not because my mind is so centered on polyphony that I ignore the harmonic results, on the contrary, I instinctively choose partwriting that will result in a harmonic clash, because that is what my ear yearns for, & yearns for harmonicly.
Delius & C. Scott are two of the most subtle & marvellous perpendicularists I know, & they get their precious results by thinking chiefly (not always of course) in chords. Strauss gets some of his most magnificent sweeping swirling effects by thinking left to right & ignoring the up & down results. Think of the opening of Heldenleben!
Well, I think my special style, if I have any, arises out of having a craze for partwriting that is always gadding about like traffic at Hyde Park Corner, combining with an ear which is only critical perpendicularly. In other words, I like a musical Hyde Park corner traffic, but I enjoy each movement for its momentary proportions for the patterns created by the movements rather than I enjoy following the continual path of any particular vehicle.
I don't especially value "originality" in art, as I consider the communal development of folksongs is no whit inferior to the original achievement of a great outstanding "original" genius. It is the universal that pulls me in all matters & I am more thrilled by these points that all people have in common than in the special achievements & specialness of individuals. Nowadays an artist has to be "very artistic" (very untaught, very free, very rebellious) because mo dern life constantly tries to make a mental & moral slave of everybody, & because the artist sees on all hands the bulk of humanity submitting to utterly needless & useless drudgery & servility, & wishes to avoid this anti-art at all costs. But I would li ke all men & women to be free in mind & body, which would mean that they would all of them be artistic, & I would like art to be largely a communal shared activity. For instance, I would love to write a work jointly with C. Scott, & I hope I shall some da y. He has much that I lack, I have much he lacks. Later on I hope to publish my sketch books with free permission for anyone to use my themes, chords, ideas, etc. I should like to see every man tinkering with every other man's art; what kaleidoscopic mult itudinous results we should see! I enclose a musical example or 2 giving typical instances of my 1/2-horizontal 1/2 perpendicular polyphonic chord-style. No one has written of my textures yet, or of the relation between chordishness & many-voicedness in m y stuff. I shall be sending you other matter. If any of the information in this letter seems usable to you in an article on me, please use it, either as a statement of fact without referring to me, or by quoting me, whichever you prefer.
All heartiest greetings & best wishes from
"Life is very much like Bach's polyphonic music--themes, beautiful themes, trying themes, difficult themes--other answering themes working in and out, over, about and under to form the whole--the rich masterpiece--difficult of pe rformance and execution, but unequaled in perfection of plan and soul-satisfying in concept. I firmly believe that music will someday become a 'universal language'. But it will not become so as long as our musical vision is limited to the output of four E uropean countries between 1700 and 1900. The first step in the right direction is to view the music of all peoples and periods without prejudice of any kind, and to strive to put the world's known and available best music into circulation. Only then shall we be justified in calling music a 'universal language'."--Percy Grainger [Univ IL].
"About ten years after [Ernest] Hutcheson came out of Melbourne, he was followed by another Australian--Percy Grainger. Grainger was one of the eccentrics of music--a gangling figure with an aquiline face and a formidable mop of hair; a vegetarian; a health faddist; a man who likely as not would hike from concert to concert with a knapsack on his back; and a whale of a pianist. Because he wrote so much music of the Country Gardens and Molly on the Shore variety, many refused to take him seriously as a pianist, especially toward the end of his days, when his career before the public was long over. The younger generation of pianists used to chortle when his name was mentioned. No chortle was ever more unjust or misplaced. Grainger was one of the most gifted pianists of the century, and his credentials were impeccable: student of Louis Pabst, James Kwast and Ferruccio Busoni; friend of Grieg; exponent of modern music (Debussy, Delius, Albéniz) at the turn of the century. He had a free, easy swing at the piano, a superb tone, an effortless and completely natural technique. Naturally his playing had some romantic mannerisms, such as a tendency to ritard at phrase endings. But his recordings of Bach-Liszt (A minor and G minor organ fugues) are superbly clear and logically organized. His Liszt playing glittered; his Chopin and Schumann had strength, poetry and grace; and, of course, he was unapproachable in Grieg and in his own music. He was one of the keyboard originals--a pianist who forged his own style and expressed it with amazing skill, personality and vigor, a healthy, forthright musical mind whose interpretations never sounded forced and who brought a bracing, breezy and quite wonderful out-of-doors quality to the continuity of piano playing."--Harold C. Schonberg.
"With his independent spirit, Grainger set up his own rules as a livable creed, and he respected others who did the same. During the early years of his career he was in great demand and had to learn tremendous quantities of literature to ful fill his staggering number of engagements. These whirlwind bookings kindled an avid interest in improvisation which was not an end in itself but a means to an end. He claimed that in performance he occasionally would have a memory lapse and would call upo n his improvising skills to get himself "out of trouble".
"He championed the lush, haunting music of Debussy, Delius, and Alb‚niz in his recitals. Just as the Renaissance painter, Rembrandt, was noted for his genius in getting shades of gold on canvas, and Kreisler was famed for producing a golden tone on the violin, surely Grainger, with his exquisite spectrum of tonal color, is remembered for making sounds of purest gold at the piano. He could spin vibrant pianissimos into mountainous fortissimos at will....
"In his compositions Grainger defied convention and put trust in the performer's sensibilities. He leaves the pianist wide berth in choosing a tempo in Irish Tune from County Derry (Londonderry Air), where the metronome marking is bet ween 72 and 104. The cover of Marching Song for Democracy says, 'You can alter the nonsense syllables to suit your own comfort as long as you retain their general characteristics.' These syllabes, 'Ta da di da-da ra da-da' go on for 33 pages. Using an enormous sponge-wrapped drum stick Grainger conducted a performance of this piece when I was a member of the chorus which he gently chided for poor diction. Grainger liked to use English rather than Italian for tempo and dynamic markings. Some typical instructions include: `At quick marching speed'; `Easy Going, but richly; 'Accompanyingly'; 'Hammeringly'; and 'Intense'....
"Grainger cut a strange figure as he walked along the Bronx River Parkway on his way to New York University. He often maneuverd his favorite piano stool in a wheelbarrow to the railroad for transportation to his next concert. Someone once asked Grainger's wife [Ella] why he had both arms in slings. 'Oh, Percy has been practicing so much that he must rest his arms for a while!' was her reply.
"During his brief tenure at New York University, it was my extreme good fortune to study piano and vocal ensemble with Percy Grainger. I will always remember him as a gentlemanly musician. He was always ready to help the pupil before thinking of his own gains. Concerning teaching Grainger once told me that if he were to again teach beginners, he would insist on six months of concentrated organ study before starting the piano. This would encourage meticulous legato fingering without having t o rely on the damper pedal....
"Thinking back to that very
special summer session  at New York University, my most vivid
memory of Percy Grainger sees him seated at the keyboard, coaxing from
the instrument the most sumptuous tone I have ever