A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger
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|1. Biographical/Artistic Vignettes|
|4. Program Notes|
1. BIOGRAPHICAL/ARTISTIC VIGNETTES, continued
"My earliest remembrances of Percy Grainger are as a boy in elementary school. At that age I was taken to hear all the great pianists of the times whenever possible. I thoroughly enjoyed them all, but none like Percy Grainger who became my i dol. I wanted to play just like him. Grainger played with enthusiasm. He seemed to really have a good time playing for us. All the other pianists seemed austere and distant to a young boy, but Grainger seemed to be playing for me. He strode onto the stage with zest. Sometimes he sat right down and improvised a bit before the opening number. This I loved! One night, I think it was in Carnegie Hall, he actually talked to the audience before playing--walking back and forth as he spoke. This was an unheard thing at the time. To my amazement and relief they were not critical of this at all. Encores were mostly his own things, occasionally not yet published. My father would treat me by bringing home a copy when it was available. I still have these and enjoy playing them.
"Years later, when I was a student at Teachers College, Columbia University, I learned that Mr. Grainger was to do a concert on the campus. This program was for massed chorus and eight pianos. I was fortunate enough to get myself invited to play one of the pianos. To my delight I was assigned one directly in front of Mr. Grainger who was conducting the entire program of his own compositions. One of the pieces called for striking the piano strings with a marimba mallet. Because of my location he asked me to do this. When he instructed me as to how this was done, I spoke with him for the first time. This was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until his death. The program at Columbia was a great success. He enjoyed the young people and t hey responded to his joy in music. Somehow, even to the uninitiated, music came alive as he played, conducted or explained it.
"Our next meeting was probably the most exciting of all. I had become the Chairman of the Fine Arts Division of a girl's college. While there I inaugurated a yearly Fine Arts Week program displaying the work of the students in all areas of t he Division and bringing in prominent people to do a program in this Festival and to my surprise and joy he accepted. Needless to say, this, too, was a great success and one which I immediately decided to capitalize on. At this time it was 'the thing' for college choirs to sing in the Town Hall, New York City. I consulted with the president of the college and our choir director and convinced them that our college should be a part of this program. I then suggested asking Mr. Grainger to be guest artist. He accepted the invitation on condition that we perform some of his works with our chorus. We were very pleased to comply with this request. Later he wrote to inquire about my reaction to playing two-piano numbers instead of solos. I was overjoyed and could hardly respond fast enough. The actual statement was as follows--(I quote it especially because of what I have said about his enthusiastic playing, also because it is somewhat startling when I recall hearing him referred to as the 'happy pianist'):
My main work has always been as a composer. I am not willing to go on appearing only as a pianist (a job I have always hated--disliking the piano as an instrument--and a job I have only done because I was so poor and had so many dependent s to provide for in London, New York, Chicago, etc.).
It still seems to me that this statement must have been made somewhat with tongue in cheek for he thoroughly enjoyed our playing together as we prepared the two-piano numbers. His piano compositions, too, show a rather unique understanding of th e possibilities of the instrument. One of the selections used on this first Town Hall program was a first New York performance of the English Waltz. On this same program he asked me to play the organ for Love Verses and he included the use o f solovoxes. In regard to the latter he wrote me 'We [will] be making history with the solovoxes. I think we will be starting something very valuable with this.' Grainger was very interested in sound as such and loved to experiment with all sorts of untri ed things (such as the striking of the piano strings mentioned earlier).
"Everyone enjoyed this Town Hall program so much that we immediately decided to do another the next year. As we considered the program for our next Town Hall appearance, Mr. Grainger wrote to say that he was working on 'a two-piano (pot-pour ri) of Porgy and Bess' and asked if I would consider using it. Would I!! I jumped at the opportunity. This was indeed the highlight of my continuing relationship with him. Burnett Cross recorded everything. Mr. Grainger would study the recordings at home and frequently make changes which he would mail to me, sometimes more than one in a day. I was quite thrilled as I reread this correspondence to read 'thank you for the suggestion you made in the last letter.' Apparently he planned to use some thoughts I had after a rehearsal. These Steinway Hall sessions were a never to be forgotten experience, for I literally saw [the Fantasia on] 'Porgy and Bess' grow before my eyes. It was genuinely exciting to hear the subtle change as alterations were made, sometimes on the spot. Mr. Grainger indeed had a superb understanding of writing for two pianos. Henry Cowell once told me that he felt no one understood this genre as Percy did. Eventually Dr. Albert Sirmay of Chappell & Co., owners of the Porgy copyright, came to Steinway's to hear the piece prior to agreeing to publish it. Mr. Grainger wrote me 'Dr. Sirmay was enchanted with the records of our practice performance in Steinway's basement and is delighted we will play this in Town Hall.' The actual performance was, of course, a world premiere. Dr. Sirmay attended, and Porgy was published exactly as we played it that day.
"Percy Grainger lived in a world of his own--a world of music. We often hear of his 'eccentricities'. The following amusing incidents occur to me. I have been told that years ago when he had a concert in a town near Newark, N.J., the spon sors were distraught because Grainger could not be found when the hour for the program to begin had arrived. In those days, one came from New York City to Newark via the 'tubes'. A man had been dispatched to Newark to escort Mr. Grainger to the church whe re he was to play. When Mr. Grainger did not arrive on the expected train or the next two ensuing trains, the escort returned to the church. Eventually it developed that Percy had walked from Newark to the neighboring town with his evening clothes in a kn apsack on his back. He was finally located turning handsprings in the church gymnasium!
"Personally I had two interesting experiences with him, one at home and the other at Steinway Hall. When we rehearsed in the basement at Steinway's he liked to meet me outside. We would then enter the building together, taking the elevator to the base ment. One day while waiting in the lobby for the elevator, he suddenly pushed me into the elevator as soon as it appeared and proceeded to race down the adjoining staircase, beating the elevator just as we have read he could. The experience at home was a lovely example of how humble he was--the home-spun quality that so endeared him to all who really knew him. We had invited him home to dinner after a rehearsal at the college. He, of course, was the guest of honor. When he was offered a home-made biscu it, he took the basket and walked around the table serving each person. My young son was ecstatic and to this day enjoys telling how Percy Grainger served him at dinner. "Percy Grainger was a unique individual. His warm personality shone through his music and his playing. He was an original thinker as evidenced by his compositions and his experiments with sound. The musical world is indeed richer because he was with u s."--W. Norman Grayson.
"Grainger (GSJ VI/1): "There are tone-forthplayers and singers who do their best (so we are told) in the most befamed Opera houses, with the most bowed-down-to blend-bands (orchestras), when their fees are highest and when hearer-hosts a re largest. All I can say is: such folk must be swollen-headed, or thick-skinned, or something. They must be brutes! What is the thought-path: 'Here is a frame worthy of my painting'? Are they so sure that what they bring is worthy of such spot-lighting? With me (cringing violet that I am--in some lines) t'is t'other way. I do my best when fees are lowest, listen-hosts are smallest. If there are only 110 listeners I say to myself: 'Most likely there is none here that will prick my bubble.' If I get $20 0 (or even $250) I say to myself: 'Likely I can play well enough for that.' But think of a $700 fee (or a $1000 fee! Have I ever had it?)! It is nerve-breaking. Can I be sure that I can cough up $700 worth of flawlessness, polish, host-holding skill? Hardly." [In the 1980s, Itzhak Perlman and others in his class could earn $35,000 or more for a solo recital.... (Ed.)]
"Grainger stated that the greatest performers were composers--for example, Rachmaninoff. He thought they had perhaps a greater gift of 'understanding' and that this enabled them to look into a composition and see what the composer meant. Grainger himself divided composers into two categories: (1) those whose own musical ideas and emotions were given preference in their compositions, regardless of the instruments employed. In this classification he placed Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, G rieg and Delius; and (2) those who concentrated on the physical nature of the instrument composed for, taking full advantage of coloristic resources. Examples of this latter group were Debussy, Ravel, Albeniz, Couperin, Scarlatti, Chopin and Liszt. Such c lassifications, however, seemed to have no particular bearing on his preferences.
"Some of Grainger's own compositions were truly avant-garde for their time (and in my opinion could well be considered avant-garde today), as evidenced by the Free Music (that is, music without definite pitch) of his later life, and his experimentation with quarter-steps, even eighth-steps--gliding tones, as he called them. Half-steps, he felt, were 'angular'.
"Grainger did much arranging and transcribing of the music of Bach. He arranged fugues for saxophone ensembles, and for harmonium, saxophone and piano. Solovoxes, which are electronic sound-producing attachments added to conventional pianos, and Hammo nd organs were also used. Actually, the solovoxes in this case were not attached to pianos but were used on tables--one per person--to represent the different fugal voices. The solovoxes were not capable of producing different timbres, but worked ef fectively because of their capacity to produce different terraced volume levels. Often he had students play single notes with one finger (on the piano) to stress equality of sound unhandicapped by technical considerations. The one finger approach also imp osed a limit on tempo.
"Grainger abhorred what he called 'sewing-machine Bach', and felt that Bach should be played with more rubato than is generally done. As in his approach to the music of many other composers, he stressed the non-legato aspect, using the 'one-finger sys tem' as preparation. Grainger felt that many people did not like or understand the music of Bach because they were not acquainted with the music that preceded Bach. He felt that knowing pre-Bach music was the greatest training, and that Bach's music shoul d be introduced in the actual chronology of its evolution--not 'backwards'--i.e., after Beethoven or Mozart, as is often done.
"Beethoven and Mozart were rarely played by Grainger. He simply didn't like their music! He made no secret of his opinion that 'Beethoven was frivolous' and did not compose music of great depth. There seems to be no further documentation of these opin ions, but one might guess that Grainger felt that Beethoven's approach was foreign to his own way of composing and thinking about music. Yet, according to one of his former students, 'he could play Beethoven beautifully and certainly teach it.'
"Of Brahms, Grainger remarked, 'He has a delicate and tender heart, but was well-encased in beer and sausages.' He claimed that Brahms was often performed with insufficient lyrical romanticism, and that there was too much stress placed on the 'bigness' of his works. He maintained that very careful balance was necessary in the fortissimo passages to avoid the effect of harshness; one must be sure that the 'tops' were there.
"Chopin's music, Grainger claims, was interpreted (by most pianists) with insufficient dynamic range. People were often too 'restrained' in playing his music. He qualified this opinion by specifying that a 'different kind of strength' was necessary in accomplishing this; i.e., 'reserve' rather than 'demonstrated' strength. Perhaps this could be interpreted as one's need to have the means of an absolute control which transcends any technical difficulties.
"Grainger had a great affinity for composers who were influenced by folk tradition or who had strong nationalistic leanings. In program notes which Grainger wrote for a series of Room-Music (chamber-music) concerts in New York in 1925, the following is extracted:
R. Nathaniel Dett, in his choral writing, combines cosmopolitan compositional culture and individualistic creative characteristics with a rich heritage of Negro vocal voices (as, in a somewhat different way, there also is in Rachmaninoff's Anthems) that innate sonority and vocal naturalness that seems to result only from accumulated long experience of untrained improvised polyphonic singing, such as that of Southern Negroes, South Sea Polynesians, and Russian peasants. These things are b ranches of the very tree of natural communal song....
Grieg told me, in 1907, that he liked 'Lost in the Hills [Die Bergtekne]' best of all his compositions. He felt that it reflected both the austerity and the sunny sweetness of the Norwegian mountains and also a certain tragic, lonely moo d typical at once of his race and of his personality.
"Of the now virtually unremembered Natalie Curtis, Grainger says,
Lovely being and exquisite musician that she was, she possessed, as a collector and arranger of primitive music, a wondrous gift of penetrating into the inner soul of the art of alien peoples--partly through her tenderly sympathetic and intu itive nature, partly through her unique technical and cultural equipment....
Of Paul Hindemith's always effortless and effective, although not always exquisite, music, it might be said (as William Lyon Phelps said of a cat in repose) that 'It pours itself out like a glass of water.' In its unpretentiousness, in its faci le musicianship, in the extent to which it is 'absolute' music, in the degree to which it borders upon being Musikanten-musik, it seems to me to mark a return of present-day German music to some of the tenets and practices of the Haydn-Mozart-Schub ert era--to a simplicity and pithiness of expression rare or unknown in Germany in the pre-war years.
"Always concerned about the composer's place in musical hierarchy, Grainger wanted his museum in Melbourne to support the role of the composer in his creative endeavors. To this end, Grainger sent an enormous quantity of manuscripts and other composers' effects to this edifice. In a letter to Sir James Barrett, the chancellor of Melbourne University at that time, Grainger wrote,
Australia has, in the last sixty years, seen and heard many outstanding servants of music (singers, instrumental virtuosi, and conductors), but to my knowledge none of the masters of music of that period (creators such as Grieg, E lgar, Delius, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Cyril Scott, Vaughan Williams, Arnold Bax, Scriabin, Roger Quilter, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Gershwin) have visited Australia. I hope that the display of photographs, relics, letters, manuscripts, typical of such men may prove stimulating to creative-minded Australian music-lovers.
"This master-servant relationship was effectively demonstrated to me by Percy Grainger in an unforgettable experience I had at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. The following correspondence will tell the story:
Chicago; August 3, 1943
What happened to the piano part of my English Waltz? I gave you a copy and after you had rehearsed it once or twice I suggested that you need not come to further rehearsals that might be inconvenient. But of course I intended you to come to the final rehearsal, so when the week of the performance came I said to you, 'The E.W. will be done this week.'
About the time of the last rehearsal someone said to me, 'Mr. Rezits says he can't play in your E.W., but he has given the part to a girl' (name not mentioned). But no girl turned up and the piece was played without piano. I had to send the material off to White Plains without the piano part and now (when I get the part) I will have to send it separately and write a letter to my secretary telling him where to put it (etc).
May I suggest that this is no way to behave with composers and their MS? If you were unable to play (at the last moment) you should not make your own decision in giving the part to someone else, but should allow the composer to make his own choice. If you were unable to appear you should not send a verbal message to a composer, but should put your regrets in writing.
I offered you the part because I wanted to honor you, as the finest pianist in camp (had you been my student I would have offered it to you, and since you were not my student I was not going to refrain from offering it to you). [My last period of formal study with Grainger took place during the previous summer. In the summer of 1943, knowing that induction into the U.S. Army was imminent, I concentrated on the flute so that I would be able to enter an army band.] It is true that the English Waltz is a rather insignificant little piece and the piano part not very attractive. Still, it was the best I had to offer at the moment, so I offered it.
If any living composer (such as Grofe or Stillamn-Kelly) offered me a piano part to play (however insignificant a part) I would consider myself very greatly honored and I would be very punctillious about rehearsals and about not sending verbal messages. Any other attitude (I submit) arises out of a complete misunderstanding of basic musical relationships. Composers are the masters of music. Pianists, conductors, violinists, singers, etc., are merely the servants of music. I nsofar as I appear as a mere pianist, I try to behave like a servant of music. The musical world clearly draws this distinction, recognising a great gulf between a great pianist like Josef Hofmann who hasn't enough brains to become a composer, and a great pianist like Rachmaninoff who has the brains to be a great composer. It is a mistake to rate creators and performers as co-equal branches of the same art. A performer is merely a parasite living on the body of art created by the composer. Without the composer the performer would have no career, no public. That is why everything to do with composition, composers and composers' manuscripts should be treated as matters of great importance!
There is, of course, the theory that the creations of the composers would be still-born were it not for great interpreters. But this notion (concocted by performers out of their own vanity) is, I think, disproved by the fact that composers have continually recorded their satisfaction in mediocre performances and so seldom expressed any delight in the performances of famous artists.
I shall be back from Washington by Friday (or Saturday or Sunday at latest) and I will be happy to make those records for you any time you wish that suits us both.
With all best greetings,
Interlochen, August 6, 1943
Dear Mr. Grainger,
I can only humbly apologize for my utter neglect regarding the English Waltz. I definitely admit that everything that happened was my own fault; however, this is my side of the story: I considered that there was a rather large piano part in the Grand Canyon Suite and probably the same pianist (one of your pupils from the High School division) would play throughout the entire concert. As I had forgotten whether or not I had returned the part to the library (I neglected to look care fully enough through my own music) I asked one of the orchestra members if the piano part had been played during the rehearsals. The answer was 'yes' or 'I think so' which of course was wrong. The part about my giving the part to a girl is fictitious.
As I have said before, this was all due to my own carelessness. I hope you do not think that this episode was caused by any of the other reasons you mentioned in your letter.
This incident has taught me a lesson I will never forget. Aside from the inconvenience it caused you and considering that something like this would have happened to me eventually, it is far the better for my sake that it happened between friend s and I hope can be forgiven.
Interlochen, August 7, 1943
Thank you so much for your kind letter and for returning the piano part of English Waltz. There is nothing to 'forgive' at all. The training we all get in music tends to make us all undervalue the importance of new works, manuscripts, et c. That is why I wanted to say what I did. In similar manner, I didn't know (when I started concertizing, as a grown-up pianist, in 1902) that a soloist has to provide the orchestration of a concerto. So when I was engaged to play the 2nd Tchaikowsky Conc erto with Hans Richter in Manchester (1902-1903) I went there without the orchestration. Richter was very nice about it, but I wished someone had warned me in advance!
The English Waltz (as an easy piece) was to have been given the first week here, but this plan had to be given up when it was found I had to leave for Washington on the first Friday. Thus it was accidental that the E.W. and Grofe's Suite fell in the same week later on.
I do not know who selected the pianist who played piano in the Grofe number--I was not consulted about it (being away, for one thing). But in any case, I think it nicer to have different pianists for different works. And as you were last yea r's finest pianist, I thought it appropriate to offer you my piano part for the 1st week's program (as I then thought).
Again with thanks and best greetings.
Percy Grainger "
Note: Grainger was apparently a generous, open-minded, open-hearted, cheerful, vivacious, energetic, idiosyncratic, extremely intelligent and enormously gifted and hard-working man--qualities to be admired in anyone, especially in one who contributed so much to audiences of his day and, as a composer and arranger of folk music, to performers and listeners of any day. Still, he himself professed openly to various complicated and even "dark" sides of his own nature, discussed in John Bird's important biography, which should not be overlooked if anything like a "full" portrait of this many-sided talent is meant. Thus the following article by Brian Morton finds a welcome place here, though some scholars and personal acquaintances could be expected to take issue with certain details and/or choices of emphasis.
There can be disagreement, too, concerning Morton's particular assessment of Grainger's music. In this writer's view, for example, quite apart from his contributions to and with folk music, and his setting out and attempting to solve important musical pro blems, Grainger's achievement lies in no small part in his ability to have established an unmistakable--and enormously appealing--character in his music: for the music of Percy Grainger is almost always, within a single bar or two, recognizab le as music by Percy Grainger, even as (for example) the music of Berlioz is always unmistakably of the family of Berlioz. Such a distinctive voice may be an indication of the presence of a "personality"; for such a personality to be so exp ressed it follows, in turn, that there should, first, be one. In this writer's view this has a great deal to do with the so-called "genius" of an artist in any field of endeavor, apart from his or her ability to assemble plausible musical forms, or to draw or write well; frankly put, an artist of stature ought first to "stand out"--a talent given, indeed, to few enough. (Ed.)
"Percy Grainger was much obsessed with posterity. It itched at him that his reputation was made and sustained as a performer of other people's work, that his most distinctive innovations were either ignored or co-opted without acknowledgemen t, and that he should be remembered best for his least demanding efforts. (Mention Grainger's name now and 'Country Gardens' comes inevitably and solitarily to mind.) "Grainger took positive steps to ensure his posthumous survival. A life-long atheist, he had every basis for belief that whatever of himself would endure would be found in his work. An obsessive genealogist of style, he believed implicitly that the es sence of any work could be found in the influences brought to bear on it.
"The Grainger Museum, in Percy's native Melbourne, was 'opened' in 1938, when the subject was still only 56. It was never publicly accessible in his lifetime but remained a repository for papers, scores and drafts, the weird musical instruments he fav oured, portraits of himself and others, anything indeed that might complete the equation he was never able to resolve otherwise. [The Grainger Museum--which now includes extensive holdings of non-Grainger material as well--is maintained at the University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, and is open to visitors and written enquiries. (Ed.)]
"It is easy enough to see the Museum as an act of almost monstrous vanity; yet Grainger was an intensely private and inward person (ironically so, given his calling); behind each appearance of arrogance there was an agony of self-doubt. Grainger could scarcely accept his own reality as a person and more than once referred to himself as a 'machine'. The drive towards self-documentation is part of a recognized pathology. It was also, in some measure, an attempt to re-root himself in his native soil.
"Grainger never forgot that he was an Australian. Circumstance, though, made him an uneasy European. His mother, who shaped his career, distrusted his love for Australia and 'preferred him English'. His parents' marriage more or less foundered when Pe rcy was eight. John Grainger was an accomplished architect but a deeply compulsive man, given to the same kind of aberrant behaviour his son was later to turn into a health-craze; John regularly smoked one hundred rolled cigarettes a day and nicotine poisoning compounded his health problems. What was always characterized as 'rheumatism' or 'rheumatic gout' in both parents was almost certainly syphilis, apparently contracted after Percy's birth. A combination of pressures drove the couple apart and in 1895 , when Percy was 13, he and Rose left for Europe.
"Percy's evident ability as a pianist won him an enrolment at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where Clara Schumann had been piano professor until deafness forced her retirement. It was here that Grainger made the friends of his own age and sex with whom he was to undergo an ebb and flow of guarded affection and open rivalry over the years; his fellow students at Hoch included composers Balfour Gardiner and Cyril Scott, and the cellist Herman Sandby, 'my closest male friend', with whom and with whose wife, Alfhild, Grainger was to form one of his first emotional entanglements--a 'bloody trinity'.
"The first real influences in Grainger's life, however, were not his peers but the older men he worshipped and the women--mother, lovers, wife--on whom he leant so heavily. Much has been written, much of it over-imaginative, on the mother-son re lationship. The Graingers' relationship followed a stereotypical pattern, with Rose alternating between melting sweetness and ruthless vicarious ambition. It was she who launched Percy onto the concert platform and, taking him to London, set him up as the darling of the Edwardian 'Season'. Grainger's looks, as she and the press liked to remind him, were hardly a disadvantage; his ability was beyond question.
"John Grainger, who couldn't share in his son's success, had introduced the child to his grandfather by letter as a blond Cupid, blue-eyed and with 'legs fit to carry the Tower of Babel'. It was a prescient characterization, as was John's belief that the boy would soon be 'taken up' by some dowager (though, at that time, for his skill with the pencil and crayon, rather than as a musician).
"Percy needed legs every bit as strong for the weight that was put upon him. At the age of 19, he found himself more or less solely responsible for the support of himself, his mother and, at a distance, his ailing father. The letters from the period, now collected in a superb edition by Kay Dreyfus,[See Ch. 6, Books & Articles, below. (Ed.)] bear witness time and again to the sharp economic exigencies of such a life, dependent as it was on maintaining appearances, constantly stimulating publicity, avoiding unproductive expense of any sort. Success came remarkably quickly and Grainger's blond head was soon to be seen at all the best 'at homes' and at a number of prestigious recitals.
"The reviewers were all but unanimous in their praise (for all Percy's own doubts) and the only consistent negative comment concerned that quality that seems to define Grainger in every aspect of his life, his attraction to the extremes. The performan ces that survive on record date from the 1920s but even there, there is the same preference for ppp and fff over more constrained dynamics.
"Grainger did nothing by halves. His obsession with physical fitness is reminiscent of Yukio Mishima's. It was impossible in Grainger's presence to point to an unclimbed mountain or unjumped stream. On tour in Denmark, he chose to walk from one venue to the next, partly to save cash, largely to satisfy a yearning for exertion (and its scrupulous documentation). Like the Museum, this seems to point to a large element of exhibitionism, yet Grainger grew increasingly prone to stagefright and wrote more t han once of the tortures of public appearance. In 1907, in the course of a highly productive period collecting and transcribing folksongs in Lincolnshire:
All that can be accomplished in (public) hiddenness & unhurry by oneself (self-confidence & self-only-reliance how easy) I can take on, even tough jobs; but asking questions of real live people, & performing before crowds & actually performing compos[itions]--dread moments.
"In his sexuality, as in everything else, Grainger constantly harked back to his Australian birth. (Many of his comments are strikingly reminiscent of passages in Colin MacInnes.) He felt genuinely out of place in European salons, genuinely appalled at what he saw as a corrupt travesty of femininity, rouged where it should have been ruddy. He developed an obsession with 'purity' that increasingly took on a racial dimension and led him to a stated (if not acted upon) preference for very young girls. 'Bodiliness', of the sort lost in civilized society, was the highest aim. Only in the young and in young nations could he find it. It had nothing to do with moral value, no correlate in conventional manners and it depended, crucially, upon a precisely calculated dialectic of pleasure and pain.
"Much of Grainger's life was consciously à rebours and his sexual preferences ('blue roses' in the private language devised with his mother) grew increasingly pathological. Grainger liked to flagellate himself or to be beaten by another. Once a gain, these acts were obsessively documented, in his letters to his lover, the pianist Karen Holten (with whom he seems also to have enjoyed normal sexual relations) and in extant, self-taken photographs of his own bleeding torso, neatly captioned with time, place, number of lashes, shutter speed and exposure. In a letter to Karen, he describes (or fantasises) in considerable detail the pleasures of tugging out her pubic hair, whipping her breasts, branding and burning; in reality, he practised such monstrosities on himself, branding his own nipple with a hot key and forcing needles through his breasts. One letter reproduced in the Dreyfus volume is covered in blood smears.
"Grainger was much influenced, if negatively, by Otto Weininger's precocious and paranoid Geschlecht und Charakter which downgrades the female element in culture in favour of an aggressive Aryan male dominance. Grainger was to say on many occasions that gender mattered less to him than race; elements of homosexuality and incest conspire in his writings with a dogged anti-Semitism. There seems little doubt that his parents' illness played a part in forming his sexual demonology--the pure woma n tainted by the corrupt man--but there is still a need to read it not just in terms of its unconscious causes but also in the context of Grainger's own intentions.
"In his letters, he once again confirms the prescience of his father's early characterisation by writing in a bizarre Tower of Babel macaronic compounded of English, German, Danish, Dutch, Icelandic, Faeroese and Maori, and in his own 'Blue-Eyed Engli sh', duly purged of all Graeco-Roman influences (thus 'Legislative Council' becomes 'Law-Making Meet'). With Karen, he worked out a new vocabulary for the sexual organs. On his scores, he abandoned the conventional Italian markings for instructions like 'Louden lots' or 'Quicken lots bit by bit'.
"It is at this point that Grainger's character and personality, which have locked and hypnotized much potential attention, confront his music. His obsession with the extremes of consciousness emerges time and again in his approach to music-making. Like his idol, Walt Whitman, Grainger was concerned to name the new, freshly rename the old and tabooed, and to create an entirely new musical discourse. His mentors, perhaps inevitably, were older men. He impressed Ferruccio Busoni, but was too heterodox fo r the Italian (just as Busoni was too Mediterranean for Grainger). His greatest contemporary influences were Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg, both of them acceptably Teutonic or Nordic, both of them, one suspects, sufficiently old to show up Grainger's vigour. (Grainger seemed particularly fascinated by Delius's slow, painful slide into paretic non-being. In the scheme of existential psychoanalysis, the urge towards merely physical being was the opposite of consciousness; Grainger found this in Delius.)
"Artistically, both men provided him with important models: of a music that was impersonal and national, and of a music that was 'personal' in almost exact proportion to the composer's loss of identifiable personality; with both men, through Grieg's folk-tunes and Delius's Florida work-songs, he had the lineaments of a genuinely democratic music that went far beyond romantic self-expression. "This, in music as in sex, was the point of Grainger's departure from the norm. Though a composer like the Anglo-German, Delius clung to the tail end of 'Europeanism', and though he remained 'expressive', he also evinced the English absence of 'SOLOISM'. The only classical composer Grainger could admire was J.S. Bach, whose work had the mechanical (not mechanistic) rigour he was looking for in his increasingly outlandish experiments and instrumentations.
"Writing to Rose in 1907, Grainger had nailed his colours to the mast in his best alliterative style (and with his usual curious orthography):
No Napoleonic individualistic theme of Beethoven, or wantonness of Wagner, or firyness of Tschaikowsky, or husbandry of Haydn, or ecstacy of Chopin and so on but the weekday-like, enduring, untiring graft & grind of a Bach fugue; grim glamorles s greatness which lifts largest in the end.
Grainger's 'democracy', allowing his discomfort with the mass of people, was in his commitment in his music to the 'great grand general average'. As a young man, he has pursued a new 'Australian fugue' that would replace Europeanism. He profoundly distrusted the exceptionalism of modern aesthetics:
I admire so highly the qualities that I myself have least of; (and am happy to have least of--I don't know why) life-force, fearlessness, recklessness, self-belief.
My (apparent) energy is something quite different from all this. This derives from me being very healthy and having many ideas; it is work-force not life-force.
This is a telling piece of self-examination. The abiding impression of Grainger is less frantic rapture than almost detached and analytical scrutiny of his own impulses and inspirations. The abiding irony is that so much of his music is, far fro m being mawkish and expressive, almost unbearably cerebral.
"His first successful forays into composition were settings of Kipling poems. Of these, the most successful was 'Tiger, Tiger', not to be confused with Blake's lyric, but rather a chapter heading from The Jungle Book. It's interesting to note that Grainger prepared four versions in all: for men's chorus, piano solo, harmonium four-handed, and cello ensemble, the middle pair marked 'easy'. This was to become a pattern. Since many of his 'compositions' were adaptations and arrangements of existing material, folk and popular tunes, instrumentation was a secondary, though a no less important consideration. Much of his best work, 'Molly on the Shore', 'Handel in the Strand', 'Shepherds Hey', exist in various versions; there were a dozen versions of 'Country Gardens' long before Anthony Newley got his hands on it.
"All the time though, Grainger's conception of music was becoming more complex as well as more 'democratic' in a functional, and not just literary sense. His recording of Lincolnshire folk-singers at Brigg had convinced him that even in the simplest m aterial there were whole terrains of complexity. One song he recorded had no less than 31 time changes. With this in mind, Grainger began to experiment with a 'beatless music' that dispensed with the usual harmonic hierarchies and fixed beat, and which wa s scored for unusual instrumental ensembles somewhere between the size and range of a wind band and a small chamber orchestra.
"The most radical of his experimentations began early in his career. A version of 'Hill Song No. 1', begun in Germany in 1901, demands (as John Bird shows [See also Ch. 6, Books & Articles, below. (Ed.)]) 42 changes of signature in almost as many ba rs. The piece begins: 5/8, 1-1/2 / 4, 2-1/2 / 4, 3/4, 4/4, 2/4, 1-1/2 / 4, 5/16 and continues in similar vein. In a draft of 'Sea Song', and in a passage marked 'Fast', there is in the sequence 1/4, 7/32, 3/32, 5/64, 5/16, 3/8, 7/64, 3/32, 5/64, 9/32, 3/8 , 7/64, 5/16, distinctions of time far beyond the ear of listeners or players.
"Grainger was convinced, as he made plain in his Statement on Free Music, that composition had for too long been constrained by stylistic conventions and by the limitations of human performative range.
Music is an art not yet grown up: its condition is comparable to that stage of Egyptian bas-reliefs where the head and legs were shown in profile while the torso appeared `front-face'--the stage of development in which the myriad irregular s uggestions of nature can only be taken up in regularised or conventionalised forms. With free music, we enter the phase of technical maturity such as that enjoyed by the Greek sculptures where all aspects and attitudes of the human body could be shown in arrested movement.
Looking at Grainger's later experiments, it's tempting to suggest that what he sought was a jump as great as from Lascaux to Cubism. In fact, what he sought was a development that would take music out of the range of human performance entirely a nd into that of machines.
"In the passage from the Statement, 'nature' is the key word. It holds a curious and complex place in Grainger's vocabulary. Concerned as he was with physical health and with the musical presentation of natural sound (as against social and aest hetic convention), he was also thoroughly committed to 'unnatural sexuality' and to a mode of composition as rigidly artificial as anything in Milton Babbitt. This is the curious paradox of Grainger's nature and again it is a point at which his aesthetics and sexuality meet and combine.
"Writing to Karen in 1907, while still under the influence of Weininger, he sketches out a view of pleasure and plain that anticipates Freud's in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Civilization and Its Discontents and that has an almost N ewtonian economy: it is 'natural' that every joy should bring with it 'equal pain'. Karen's instinct, he believes, is to soften nature's inevitable reaction toward that pain. Grainger's is to balance every pleasure with its opposite. 'Personally I think.. . the whole game in life is to always half (never quite) fight nature'. This was the underlying premise of his music, too, but it was only in later years, and with the cushion of popular success, that he was able to build it into his increas ingly experimental compositional work. As a younger man, he forced himself through a constant to and fro of satisfaction and abnegation:
After appreciation & success & good work & love & fine friends & tiredness & failure--from all these I've had to slink away to my own close self for my real pleasures [[for the real climaxes are secret and alone (or atwo) hiddenly aft er the public seeming climax. After one has succeeded at a concert or written a good bit of composition, suddenly, quickly, one remembers that the real climax is yet lacking, & one hastens secretly towards it, in sincerity (alone, or atwo)]]
Grainger could only function either as a composer or as a performer through some such dialectic of inner and outer, public and secret. His platform successes stirred his most violent self-lacerations; in composition, his most accessible means inspired his greatest complexities. (It's interesting to note that much of his most conventionally ambitious work is proportionately banal.) It's equally ironic that when circumstances allowed him freer compositional hand, the work produced lacked, quite ap art from the difficulties of performance, all the tension and vigour of his earlier endeavours.
"If the Grainger of the 1910s was an artist not yet grown up, the beginning of the next decade brought a cold and bitter shock that far from wakening him drove him deeper into his obsessions. In the spring of 1922, Rose threw herself off a roof in New York City. Grainger was completely shattered. For years thereafter, he carried her last letter--denying any incestuous feelings for her son--in a container round his neck, like a relic (or, as John Bird suggests, a psychological albatross). Though he slowly regained his equilibrium, Grainger never completely recovered; though he lived until 1961, he had lost the main focus of his emotions.
"Even so, he could not live without the near presence of a woman. In 1928, he married the Swedish painter Ella Ström, choosing (doubtless to hide the real nature of the relationship in an act of '[public] hiddenness') the stage of the Hollywood Bowl a t curtain call to celebrate the wedding. By all accounts the marriage was a stable one and, in its way, happy. Ella Grainger quickly recovered from the recognition of her husband's true needs and became his loyal collaborator.
"Not much less important to Grainger in these years was his relationship with the physicist Burnett Cross who, for the first time, provided the technical wherewithal for a machine capable of playing Grainger's 'scaleless, pulseless music'. The free-music machines they built, originally built from old player-pianos, later more sophisticated, were arranged to be able to play any pitch within their range, and to glide as well as leap from pitch to pitch; they were completely free of the arbitrary tonal and rhythmic divisions Grainger wanted to leave behind.
"Inevitably perhaps, the music that resulted is only rarely played (usually only for biographical interest) and it was Grainger's innovations that were left behind as the boom in electronic and synthesised music gathered pace.
"Percy Grainger's legacy is rather scattered and indistinct, much of it in genres or in a form too minor to be canonical. Nonetheless, he asked questions that have not yet been answered and achieved much that has not been fully assimilated. Independently, he made discoveries of an order little short of those by Satie, or Skryabin, or Stravinsky. He has some claim to be considered the inspiration of the 'free music' of the 1960s and beyond. He reawakened interest in folk song and demonstrated incontrov ertibly that even the most outwardly simple of musics is worthy of detailed (not just anthropological or literary) attention.
"Grainger is likely to remain the object of suspicion. A whole constellation of attitudes--his sexual aberrations, his anti-Semitism, his Anglo-Saxon supremacism (which looks unfortunately like Nazi ideology, though Grainger had no sympathy with German militarism), his oscillation between populism and obscurantism--all militate against a sympathetic approach. Even so, he emerges in sum as far more substantial and positive than individual attributes might suggest. The extremes he pursued had thei r own logic. Grainger set out his ambitions to his mother (in a passage that provides Kay Dreyfus's title) in 1907. As always, posterity was on his mind:
To give way to human feelings, to overflow & swim in human feelings, is human enough, but the farthest north of humanness is, for me, to be a lightning conductor of such feelings in such a way that they are particularly fitted to fill niches in coming men's minds & sit itchingly and inflamingly like small fishhooks in men's consciousness throughout changing customs and different rules for playing cricket."--Brian Morton.