A Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger
by Thomas P. Lewis

Selected Chapters


Table of Contents to Source Guide
1. Biographical/Artistic Vignettes
4. Program Notes




"'I'm not against education--it's harmless.'[--Thomas C. Slattery, Percy Grainger, The Inveterate Innovator (1974), 142.] Coming from a highly educated man with no formal schooling to speak of, the remark seems understandable enough, if somewhat cynical. In refusing an honorary degree from McGill University in 1945, Percy Grainger wrote, 'as I have had only three months' schooling in my life, I feel that my music must be regarded as the product of non-education.'[--John Bird, Percy Grainger (1976), 221.]

"Despite his rather slanted view of the value of formal training, Grainger did hold several teaching posts in universities for brief periods and gave master classes until almost the end of his life. It was at one of these classes in Cincinna ti that I had the opportunity to play for him. At the time I was studying engineering at the University of Cincinnati, playing the piano as a sideline only. I performed the Mendelssohn Spinning Song rather fast and carelessly, and I can still remem ber his kind and generous encouragement that helped to persuade me to take up music as a career the following year.

"Though his manner was good-humored and encouraging in the classes I attended, it is known that he could be quite demanding of students in his earlier years. His respective sojourns at Chicago Musical College and later, Interlochen, were mar ked by increasing impatience and frustration with the students whom he felt were already trapped in the rut of traditional thinking.

"He once remarked to one student: 'You can get more keyboard skill out of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues than out of a boatload of studies by tone-deaf nit-wits like Czerny.'[Slattery, op. cit., 147.] He claimed that the students he encountered displayed no musical curiosity or energy because they were sissies, 'all frenzy having been ruled out of their life.'[Ibid., 148.]

* * *

"Grainger felt a strong need to endure physical suffering and to test his strength against the forces of nature. He regarded playing the piano as an athletic activity and felt strongly that pianists should develop their muscle power to the fullest, especially that of the hands and arms. Indeed, rather than pampering his hands as so many pianists are wont to do, he often engaged in long, arduous physical labor to help build up his own endurance, since he was firmly convinced that muscular fatigue was one of the performer's greatest enemies. He believed that a pianist should have far more strength and endurance than required to assure adequate control during performance.

"According to Joseph Rezits, he sometimes tested his own pianistic power by having two or three persons at separate pianos accompany him in a concerto, playing as loudly as possible.[Joseph Rezits, "Grainger the Pianist", Lewis Foreman, ed., The Grainger Companion (1981), 178.] He also put his memory to the test in a similar manner by requesting the accompanist to start at any point at random in a concerto to see if he could enter quickly at the correct spot.

"In spite of his own highly personal style of performing (his own works as well as the works of others), Grainger was meticulous in his teaching about the accurate realization of the composer's intentions via the printed page. If a student's technique was well-developed, he generally didn't tamper with it; but if the student seemed unable to effect necessary changes in technical approach, then Grainger would help him to explore different ways of using the hand and arm, alternate fingerings, or a more sophisticated use of the pedals, something he himself did well. he felt that the sostenuto pedal was generally overlooked by pianists and he used it frequently in his own pieces, as well as in the organ transcriptions and impressionist pieces he frequently performed.

"Grainger favored fingerings that keep the hand as small as possible, using rapid lateral motion to achieve wide leaps. He also had no hesitation about refingering difficult passages, or redistributing parts between hands when feasible.

"The use of metaphor and imagery was another prominent part of Grainger's teaching. My mother, a former student and friend of his, recalls the time she was playing Debussy's Poissons d'Or for him, and mentioned the fact that the clima ctic passages seemed to her incongruous with the image of goldfish in a pond. Grainger replied that if instead, she imagined herself to be the goldfish in the pond with the slightest ripples on the surface becoming tidal waves, the effect of the work would become stronger and more vivid.

"My mother also mentioned his preference for teaching in groups, since he felt that the group setting afforded more possibilities for exploring musical ideas. Students often played solo works as multi-piano ensemble pieces, particularly fugues with each performer playing a separate voice in order to provide a clearer understanding of the texture. Occasionally students would perform different works simultaneously as a test of their powers of concentration.

"During master classes Grainger was constantly in motion, rarely watching the performer but moving around the room, sometimes even hopping up on tables or chairs. He felt that a teacher must be active in the lesson, not just verbally making corrections. And herein I think lies the key to the effectiveness of his teaching. Admittedly, like so many master teachers, or just ordinary ones for that matter, he was at a loss as to why less-gifted persons than himself could not learn and perform the way he could. However, the force of his unique personality and musicianship communicated very powerfully to talented and accomplished students, and tended to have a strong effect on their own playing as well as on their musical outlook."--Karl Payne.



"When Percy Grainger, the Australian pianist and composer, arrived in America [in 1914] he was not known as a player and but little as a composer, although a couple of his works for orchestra had been performed during a former season. When h e gave his first recital, he proved to be a pianist of solid attainments and also of unusual freshness and charm. His playing, his compositions, his personality, went straight to the hearts of his hearers; he soon found himself the lion of the hour; succe ss attended each subsequent appearance.

"It has been aptly said that a musician can do little or nothing without enthusiasm. In Percy Grainger, the quality of enthusiasm is a potent force in his character and career. According to his own testimony, he loves to play, to compose, to teach, to visit new lands, to become familiar with new people. He has the youthful buoyancy that welcomes with eagerness each new event and experience.

"To come into personal touch with Percy Grainger, to hear him in recital and with orchestra, is to be conscious of an entirely new series of experiences. Personally you feel here is a particular kind of mentality, one which is care-free, unt rammeled; of most gentle spirit, yet bold and heaven-storming when bent on carrying out a purpose. Perhaps the words original and unconventional would apply, though no words can aptly describe so unique and complex a nature. At one moment he speaks of the homely matters of everyday living, with the utmost simplicity; at the next his remarks bespeak wide knowledge of men and affairs, of various countries and peoples. Whether he thoughtfully fixes a serious, searching gaze on you, or whether his face is sun ny with smiles, you have the same impression of the utter sincerity and single-heartedness of the man, of the radiant vitality of his individuality.

"It is the same when he plays. Sincerity shines through everything he does, and the buoyancy of a fresh, earnest, healthful spirit carries you along with it. There is no flagging of energy, no moment of languor, all is vital and alive. At ti mes his playing is electrifying. To hear him deliver the opening of the Tchaikovsky B minor Concerto is the most exciting experience; something that carries you off your feet like a whirlwind. As a pianist remarked to me recently, 'A recital by Percy Grai nger alway makes one feel happy, inspired and ready to meet everything.'[$FIn a recent conversation, the composer Howard Brubeck has recalled to the present editor the experience he had as a child attending a Grainger concert. First, Grainger made his ent rance by leaping up on stage from the auditorium floor! This same display of energy--of guileless jubilation, even--was maintained throughout the program. Afterwards, young Brubeck (David's brother) was taken backstage to meet the celebrated artist. Once again, he recalls the force of Grainger's personality "up close"--his impressive vitality, and sense of optimism. (Ed.)]

"Although it has been my privilege to confer with Mr. Grainger at various times, it is pleasant to recall the memory of our first conversation. We were seated in the sitting room of their apartment in the hotel, and Mrs. [Rose] Grainger had just poured tea for us. She might easily be taken for an elder sister of the young artist, instead of his mother. The same sun-bright hair, clear blue eyes and fresh ruddy color. She is his devoted and constant companion, accompanying him everywhere. You feel they must both have lived much in the open, have tramped 'o'er moor and fen', have been steeped in fresh air and sunshine.

"`I had not expected to come to America at this time,' began Mr. Grainger, 'but we came primarily on account of my mother's frail health, which I am happy to say she has regained in this country. My European tour, embracing many concerts, had of course to be relinquished on account of the war.[Grainger was also a pacifist. (Ed.)] We sailed at three days' notice, and our intention was to stay two or three months at the most. It looks now as though we would remain in America for a long time.[In fact, more than forty years. One of the reasons given for his move in 1921 to White Plains--approximately a half-hour's train ride north of Grand Central Station--was, to have ample quarters in which to practice without distraction, or giving offense to others. At that time the modest slopes of White Plains remained rural (and wooded) to a large extent. Today, the city, though remaining pleasant in many particulars, is slowing being cemented over in its apparent determination to seed a forest of skyscrapers of its own, which are joined here and there by concrete overpasses and underground parking facilities. Grainger, who neither owned a car nor built a driveway by his 1893 Victorian-style house (a bit of an inconvenience to visitors today), would discover that the views from the upstairs floors are, now, somewhat blocked in several directions. (Ed.)]

"`My mother, who is an excellent musician, was my first teacher. She began with me when I was five, and worked with me constantly, two hours daily, for five years. This was in Melbourne, Australia, where I was born. We left there when I w as twelve. At about the age of ten I appeared in public and my career as pianist began. My teacher at that time was Professor Pabst, who subsequently became connected with the Moscow Conservatory. When we came to Germany, I went to Professor Kwast, at Frankfort, with whom I remained six years. Later I studied with Busoni, whom as pianist and teacher I most deeply revere.

"`Together with playing and composing, I have found some time for teaching, through this work suffered frequent interruption on account of my tours as a pianist. But I enjoy teaching immensely; it is such individual work; it is like condu cting in its effort to bring out the meaning of the composer by means of another medium or mentality. It is showing others how to express the idea. This is where the true teacher can so greatly assist the student, by being able to show him exactly how var ious effects are to be made, provided, of course, the pupil is anxious to learn how. As for methods of teaching technic [technique], I do not in general care for them; I avoid them. They are often only an excuse for laziness, as they prevent the pupil fro m thinking for himself. As for technical training, he can get it--after the foundation is laid--in the pieces he studies. I do not believe in set rules for technic; if the player wants to turn his hand upside down and play with the palm uppermost, I dare say he could do it, if he worked at it with the same zeal that he does with the accepted position. In other words, I believe we should inculcate principles of technical freedom and individuality in every player.

"`Pupils often come to study with me from the various countries where I have played. I have appeared frequently in Scandinavia and Holland, and have had numerous pupils from both those lands, as well as from England and the Colonies. The Dutch are a very musical people. I might say English and American pupils are perhaps the most talented, but their talent takes the form of doing things easily. There is a talent that acquires all with hard work, and another sort that achieves without great labor.


"`You ask if I approve of the metronome. I certainly do; and it is amusing sometimes to see how different the mechanical idea of rhythm is from the true sense and feeling for it. We can also use the metronome for working up velocity.

"`In regard to the natural feeling for rhythm, I don't find people in general so deficient in this quality as if so often imagined. The common peasant, with no cultivation whatsoever, has an innate sense of rhythm. It will not harmonize, I grant you, with the beat of the metronome, but it is a very forceful and individual thing. He will put a swing and "go" into a popular air which can never be found in mechanical rhythm. Mechanical means may be necessary in the student's early st ages, especially if the learner has not a just conception of the various note values.


"`About mental processes during actual performance of the piece in public, it is difficult to speak, as so many subtle influences are brought to bear. It is to be regretted that the custom prevails of playing everything without notes. I t hink many a fine pianist is greatly worried over the fear of failure of memory. This may affect his playing; it may prevent the freedom of utterance he might have, were he relieved of the fear of forgetting. All pianists agree that it is a great mental strain to perform a long and exacting program from memory; it is no wonder that even the greatest artists occasionally forget. It is no crime to have a lapse of memory, though it is annoying, especially if one is playing with orchestra. This has never happened to me; if it ever should I think I would treat the situation quite calmly; perhaps I would go and get the notes--I always have them with me--or I would look over the conductor's shoulder, assure myself of the place and then go on. The great thing is to have presence of mind in such an emergency. If one is not very strong physically, or if a great deal depends on the result of one's performance, the strain of performing an exacting program in public, from memory, is greater. Of course it is not artistic to play badly, so it were much better to have the notes in front of one than to produce poor results. Most artists would play more naturally with notes before them--if accustomed to use them. Fear often destroys the perfection of what might be a fine rendition. The comfortable, the ideal way, I suppose would be to really know the piece from memory and yet play from the notes.[Grainger's is an intriguing reponse to an issue to which teachers and players might wish to give more attention than perhaps they customarily do. The composer and performer Ruth Schonthal--who also has many years of teaching experience--insists that playing from memory is indeed overrated. Among several minuses (she observes), the habit of playing only what one has learned by heart tends to limit one's repertory. (Ed.)]


"`Art is the expression of natural impulses; therefore I do not believe in being fettered by many rules. Rather I believe in being as natural and free as possible in the working out of artistic ideals at the instrument. For instance, I do not believe in people striving to acquire a certain pianistic style they are not fitted for. If the hand is small and the physique delicate, why not keep the dynamic scale small? Why not play with delicacy and fineness, instead of striving to become heroic? Pachman, for instance, is a pianist whose limitations are to a certain extent responsible for his greatness. It is said he never makes a real fortissimo; but we admire his delicacy and finesse and do not wish him to strive for great power.


"`The technic of an art is, to a certain extent, mainly habit. I do believe in habit. We get used to measuring skips, for instance, with eye and hand, until we can locate them automatically, from habit. It is the same with all sorts of technical figures; we acquire the habit of doing them through constant repetition. When the mechanical part has become automatic, we can give the mind fully to the emotion to be expressed. For I do not believe you can feel the structure of the piece and its emotional message at the same time. For my own part I am not much concerned about how the piece is put together; I think of it as music, as the expression of natural impulses, desires or aspiration.


"When teaching piano, I make a great study of pedal effects with my pupils. Many fine effects of diminuendo can be made with quick half pedaling. The subject of pedaling is none too well understood; most wonderful tone colors can be produced by an artistic use of the pedals.' Mr. Grainger seated himself at the piano and played a brilliant passage ending with sustained chords, for which latter he used shifting, vibrating pedals with charming effect.

"`Another point I make is the bringing out of a melody note above the other tones of a chord; that is to say, making one tone in a chord louder than the rest. This is not new, of course, but students forget to study it. The ability to bri ng out a desired tone comes with practice, for it is not easy to accomplish at first. Most learners think they must play such chords forte, whereas the best way to study them is piano.


"`Many of the modern French compositions are very useful in developing sensitiveness of finger, and I make much use of them with pupils. From Debussy Reflets dans l'eau, and Pagodes may be chosen; also the Ondine and other pieces by Ravel. From Cyril Scott take the Lotus Land and Sphinx, also the set of five Poems; all are valuable as touch developers. I find little attention is given to the study of pianissimo effects; these pieces give on e much opportunity to acquire delicacy.


"`Do not imagine I want less study because I seek to avoid many formalities. Study is the only thing I care about in life, but I love the study of nature as well as art. No one can study too much; but let us have the heart of everything, not only the formal side. I like to study the language of a people, but rather the phonetics than the grammar.

"`To me art is joy. The more intensely studious the artist, the more joyous will he be in his art. To my mind everything connected with art and the study of art, should be easy, natural, individualistic, untrammeled and instinctive. Above all instinctive; "Von innen heraus"[Roughly, "from within, outward--." (Ed.)]

"`In art there is no escaping from one's true inner nature; neither for beginnor for finished artist. It seems to me the teacher should not strive to teach any one pupil the entire gamut of pianistic technic, but concentrate rather upon t hose phases of it to which the pupil seems physically addicted, or emotionally attracted.

"`One hour spent in practicing a phase of music for which a pupil has a natural physical or imaginative ability, will generally prove more fruitful than many hours devoted to problems towards which the pupil is less instinctively impelled .

"`Let each student and subsequently each artist choose those compositions that contain in abundance the particular pianistic style for which his emotional and physical nature equips him. This course will make for individuality in the artist's repertory, and tend to banish samishness from concert programs.


"`Beginners at the piano need to learn so many things at the start. There is the training of eye, ear and hand, the learning of notes and note-values, together with all sorts of movements. If students could have thorough drill in these th ings before they come to us, how much greater progress they would make in the real business of playing the piano!

"`As to instructing beginners, I find naturally no necessity for doing this on the piano; but I have taught beginners on the mandolin and guitar. I am fond of the combination of these instruments with strings and have written a number of compositions for a small body of string players. I play the guitar myself, and so does my mother; I have a special method of performing on it. I prefer to take an out-and-out beginner on this instrument than to take some one who has played it a good deal, and be obliged to show him all over again.'


"Mr. Grainger had much to say about composing for a small orchestra.

"`Very interesting to a modern composer,' he remarked, 'are the several newly invented or perfected instruments, such as the Mustel organ, the various Saxophones, the Haeckelphone; also the percussion instruments, such as the Marimbaphone , Bass-xylophone, Resonaphone, and the like. The tone of most of these new instruments is fairly delicate and sensitive, and would be swamped or lost in a modern mammoth orchestra. My own feeling is that it is in combinations of chamber music that these s maller, subtle, but highly characteristic instruments come into their own, and are heard at their full value. The latter-day tendencies are not toward noise and tonal effects on a gigantic scale, but rather toward delicacy, sensitiveness and, above all, t ransparency of color. Personally, I enjoy best of all writing for combinations of--let us say--six to twenty instruments, such as four strings, celesta, English horn, two guitars and resonaphone. Or such a combination as this: five men's voices, Mus tel organ, four woodwind instruments and six strings.'

"Some of Mr. Grainger's compositions already published embody the folk tunes of various countries in new and orginal forms. Those for piano incude Shepherd's Hey, Green Bushes, Country Tune, and Colonial Song; these are also sc ored for full orchestra. They can be obtained for a smaller company of players, even as small a number as twelve.

"Percy Grainger has been called by Runciman `the one cheerful, sunny composer living'. Finck says of his music: `One really feels tempted to say that these are the best things that have come to us from England.' Other critics have written mu ch in praise of his compositions. 'He catches us up and whirls us away in the spirit of the country dance.' `His music sounds like the dawning of a new era.` `Such genuine humor and wit, such enthusiasm, such virility and masterly musicianship as Mr. Grai nger shows are met with only on the rarest occasions in a musician of any country. Indeed it is doubtful if all these qualities are combined in any other composer now before the public.'

"These are words of high praise, from well-known authorities. We should rejoice to find a composer who can write in a healthy, sane and buoyant spirit. We do not want to be forever in the depths, racked by violent unhealthy emotions; we want to be on the heights, in the sunlight, whenever we can reach such attitudes.[This very aspect of Grainger's musical character in a sense transcends the issue of the "originality" of any given work which is "done up" by Grainger, insofar as that personality is, itself, such a distinctive, creative thing. Like those of Handel and Bach, indeed, even his arrangements become immediately recognizable as expression of his own particular voice, howeverso much they may also remain the folk or art originals of some other hand: moreover, his frequent choice of folk (which is to say, democratic and popular) materials is, itself, a characteristic aspect of just that "style" or "voice" which is--always--so unmistakeably "Graingeresque". (Ed.)]

"Mr. Grainger's compositions are popular in England and on the Continent, and bid fair to become equally so in America. Like most true artists, he feels strongly that 'wars or rumors of wars' should not be allowed to upset the internationali ty of art. The young Australian is deeply touched by the true spirit of artistic neutrality he has met on all sides in New York, amongst musicians of every nationality, and he points with pride to the fact that some of the best criticisms he has received in America have appeared in the German newspapers. He is no less proud of the high spirit of neutrality which permeates Engish musical life at present. Not long ago two large festivals of Germany music, one devoted to Brahms, the other to Wagner, were hel d there. Another 'Festival of German Music' is shortly to be held in London, side by side with a `Festival of British Music', in which the works of Cyril Scott, Frederick Delius, Stanford, Elgar and Percy Grainger figure largely. At present Frederick Deli us, the great Anglo-German composer, and Percy Grainger run one another very close in popularity. Mr. Grainger is boundlessly enthusiastic over his `rival', who, in his judgment, is the greatest of living composers.

"`It is inspiring to live in an age in which such noble and altruistic interpretations of the universality of art are displayed,' said Mr. Grainger. `In Frederick Delius,' continued his Australian admirer, `German and British qualities ar e most fortunately blended and have contrived to produce a unique genius, whose work recalls at once such creative types as Bach, Walt Whitman, Keats and Grieg.'

"Mr. Grainger is gifted as a linguist and is enthusiastic over the various tongues and dialects of the different countries through which he has traveled. He speaks German, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian, and has some knowledge of Icelandic, Jut ish, Frisian, Faroese and the peasant dialects of Norway. This acquaintance with the languages has greatly assisted in the study of folk melodies. He is considered one of the [foremost] authorities on folk songs and primitive music, having himself collect ed and carefully noted down nearly five h12traditional singing and playing in Great Britain, Scandinavia, New Zealand and the South Seas.[A selection of titles so identified in England and Denmark is given as part "b" of the Catalog of Works, Ch. 2, below. (Ed.)]

"As a pianist Percy Grainger plays with clarity of touch, variety of tone color and splendid sweep and virility. He is able to set the composition before the listener in well-balanced proportions, and direct simplicity of thought. One feels the composer of the work under consideration would wish it played in just this way, with just this directness of utterance. At the same time the pianist lends to everything he touches the glow of his own buoyancy and enthusiasm, by means of which well-kno wn themes take on a new meaning and make a new and unusual appeal."--Harriette Brower.


"He could sleep soundly, anywhere. The story has often been told of his arrival in a Midwest town in late afternoon after a strenuous hike from the town where he had played an earlier concert. He went immediately to the concert hall and stretched out for a nap on the top of the closed Steinway. On one occasion at least, the audience began to arrive while Grainger, still in hiking outfit, was deep in sleep. Grainger would arrive for [the master classes he gave at the Chicago Musical College c .1921-22] promptly at 1 p.m., after having run up 10 flights of stairs, often carrying a piano bench or a large armful of music. He never walked when he could run or jump; when he wanted to get across the room he either vaulted over the two Steinway Grands or crawled beneath them on hands and knees.

"In the class he talked a lot and played a lot, and was generally lenient with the students who performed. His constant advice was to follow his example and practice for a least one hour each day with the metronome. He seemed to give the metronome credit for the unrelenting rhythmical drive of his playing. At that time the metronome was considered to be an old-fashioned and mechanical sort of discipline, and up-to-date piano teachers of that day would never recommend it. Grainger's advocacy of the metronome was nothing less than shocking to students of that time. He talked a great deal about what he called 'simultaneous tone-color contrasts', and he took great delight in all the tricks he had devised for the middle or sostenuto pedal of the piano....

"Grainger's mother, Mrs. Rose Grainger, attended every class. As the time neared the end she never took her eyes off the watch. Promptly at the moment of 3 p.m. she would call out loudly, 'Percy! It's 3 o'clock!' and everything had to stop o n the second, whether Grainger was playing or talking, or whether some student was in the middle of a piece. Grainger would stop whatever he was doing on the instant and meekly say, 'Yes, mother!' and the class would file out promptly....

"It was probably the following spring that I had my only private lesson with Grainger. He was to be soloist with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the annual North Shore Music Festival, held in the vast Patten Gymnasium of Northwestern University in Evanston. Somehow I made advance arrangements for him to hear me at the conclusion of the rehearsal. The piano stood in the midst of a clutter of music stands and double bass cases on the empty stage. I was aflutter with nerves in such strange surroundings. Grainger was kind but obviously not very impressed nor very interested. I played such of his pieces as One More Day, My John, Irish Tune from County Derry, Molly on the Shore, Colonial Song, and the like. Aside from a few neat tricks with the sostenuto pedal, I cannot recall that I learned anything from the lesson. But at least I could henceforth legitimately label myself 'Pupil of Percy Grainger', a considerable recommendation at that time."--Albert Goldberg.


"[Grainger's] biography (with an emphasis on his career as a pianist) begins in an outer seaside suburb of Melbourne in Australia on July 8, 1882 when a son was born to an alcoholic and wayward father by the name of John Grainger and a stron g-willed and over-possessive mother called Rose (ne Aldridge). Both parents were musical, and Rose sat by him for a few hours daily from the age of five whilst Percy practiced at the piano. The marriage was to be short-lived and violent and the mother an d son departed when Percy was eight, thereby allowing the maternal influence upon the youngster to be life-long and emphatic. Grainger himself has bequeathed vivid accounts of his mother's playing characterized by 'great volumes of tone' and a 'rhythmic robustness' with the softer passages marked by 'gracefulness' and an 'irresistably winsome lilt at once gentle and vivacious'--traits very discernable in Grainger's own playing.

"Two very musical family doctors also exerted a strong influence on him at this stage. First an Englishman called Robert Hamilton Russell (who, as a young man, had served as dresser to Lord Lister, the innovator of antiseptic surgery). Grain ger described him as 'the first exquisite pianist of my life', recalling above all his interpretations of Schumann.

"The other doctor, an Irishman by the name of Henry Michael O'Hara (the doctor who saw Percy into the world and who was also [Dame Nellie] Melba's doctor), suggested that after his mother's tuition he be taken to study with someone who turne d out to be Grainger's most influential piano teacher, one Louis Pabst. Pabst went to Australia in 1894 from a musical family in what used to be called Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, USSR), and he brought with him impeccable credentials, the m ost important of which was that he had been one of a handful of private pupils of the formidable Russian pianist and pedagogue, Anton Rubinstein, one of the rare nineteenth-century pianists whose name was ever mentioned in the same breath as that of Liszt. Curiously, from the point of view of his pianistic pedigree, this move put this wild Australian boy firmly in the Russian school of piano playing and, like Horowitz, it makes him a pianistic 'grandson' of Rubinstein.

"Grainger made a sensational début on Monday, July 9, 1894, the day after his 12th birthday, and Pabst was so enraptured by the talents of his brilliant pupil that he offered to take him back to Europe and 'make of him a real virtuoso'. Perc y's mother refused, saying that she would rather he gave up music altogether than see him become a mere pianist!

"When Pabst left for Europe, Grainger continued to take lessons from another Pabst pupil called Adelaide Burkitt--a woman of whom he always spoke affectionately. She groomed him for further performances and soon it was decided that he should go to Germany to further his general musical education.

"Once installed in Frankfurt-am-Main, the young Australian enrolled at Dr. Hoch's Conservatorium of Music where he studied piano under the Dutchman James Kwast (pupil of Reinecke, Richter, Gevaert and Brassin). Grainger also took a few valuable lessons from Lamond and Friedberg and in later years always spoke of the enormous influence made on his playing after attending recitals and concerts given by Ossip Gabrilowitsch and especially Eugene D'Albert.

"In 1901 the Graingers moved to London and now, armed with a formidable technique, the young Australian began the final stages of the transformation from Master Percy Grainger to Percy Grainger the Master. He very quickly became one of the most sought-after pianists of his day and during these London years he performed under the batons of Steinbach, Ziloti, Wood, Mengelberg, Beecham, Richter and many others. His concert repertoire, of course, embraced the major output of the Romantics, but h e hardly played a note of Beethoven and, after his student days, nothing whatever of Mozart or Haydn. He did, however, draw much from the Bach and pre-Bach period and, ever the champion of a thousand underdogs, he also performed the music of his friends a nd contemporaries. He was the first to perform the keyboard works of Debussy, Ravel, Albeniz and Granados in Australia, South Africa and the British Isles.

"In 1903 Grainger was introduced to Ferruccio Busoni, and the Italian was so impressed by his playing and indeed by his compositions (describing him in a letter to his wife as 'a charming fellow, highly gifted and a thinker') that he invited him for a few weeks later that year to join his Berlin Master Classes.

"Though Busoni clearly admired Grainger's innovative music, and Grainger benefited from the Master Classes (they specialized in Bach's keyboard music), the human relationship nevertheless soured and an insight into the pattern of this encounter can be gleaned from a perceptive pen-portrait bequeathed to us by Grainger:

I admired him without reservations of any kind and revelled in evrything he did pianistically.... He was not a normal player... unfolding the composer's music straightly and faithfully. Busoni was a twisted genius making the music sound unlike itself, but grander than itself, more super-human. I cannot recall ever hearing or seeing Busoni play a wrong note. He did not seem to `feel' his way about the keyboard by touching adjacent notes--as most of us do--he smacked the keys right in the m iddle... Busoni got brilliant results with next to no effort. I was slow and peg-away. Busoni impressed people immensely, but pleased few. I was able to please almost everybody including Busoni, but impressed nobody. Busoni was a big-town artist, I a smal l-town artist. My patience and humble stamina must have been just as annoying to Busoni as his flashy pretentiousness was to me.
* * *

"As a teacher, Grainger tried to make his students conscious of the contrapuntal elements of the pieces they were preparing, and to this end he tended to steer their interest toward Bach and pre-Bach music. Sometimes he would re-arrange and isolate the various voices of a Bach fugue amongst a group of students on different pianos. Taking this a step further, there were times when he would invite a few of them to practice wildly different pieces on different pianos at the same time in the sam e room. This, he said, improved concentration.

"Early on in his career he preached the gospel of stiff fingers, wrists and arms, though he found as he grew older that this did not matter quite so much. He never believed in pampering his hands, but felt they should be subjected to hard, even harsh, work constantly; and this explains why, for example, he would always carry his own suitcases--all part of his obsession with tough physical exercises. Grainger never took recommended fingering--even his own--as holy writ, but rather he suggested that each pianist should find the fingering that suited his or her own hands best. He believed scales were idiotic exercises and felt that the music itself provided the best exercise and practice. He always placed great stress on the various us es of the pedals--'half-pedalling', 'pedal-fluttering'--and an extensive use of the sostenuto pedal.

"Before the Great War he had toured Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Russia, Holland, Switzerland, Bohemia and, of course, the British Isles. These years of frantic activity and self-discovery also saw his brief but important friendship with Grieg (1904-07), his most intense folksong collecting activities (1905-09), the beginning of his devoted friendship with Delius, the start of his career as a recording artist (1908), the continuation of his most fruitful compositional period and the publication and first performances of his compositions.

"In 1914, at the outbreak of war in Europe, the Graingers moved to the United States where he became an instant success as a concert pianist. His heart, however, lay in composition and he was never able to free himself from the dilemma of wa nting to give more or all of his time to composing but only being able to support himself by being yoked to the concert platform, which, of course, took up most of his time and energies and in which he became inextricably enmeshed. He thereby created a re putation which, by his own criteria, all but destroyed him. Much of this is explained if we recall that famous American band director, Richard Franko Goldman, who said of Grainger that his life forced us to reflect upon that obscurity caused by the wrong kind of fame. As time passed, Grainger himself became keenly aware of and, under protest, resigned to the fate that awaited him; and partly for this very reason we constantly read of his expressing a hearty contempt for his career as a pianist and the pia no as a vehicle for containing his musical ideas--'a mere boxfull of hammers and strings'--though we do see him occasionally articulating a sneaking sense of victory after a successful concert.

* * *

"Grainger's commercial career as a recording artist stretched from 1908 to 1957 and embraces a rich variety of music. Some of his records are now amongst the most cherished collector's items, the rarest of which command prices of many hundreds of dollars in dealers' lists. There also exists a large body of non-commerical, 'live', off-the-air and home recordings--a body which is continually expanding with new discoveries. The first session at the London studios of the Gramophone Company in 1908 captures the twenty-six-year-old Grainger at the dazzling peak of his technical powers, and between August 1917 and October 1931 he recorded exclusively for the American Columbia Gramophone Company. This association produced some of the glories of recorded piano playing. After this, sad to tell, the major record companies cast him aside like a worn-out child's plaything.

"Those wishing to acquaint themselves with Grainger's recorded playing could well turn to the Columbia discs of the Chopin Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, the last movement of which he devours with a murderous ferocity. A joy to hear, too, is the relentless logic and clarity of voicing woven from the Bach/Liszt Organ Transcriptions. His Schumann and Brahms playing glows with a warmth and youthful energy and his performances of Grieg's and his own music have become yardsticks against which all can be measured. Some of these recordings have been well transferred to LP, but only on small and ephemeral labels which seem to arrive and disappear with an indecent haste (Encore and MJA in USA and Imprimatur and Pearl in UK); and it is painful that the owners of the original copyrights have continued to ignore these treasures. The LP recordings of Grainger's piano rolls, still available in large numbers in some stores, are mostly musical abortions which do Grainger's memory an unforgivable disservice.[For comprehensive lists of recordings, see Ch. 5, Discographies, below. (Ed.)]

"As a composer Grainger's contribution to the lot of human happiness has hardly been tapped. That he continues to be ignored by the mainstream in the performing arts is a major tragedy for twentieth century music. Much of his keyboard output is fearsomely challenging, but rich rewards are to be gained by the thoughtful and competent pianist. His music ill-repays those who approach it lightly. Grainger scores are frequently littered with the most minutely specific directions nearly always in English. When Beethoven, Schumann and Mahler bypass the conventional Italian and use their own language in their scores, we respect and even revere them for it; yet when Grainger does exactly the same thing we tend to fall about in heaps of laughter. One is tempted to ask why? Like practically everything he did in music, he devised and applied his English directions with a poker-faced seriousness, and where he instructs the pianist to play a piece 'jog-trottingly' or a particular chord in the left hand to be 'violently wrenched' then to do otherwise would be to miss the whole point. Contrary to general belief, Grainger's is not 'safe' music and it is not for the timorous or indecisive unwilling to take risks.

"Tracking down his scores and sheet music can be endlessly frustrating, and even finding out exactly what he composed can be a major undertaking. In 1982, however, his British publisher, Schott & Co., Ltd. produced an invaluable booklet whic h can help anyone pick his way through the appalling jungle of his compositions. It contains a complete list of his published and unpublished creative output with names of publishers, timings, availability and so on.

"Percy Grainger was a man of very substantial creative genius. He was different, he was special, but above all he was Australian. Perhaps because of this he will always be destined to remain outside the mainstream--a destiny not entirely without honor when one considers the company he will keep. He was a man beset with self-lacerating doubts like most larger-than-life creators and doers and he paid the price for his gifts in terms of human suffering and neglect from an ungrateful public.

"When will the pianists brave the cold? His music is there for our enjoyment and profit and all it needs now is a few good pianists to take up the challenge."--John Bird.


"Perhaps the oldest living musician to remember meeting and hearing Percy Grainger before the first World War is Kyriena Siloti, daughter of the distinguished Russian pianist-conductor and Liszt pupil Alexander Siloti. Mme. Siloti has been t eaching piano privately in New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts [c.1983] and at 88 has scarcely curtailed her schedule at all. Unquenchably high-spirited and vivacious as ever, she has regaled this writer with an inexhaustible trove of reminiscences of the great musical personalities of the century, most of whom she met as a young girl in pre-Revolutionary Russia in the Siloti household in St. Petersburg, where the great touring virtuosos who came to play with her father's orchestra were greeted with a VIP breakfast or dinner.

"It was there that she met Grainger, whom she described to me as a 'nice boy' (it was 1913 and Percy was 31). She remembers him racing to catch the back of streetcars in St. Petersburg, a characteristic portrait no doubt shared by many other s who remember Grainger at various times in his life. She and her sister Oxana, 90, remember Percy's visit but couldn't pin down the exact date, even though they have a spiral notebook of all the programs Alexander Siloti conducted with the St. Petersburg Orchestra from 1900 to 1913 (those of 1913 to 1917 are not recorded), translated into English....

"According to John Bird's biography, Grieg wrote a letter to Alexander Siloti in 1907, shortly before his own death, describing Grainger: 'He is possessed, incidentally, by the same absurd idea as you are: he does not wish to be a pianist, b ut something different.' Indeed, Siloti, too, considered himself more musician than virtuoso, and, like Percy, was a lifelong devotee of Bach, whose music he copiously arranged for piano and played in recitals.

"Bird's book records that Grainger performed the Grieg Concerto under Siloti's baton in St. Petersburg on October 26, 1913--just after the cut-off point in the Siloti sisters' notebook. The preceding week Percy and [his mother] Rose had h eard Siloti as pianist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Bird records that Grainger wrote a letter to Siloti the following spring praising this performance and expressing hope that Percy could appear again under his baton in the Delius Concerto. Sadly, this do es not seem to have materialized, as Grainger shortly thereafter went on to America. There is no record of whether Alexander Siloti and Grainger met later in America, although we know at least that pianist and Busoni student Edward Weiss was a mutual frie nd of the two men.

"Madame Siloti's pleasant memory of Percy ('he was likeable and winning') is interesting to compare with her uninhibited evaluations of other famous figures of 1913 vintage. There was Prokofiev ('arrogant in his youth then, but he mellowed a s he got older'); Josef Hofmann ('personally he seemed distant, but the greatest pianist'); Rimsky-Korsakov ('not very warm around children'); and Scriabin ('he had crazy ideas about theosophy but he didn't put on airs'). She recounts an amusing anecdote of standing up to Rachmaninoff, whom she knew very well. The great pianist-composer had played a Beethoven piece in a New York recital and asked Kyriena's opinion. 'It wasn't played in the style of Beethoven,' she replied forthrightly. 'Oh, so that's what we think!' boomed the spulchral-voiced Rachmaninoff with a big smile and mock-patronizing laugh, patting her hand paternally. (She says now, 'You know how big people can take criticism. Little people can't.') Leopold Godowsky told her, 'I wish you were m y daughter!' and Casals called her 'my little Velazquez' when she was a little girl. And Rachmaninoff later told her, 'Kyriena, don't ever change.'

"Mme. Siloti was unware that Grainger lived for so many years in White Plains (she also had a country house) and says, 'If I had known that, I would like to have seen him.' Told of his cancer, she added, 'Poor boy.'"--Mark N. Grant .

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