University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Percy Grainger Manuscripts

Volume XIX · Winter 1964 · Number 2
The Percy Grainger Manuscripts

When Percy Aldridge Grainger died in White Plains, New York, on February 20, 1961, the musical world lost a gifted pianist and composer, an individual among musicians. In an age of conformity Grainger dared to be different. In a generation striving for sophistication but overshadowed by doubt, he was actively concerned with the simple, direct sea-chanty and the country folksong. While he wrote in his own personal idiom, he also did much to popularize the music of others who were writing in their own idioms, quite different from his: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Cyril Scott, Isaac Albéniz, and Julius Röntgen.

Charles W. Hughes, writing in the Musical Quarterly in April, 1937, commented:

Percy Grainger's music has little resemblance to that of other contemporary composers because he himself, as a thinking, feeling, and music-loving man, differs greatly from most present-day music-makers. He has sought out and been stirred by influences that have had little effect on most of his contemporaries. Music of the remote past, music of Eastern races, the songs and dances of the English countryside, the music of Bach, have all had their part in forming his personality as an artist. On the one hand, he is keenly interested in music of the XIIIth and XIVth centuries; on the other, he follows contemporary trends with the closest attention. I suppose that few musicians are quite so unconcerned with mere up-to-dateness; yet his harmonic web is often pungent, vivid, modern. In an age that has learned to shun frank emotion for irony and burlesque, no composer is so willing to speak frankly, directly. He has a vein of sentiment that is wistful, popular, and somewhat melancholy. He alone is capable of reproducing the happy good-will and tireless physical merriment of the country dance. His music is to an unusual degree the record of his feelings and enthusiasms as a vital artist. His works might well serve as a wordless biography.

Born George Percy Grainger in Melbourne, Australia, on July 8, 1882, he received his early musical training from his mother and first appeared in public as a pianist at the age of ten. In 1894 he went to Germany to study with Kwast in Frankfurt. He also had some lessons with the master Busoni. At the turn of the century he began his active concert career in England, followed by tours in South Africa and Australia. By 1906, when he met Edvard Grieg, he had already developed a keen interest in folk music of both Britain and Australia and knew something of the songs and dances of the Scandinavian countries. Grieg, impressed by both his pianistic ability and his interest in nationalistic materials, worked with the younger man on his interpretation of his [Grieg's] Piano Concerto. Thereafter, Grainger's playing of the concerto became famous. He never ceased to respect the memory of the Norwegian composer, who died in 1907.

In 1914 Grainger settled in the United States, and his sensational New York debut occurred early in the following year. For over a decade (1919-1931) he gave summer courses at the Chicago Musical College, and in 1932-1933 he was Chairman of the Music Department at New York University. Meanwhile, he married the Swedish painter and poetess, Ella Viola Ström. During the wedding ceremony, witnessed by thousands at the Hollywood Bowl, he conducted the hymn, To a Nordic Princess, which he had written for his bride.

During the latter part of his life he worked over and revised or re-scored many of his works. His interest in folk music never waned, and he constantly kept in touch with the events of the world. In 1956 he made one of his last public appearances when he conducted the Goldman Band in a performance of his Marching Song of Democracy on the mall at Central Park. This work had been written originally in 1901 to words of Walt Whitman, and Grainger arranged it for band in 1948.

Percy Grainger was a brilliant pianist and a fine composer with a total of some four hundred pieces to his credit. Although his enthusiasm for untrammeled rhythms, for the singable (or even better, the "whistle-able" and "hum-able") melody, and for the direct and vital expression of folksong set him aside from certain "progressive" writers, he was admired by thousands and had illustrious friends among his colleagues. Howard Hanson, for example, recalls lively conversations with him. It is especially fitting, therefore, that Mrs. Grainger's far-sighted generosity moved her to deposit the composer's manuscripts in several libraries in different parts of the world so that scholars everywhere might have access to them.

On April 9, 1962, Mrs. Grainger wrote to the librarian of the Sibley Music Library, "Professor Gustave Reese has asked me to write you about sending some of Percy Grainger's MSS to your library. Professor Reese and I have selected several items to go to the Sibley Library, and I would be much obliged to you if you would inform me whether you wish to receive such MSS. . . ."  Needless to say, a reply was dispatched immediately with the statement that the Sibley Music Library would indeed be delighted to be so honored. In a matter of two weeks a carton arrived, containing a selection of Percy Grainger's works in manuscript. Other works were distributed to five major collections: the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Ireland, and the British Museum. Each of the six libraries was sent copies of the lists of compositions deposited in the others so that the information could be shared by all. In addition to the materials thus distributed, there are other collections of music, books, letters, and relics housed at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, and at the Grainger Museum of the University of Melbourne, Australia, which the composer had founded in 1935 for that purpose.

The manuscripts are human documents. They are much more than a handwritten indication of the notes and who is to play or sing them. They include program notes, information about the dates and circumstances of composition and arrangement, suggestions for alternate parts, and editorial revisions. The dynamic and tempo markings are in colloquial English rather than the traditional Italian. A crescendo, for example, is indicated by "louden," "louden more," or "louden lots," depending upon the context. If the performers are to play legato, the instructions are to interpret the passage "clingingly." When a ritard is necessary, one is to "slow off," and when the key changes, the music has been "key-shifted." Although some conventional musicians might object, such terms are direct and meaningful; there is no reason in the world why they should not be used.

Among the works presented to the Sibley Music Library is King Solomon's Espousals (Love Verses from the Song of Solomon). Included in the set are Part II (solovox I and II parts in manuscript and the compressed score in photostat) and Part V (piano sketch in pencil and the finished version in photostat). This work had originally been composed in "1899? 1900? 1901?" as Grainger indicates at the top of the sixteen-page piano sketch. While on a train travelling from New York to California in 1946, he copied out this sketch, indicating on most of the pages the date and approximate place where the train was.

p.  1. Copied out [cartoon of a train] NY-Chicago, Dec. 28, 1946
p.  3. [cartoon of train] nearing Chicago, Dec. 29, 1946
p.  5. [cartoon of train] Kansas City, Dec. 30, 1946
p.  6. [cartoon of train] Kansas City to La Junta, Dec. 30, 1946
p.  10. [cartoon of train] Newton, Kansas, Dec. 30, 1946
p.  11. [cartoon of train] Newton-La Junta, Dec. 30, 1946
p.  13. [cartoon of train] Albuquerque, N. M-Gallup, N. M., Dec. 31, 1946
p.  16. [cartoon of train] Gallup-Barstow, Tuesd. eve. Dec. 31, 1946.

Another of the manuscripts is the score to The Merry King for several wind instruments (or strings), harmonium, and piano, which bears the notation: The Merry King, English folksong from Sussex, England, collected and set for room-music by Percy Aldridge Grainger. The program note appended to the score reads: "Grainger noted down this typically English folksong in London around 1905, from the singing of a Sussex laborer. At that time Grainger made such sketches for a choral setting which are used in the present setting. But the main part of the present (room-music) setting was sketched and worked out in 1936, 1938 and 1939. One verse of the text sung to the melody ran as follows:

It's a merry king of Old England stole my true love away;
And it's I that no longer in Old England can stay.
I'll roam the wide ocean, all on my bare breast
For to find out my true love, the one I do love the best.

In some variants of the tune the following amusing corruption of the first line is met with:

The Americans in England stole my true love away.

At the bottom of the initial page of the manuscript the composer has written: Auditorium Hotel, Chicago, Feb. 17, 1939; at the end of the score: Feb. 20, 1939.

Shallow Brown (Sea-Chanty Settings No. 3) is a "sailor's sea chanty collected from the singing of Mr. John Perring (Dartmouth, England) by H. E. Piggott and Percy Grainger and set for voice (or voices) and 21 (or more) instruments by P.A.G. Setting composed, first scored Aug.-Dec. 7, 1910. Scoring slightly revised in 1923 and 1925." The program note tells us that "the underlying idea of this chanty was that it was supposed to be sung by a woman standing on the quay to Shallow Brown as his ship was weighing anchor. Mr. Perring did not know why Brown was called 'Shallow'-'unless it was that he was shallow in his heart.'" The full score, for chorus, wind instruments, and strings, is written in black ink and red pencil, with notations for editorial changes in black pencil. The parts for the various instruments are also in Grainger's handwriting. (The printed score was issued by G. Schirmer in New York in 1927.)

The full score to The Merry Wedding is one of the most interesting of the collection. The composition, for nine solo voices, a mixed chorus, and orchestra, is "based on verses chosen and adapted from various Faeroe Island (Scandinavian) folk-poems printed in V. U. Hammershaimb's 'Faerosk Anthologi' (Copenhagen, 1886) and done into English by Rose Grainger and PAG." A program clipped from the Radio Times, dated August 7, 1936, is pasted inside the front cover and underneath Grainger had written in red ink: "In spite of many choral programmes without orchestra, is this not the first performance with orchestra I have yet heard?" The choral score had been published in Boston by Oliver Ditson Company around 1916. A copy of this score has been cut up and pasted at the top of each page, and the orchestral parts have been written in ink below, thus forming a complete choral-orchestral score.

Room-music Tit-bits No. 3: Walking Tune for Wind Five-some (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) is a charming piece "based on a little tune I made on a 3-day's walk in the Scottish Highlands as a hummed accompaniment to my tramping feet. It was worked out and scored in 1905." The full score in manuscript is a part of the collection. The piano version was printed and issued in London by Schott around 1912.

In a Nutshell Suite, from music to an imaginary ballet, 1916, is represented by instrumental parts for four movements, in the composer's handwriting, and the score for three movements, two in Grainger's writing and the other in the manuscript of "Mr. Gast." The Suite is for orchestra, piano, and Deagan percussion instruments and consists of the following:

    1. "Arrival Platform Humlet," which has been described by Hughes as being "Eastern in its almost complete avoidance of harmony as well as in its very characteristic melody. Grainger considers this piece Japanese in feeling and associates it with his visits to the Japanese bazaar at Melbourne as a boy of six." This movement is missing from the orchestral score.
    2. "Gay but Wistful," which bears the dedication on the score: "For my dear friend Edward J. de Coppet."
    3. "Pastoral," to be played in a manner "restful and dreamy, but wayward in time." The orchestral score bears the inscription: "For my dear comrade in art and thought, Cyril Scott."
    4. "The Cornstalks March," changed to "The Gumsuckers March" in the orchestral score. "Cornstalk" is a nickname for Australians hailing from the State of Victoria, the home of the composer. No definition is given for "Gumsucker." The score bears the notice: "Compressed by Mr. Gast from my original full orchestral score, now property of Henry and Abbie Finck."

Grainger's devotion to the music of Bach is exemplified by his arrangements of the "Air" from the Overture No. 3, the "E Major Fugue" from the Second Book of the Well- Tempered Clavier, and the "A Minor Fugue" from theFirst Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier for piano solo, harpsichord style, for piano or harp, or for two pianos. His interest in Debussy is manifested by his transcription for wind ensemble of Bruyères, and his love for the music of Grieg is shown in the one-page orchestration (incomplete) of Grieg's Piano Sonata under the title of theGrieg "Symphony." Other manuscript works include:

  • Green Bushes. Full score, written by Grainger but with names of the instruments mostly in someone else's hand. The set includes a sheet of substitutions or alternate parts.
  • A Riever's Neck Verse, song.
  • Hunter in his Career, for chorus and two pianos.
  • Sir Eglamor, full score.
  • Sketches for The Rival Brothers and for Random Round.
  • The Forst Chanty.
  • Melody by George Bird, harmonization of a tune by the Director of Music of Washington High School, Massillon, Ohio. The manuscript is dated "Jan. 3, 1945, and earlier."
  • The Lonely Desert Man, sketch and parts.
  • Sketches for Norwegian Idyll and for Shallow Brown.

The manuscripts of the famous Danny Deaver and Handel in the Strand (piano version) are in the New York Public Library; another manuscript of Handel in the StrandThe Danish Folk-Song Settings, and The Immovable Do are in the Library of Congress; Molly on the Shore is in the National Library of Ireland; and The Shepherd's Hey, the Kipling Settings, and Country Gardens are in the British Museum.