Composer of the Day

The Composer of the Day is Percy Grainger, born in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia on 8 July 1882. He was a true eccentric, but an extremely talented eccentric. (If you’re weird but not talented, you’re just “odd”.) Like a few other composers (Rachmaninov), his best-known work, “Country Gardens”, was his least favorite. He hated it, but whenever he gave a concert, people insisted he play it as an encore.

He didn’t like the standard Italian annotations (“molto allegretto” &c), and wrote them in English (“somewhat pertly”). He lived recently enough that you can find recordings of him playing – there’s a YouTube cut of “Irish Tune” (better known today as “Danny Boy”) . The sheet music goes by as he plays. The tempo is marked “Slowish, but not dragged, and in wayward time”. (Either he or the editors put in the Italian notations.) The dynamics run from ff to pppp. It’s lushly harmonized, with the melody in the upper left hand. And made many piano rolls – so you could have Percy playing in your parlour.

A true eccentric, he rated himself the 9th-best composer ever – between Mozart (27 Jan 1756, not quite so good,) and Delius (29 Jan 1862, a little better), with Bach (21 March 1685) – to no-one’s surprise, Nr 1.

He met Grieg (15 June 1843), and performed his piano concerto in concert. During the 1920s, he earned the equivalent of $60,000/week on the concert stage. A bit of an overachiever, he spoke 11 languages fluently (I wonder if there’s a connection between language and music). When he married, it was at the Hollywood Bowl.

He was one of the first to go seriously into electronic music – he wrote a piece called “Free Music No. 1 (For Four Theremins)”, which has recently been adapted for 4 iPhones.

He died in 1961 in White Plains, New York. There is, of course, a Percy Grainger Society.


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