George Percy Grainger was born on July 8th, 1882
in Melbourne, Australia. His father, John Grainger, was a British-born
architect who immigrated to Australia in 1877 and won professional recognition
for his design of the Princes Bridge across the Yarra River in Melbourne. John
Grainger led a rather promiscuous lifestyle passing a strain on his marriage.
When he and his wife ultimately separated in 1890, the burden of raising Percy
fell to his mother, Rose.
Rose took an active role in Percy's education with the
exception of a brief three month period of formal schooling when he was twelve.
Rose oversaw his education in music and literature while hiring tutors for
languages, art and drama. Percy exhibited early a talent for both music and
art. Indeed, his tutors believed he was destined for the life of an artist yet
music eventually won out. He began studying the piano at the age of ten and
gave his first public concert in 1894 which was well received by the press.
Further public acclaim for Percy's musical talents led Rose to take her son to
study at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. After raising
finances through benefit concert in Melbourne, mother and son left for Europe
in May 1895.
Once at the Hoch Conservatory, Grainger excelled quickly at
the piano and soon was being regarded as a prodigy. His composition lessons,
however, did not go so smoothly and he later withdrew from his classes to study
with Karl Klimsch, an amateur composer and folk-music enthusiast. With the
influence of Klimsch, Grainger shunned the practices of
the German tradition of classical music and began to develop a unique style of
his own. Eventually, Grainger built up his performance repertoire sufficiently
enough to support himself and his mother as a concert pianist and in May 1901
he abandoned his studies at the Conservatory and left, with his mother, for
Grainger had resolved to establish himself first as a
pianist before promoting himself as a composer and once in London his
performances quickly attracted the support of wealthy patrons. Consequently,
composition became a more or less spare time activity. He became acquainted
with many of the leading musical figures of the day including Vaughan Williams,
Elgar, Richard Strauss and Edvard Grieg, whom Grainger greatly admired and
championed his music. In 1911, Grainger turned his efforts upon his career as a
composer and began to publish many of the works he had composed up to that
time, which included both original compositions and folk-song settings. The
following year in May he presented his first concert devoted entirely to his
In September 1914, after the outbreak of World War I,
Grainger and his mother left England for America, an action which brought much
criticism from his patriotic British friends. The following year he formally
registered his intention to apply for US citizenship and became a naturalized
America citizen three years later. When America entered the war, Grainger
enlisted as a bandsman in the Coast Artillery Corps of the U.S. Army.
Grainger's career reached its peak in the years following
his leave from the army in January 1919. He resumed his career as a concert
pianist performing approximately 120 concerts a year. In the late 1920s he
became increasingly involved in educational work. He accepted a year's
appointment in 1931 as professor of music at New York University. However, he
did enjoy the rigorous formality of the university and, in turn, the university
was in general unaccepting of his ideas. After this, he never again accepted a
formal teaching position and refused all offers of honorary degrees.
After 1950, Grainger ceased to compose though he continued
to rework past compositions and arrange those by other composers. In 1953 he
was operated on for abdominal cancer by 1957 his health was in general decline.
He gave his last public concert in April 1960. Less than a year later, he died
on February 20th, 1961.
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