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Nothing off limits in Percy Grainger exhibit -

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Nothing off limits in Percy Grainger exhibit

Reporter: Kathryn Roberts

KERRY O'BRIEN: Percy Grainger's best-known work would have to be a song about English country
gardens but his life, his talent and his character were far more complex than that simple tune
would suggest. The Australian pianist and composer had his eye on posterity at an early age,
putting aside items for his own museum. Percy Grainger wanted to leave a collection that gave an
insight into what inspired his creativity. Nothing was off limits. Now a new exhibition at the
National Library celebrates the life, musical achievements and even the dark sexual adventures of
one of Australia's first great international artists. This report from Kathryn Roberts.

PETER SCULTHORPE, COMPOSER: He couldn't throw anything away. I mean, he just couldn't. He collected

DAVID PEAR, EXHIBITION CURATOR: I think even if it were an arrogant act, we're all very glad that
he did collect what he collected. Because it has given us a wonderful glimpse of a life in
Australia and in London, which nobody else has provided. And I think we can forgive him for that.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: From the gentle contrasts of the English country garden to the harsh edges of
sexual deviance, Percy Grainger was a complex, passionate and talented individual. He and his
mother were quite convinced of it, it seems, and he clearly wanted to make sure we were, too.

DAVID PEAR: Everyone around him told him he was a genius quite frequently and his mother reassured
him he was. To some degree, I think it's true he was.

PETER SCULTHORPE: There are drawings by him, paintings by him, clothes by him, clothes that he
designed - some of them very eccentric, musical instruments, musical instruments that he invented.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: One of the busiest members of the faculty, Mr Grainger frequently finds time to
conduct. This time his own composition - 'Harvest Hymn.'

KATHRYN ROBERTS: Whether it was arrogance or his obsessive compulsive character, Percy Grainger
wanted to make sure future generations would be as interested in his secret life and his personal
peccadilloes as much as his music and what a legacy it is. Much of it laid out in this remarkable
exhibition at the National Library - personal items, including letters, jewellery, whips and even
his mother's hair. Throughout much of his life, Grainger's ambitions were driven and encouraged by
his mother, Rose. Their relationship was unusually close.

DAVID PEAR: There is no grounds or no evidence at all that it was actually incestuous, but it was
very close and he put his mother first and of course that prevented him really from establishing
any substantial long-term relationships in order to get married. I suspect Grainger thought by
composing he would leave something that was much more enduring and a much stronger memory, both of
himself and of his mother and of their loving relationship. And that's one of the reasons I think
he started to concentrate more and more on composition and finalising a lot of the compositions he
had begun and left hanging for so many years.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: And although his signature tune is a twee imperial folk song, much of the rest of
his music, like his personality, was far more adventurous. Grainger's musical approach had a
profound effect on some of those who experienced it. One of them was the young Peter Sculthorpe,
now one of Australia's finest modern composers.

PETER SCULTHORPE: Percy leapt off the stage - I mean he was a great athlete - leapt off the stage,
ran down the isle to the back of the hall, touched wood on the door and then ran back, leapt on to
the stage just in time to come crashing down with the cadenza, the big solo. I thought are all
concerts going to be like this? That wasn't even the end of it. He dived into the piano with his
hands and plucked the last string from the piano strings - pretty impressive stuff.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: Musically, he experimented with rhythm, sound and form. But his sexual life was
also what we might call "free form". In Grainger's world everything was connected.

DAVID PEAR: He believes that you couldn't be very constructive composer or a prolific composer
unless you were in fact a virile individual. He saw the two as quite strongly related.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: This exhibition offers a rare insight into the motivations of this complex
composer and nothing, it seems, was off limits. Throughout his life, almost everything was done
with at least one eye on his own legacy. But his was narcissism with a twist. One of the exhibits
is the mysterious envelope he left behind when he died with instructions that it not be opened for
at least 10 years. The contents detailed his fascination with sadomasochism.

WORDS OF GRAINGER'S LETTER: "I feel that flagellantism, like boxing, football and some other
sports, is a means of turning the hostile, harsh and destructive elements of man into harmless

DAVID PEAR: He was disconcertingly honest and he didn't like anything to be hidden. So he wanted
people to know about that, as much as about what he was reading and the fact that he thought, for
instance, studying Icelandic was an important thing to do. Everything was important to know about a

KATHRYN ROBERTS: The question is: what will live on? Is Percy Grainger's legacy his personal
eccentricity or is it his musical genius? Is what made him tick as important as his place in
Australian composition? Peter Sculthorpe has no doubts.

PETER SCULTHORPE: He was an amazing composer. Very eclectic. He loved all music, whether it was
folk music, band music, Pacific Island music, Chinese music. He was just an extraordinary human
being. Yes, he's one of our first great artists, really.