Learn more about Percy Grainger, the composer and inventor at the heart of the Grainger Museum.

Photograph of young adult Percy Grainger wearing a tweed suit, seated, resting his head on his right hand with his left in his lap. Dover Street Studios, London. Sepia-toned silver gelatin print.

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Biography of Percy Grainger

Percy Grainger was a megastar of the European, North American and Australian stage, commanding huge fees and attracting sell-out audiences for his concert piano performances. His most famous work, an arrangement of the folk song Country Gardens, broke its publisher's sales records for 75 consecutive years. The only contemporary comparison in terms of fame and fortune was Dame Nellie Melba – coincidentally a family friend.

Born George Percy Grainger in Brighton, Victoria, on 8 July 1882, he made his concert debut in 1894 at age 12, departing for Europe soon after to study piano and composition at the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt. He moved to London in 1901, where his good looks, charm and charisma soon made him the darling of the aristocracy and beau monde. It was here that he began performing at major concert venues and festivals, as well as writing the first of his own very popular compositions. Grainger's fame continued to grow with his move to America in 1914 where he toured extensively and performed at the White House through three Presidencies.

While Grainger's ambitions to be Australia's first world-renowned composer made it necessary for him to live away from the country that inspired his creativity, he was adamant that a museum exploring his life and its myriad creative influences be built in Melbourne, the city of his birth. The establishment of the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne in 1938 is testament to that determination.

Percy Grainger died in White Plains, New York in 1961. His legacy as a performer, composer, experimental music maker and folk song arranger places him squarely in the firmament of Australia's musical greats.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry

Australian Music Centre profile