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Percy Grainger's Personal Library

This collection is fully listed in the University of Melbourne Library catalogue:

The library of over four thousand volumes which Percy Grainger deposited in the Grainger Museum is remarkable for both its scope and variety. It contains most of the books Grainger collected during his life, including those which inspired him as a child, though it does not include all the books which influenced him. During the early stages of his career, when his income as a pianist was irregular and uncertain, he was very careful in his spending. His letters from the years before 1914 sometimes include requests to borrow books and suggest that when he did actually purchase books he found it necessary to justify the expense.

Grainger's correspondence from this crucial period in his life, when the foundations of his career as pianist, composer and musicologist were laid, indicates that he was an avid and engaged reader, a habit which he had begun in childhood and continued throughout his life. It was a felicitous alternative to the formal education which he had managed to avoid and this, in turn, probably accounts for the surprising diversity of his library. Reading, along with the bleak, desert landscapes of Australia, Scandinavia and the American West, was a major influence on Grainger's creative life and sometimes the two coalesced in his artistic projects. In a notebook he kept around the age of twenty, he set out a scheme for the musical styles he wanted to develop which were explicitly inspired by the country between Adelaide and Melbourne and, amongst other things, Kipling, "Whitman's Newworldism" and his reading of old Norse literature.

Grainger's library contained books in many languages and he was sometimes indiscriminate about the language in which he read a book. For example, he read d'Anunzio's Giaconda in Dutch, in a copy presented to him by the translator, J. Salomosen-Asser. Much of the modern literature he read was in the Scandinavian languages, including modern Icelandic, and amongst his extensive collection of modern Scandinavian books there are first editions of novels by the modern Icelandic writer Haldor Laxness who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1955. There were also a number of writers in English whose ideas had an important influence on Grainger's thoughts and imagination and who are well-represented in his library. These include Rudyard Kipling, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Bret Harte.

Altogether, the library which Grainger established in the Museum reflects a diverse range of interests which may even seem paradoxical, though it is worth considering that these interests were united in a single artist of genius, who may have been more aware of their coherence than their divergence. In any case, it is probable that Grainger intended this library to serve the idea of the Museum, which was established not primarily as a monument to himself but as a centre for the study of music and, by extension, of artistic creativity. The library, then, should not be regarded simply as a personal and somewhat eccentric collection of books, including titles which are now obscure or unfashionable, but as a guide to the developments of the first half of the twentieth century which usefully complicate the canonical view of the modern movement.

Percy Grainger's Personal Library