Percy Grainger - Australian Composer, who realised his 'Free Music' using the Theremin (1882 - 1961)

Percy Grainger (1882 - 1961)

Australian Composer, who realised his 'Free Music' using the Theremin

Grainger collaborated with Leon Theremin from 1936-37 before Theremin 'disappeared' back to the Soviet Union. Grainger wrote three pieces for the theremin. The score to Free Music No.1 was written down in Bigelow House (home of the Bigelow-Rosens). Unfortunately, it appears that the original graph scores to Free Music One (for four theremins), Free Music Two(for six theremins), and Beatless Music have all been lost. Fortunately, there are a number of copies in existence.

FREE MUSIC (Tablet 2)

Music is an art not yet grown up; its condition is comparable to that stage of Egyptian bas-reliefs when the head and legs were shown in profile while the torso appeared "front face"; - the stage of development in which the myriad irregular suggestions of nature can only be taken up in regularised or conventionalised forms. With Free Music we enter the phase of technical maturity such as that enjoyed by the Greek sculptors when all aspects and attitudes of the human body could be shown in arrested movement.

Existing conventional music (whether "classical"; or popular) is tied down by set scales, a tyrannical (whether metrical or irregular) rhythmic pulse that holds the whole tonal fabric in a vice-like grasp and a set of harmonic procedures (whether key-bound or atonal) that are merely habits, and certainly do not deserve to be called laws. Many composers have loosened, here and there, the cords that tie music down. Cyril Scott and Duke Ellington indulge in sliding tones; Arthur and others use intervals closer than the half tone; Cyril Scott (following my lead) writes very irregular rhythms that have been echoed, on the European continent, by Stravinsky, and others; Schoenberg has liberated us from the tyranny of conventional harmony. But no non-Australian composer has been willing to combine all these innovations into a consistent whole that can be called Free Music.

Percy Grainger's description of Free Music. December 6th, 1938

It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not to be able to execute tonal glides and curves - just as absurd as it would be to have to paint a portrait in little squares (as in the case of mosaic) and not to be able to use every type of curved lines. If, in the theatre, several actors (on the stage together) had to continually move in a set theatrical relation to each other (to be incapable of individualistic, independent movement) we would think it ridiculous, yet this absurd goose-stepping still persists in music. Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching "free"; (non-harmonic) combinations of tones, yet we are unable to take up these beauties and expressivenesses into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony.

Personally I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of 11 or 12 in Auburn, Melbourne. It is my only important contribution to music. My impression is that this world of tonal freedom was suggested to me by wave movements in the sun that I first observed as a young child at Brighton, Vic., and Albert Park, Melbourne. (See case I)

Yet the matter of Free Music is hardly a personal one. If I do not write it someone else certainly will, for it is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.

The first time an example of my Free Music was performed on man-played instruments was when Percy Code conducted it (most skilfully and sympathetically) at one of my Melbourne broadcast lectures for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in January, 1935. But Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical machines. Too long has music been subject to the limitations of the human hand, and subject to the interfering interpretation of a middle-man: the performer. A composer wants to speak to his public direct. Machines (if properly constructed and properly written for) are capable of niceties of emotional expression impossible to a human performer. That is why I write my Free Music for theramins - the most perfect tonal instruments I know. In the original scores (here photographed) each voice (both on the pitch-staves and on the sound- strength staves) is written in its own specially coloured ink, so that the voices are easily distinguishable, one from the other.

Percy Aldridge Grainger, Dec.6, 1938


Unfortunately, it appears that the original graph scores to Free Music One (for four theremins), Free Music Two(for six theremins), and Beatless Music have all been lost. Photocopies of the works do exist however, and all three works have been recorded by Lydia Kavina.

Reproduced by kind permission of the copyright owners, Bardic Edition

Reproduced by kind permission of the copyright owners Bardic Edition

Above is a reproduction of a colour slide and a black and white copy of 'Free Music One'. A larger version of Free Music No. 1 is available here.

Reproduced by kind permission of the copyright owners, Bardic Edition, with many thanks to Barry Peter Ould of the Percy Grainger Society.

Items & Reviews for Percy Grainger

Spellbound: Theremin

Original Works for Theremin (Download)

Free Music #1 For Four Theremins

Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin


The Percy Grainger Society
View Link Info, Ratings and Reviews
Go to site>>

Tonnes of fascinating information on Percy Grainger from the UK's Percy Grainger Society. Recommended.

Forums Latest

Theremin Times
Theremin Times - First Russian portal about theremin News. Audio. Video. History. Thereminists....

By theremin-times, Jun 6

The Sage Gateshead, UK
Hi We're hoping to present a festival of Percy Grainger's work at The Sage Gateshead in the UK,...

By hannahthesage, Mar 24

January 2011, quartets, sextets, trios, etc.
Rupert Chappelle plays the theremin multi-tracked with the Zoom R-16....

By rupertchappelle, Feb 2

theremin scores
on www.etheremin.com, i've created a new webpage dedicated to unpublished theremin scores. Some...

By coco, Nov 15

Who's online

28 anonymous users and 0 registered users online.

You are an unregistered user or have not logged in.