Percy Grainger: shanties, folksongs and letters to Grieg

man and woman standing at a piano

Percy Grainger and Nina Grieg at the piano (Bergen Library, no known rights restrictions)

This blog tells the story of how digitisation for cultural heritage institutions can bring collections of material back together again, after over a century of separation. These collections concern the Australian-born composer and pianist, Percy Grainger.

The first collection comprises the recordings of British folksongs and sea shanties that Percy Grainger made onto wax cylinder in the early twentieth century. These cylinders were transferred onto shellac by the Library of Congress and, subsequently, made their way onto the British Library Sounds website earlier this year. Finally, they were also made accessible on Europeana. You can read more about these recordings on the British Library’s blog, written by curator Andrea Zarza Canova.

The other collection comes from the Edvard Grieg Archive at the Bergen Library, Norway. This is a collection of letters from Percy Grainger – and his mother Rose – to the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and his wife, Nina. Percy Grainger visited Grieg in 1907, shortly before Grieg’s death. In one letter, in which he addresses Grieg as “Dear Master”, he writes of his enthusiasm for folksong and other influences on his creative output.

It’s fascinating to be able to see how these two collections are inter-related, now that they can be viewed on the same website.

As Europeana Music highlights these collections, please take a look at a related gallery comprising glass negatives from Royal Museums Greenwich. These wonderfully high quality photographs show the fishing vessels and communities in the U.K. from around the same time that Percy Grainger recorded his sea shanties. Perhaps those on the trawlers sang the very same sea shanties Grainger recorded, as they sailed far out to sea.


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