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Penelope Thwaites has been an ardent champion of the music of Percy Grainger for more than 35 years, curating the first London Grainger event in 1998 and regularly including what she describes as his ‘somewhat idiosyncratic repertoire’ in her own concert recitals and on disc.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Australian maverick’s death in 1961, Thwaites has assembled a compendium of essays by musicians, academics and Grainger enthusiasts and it is clearly a labour of love on the part of all concerned. out of its meticulously researched, impeccably argued advocacy, emerges a complex portrait of a controversial creative spirit whose interests often strayed across musical boundaries into more contentious matters. Ironically, many of the misunderstandings about Grainger – and not least the lingering taint of racism – were self-seeded, his own copious writings all too often serving to muddy waters in which, as Thwaites pointedly observes, ‘many an over-excited commentator has become permanently marooned’. For such commentators this altogether excellent companion should be required reading.

The first of the book’s two sections deals with the music and the challenges of publishing and programming it, and existing recordings. The second seeks to place both the man and his music in the wider contexts of his cosmopolitan Australian childhood, his adopted home of new York, his composer peers, and his contentious fascination with nordic music.

As appendices, Grainger’s advice ‘To conductors’ on how to deal with his ‘elastic scoring’ and his statement on ‘free music’ (a notion developed four decades before John Cage) are an illuminating bonus, as are the impeccably detailed catalogue of works and select bibliography and discography.

Generously illustrated (with black-and-white photographs, reproductions of programmes and musical illustrations) this handsome volume is an invaluable – and essential – contribution towards a fuller understanding of a composer on the cusp of overdue rediscovery.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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