‘Free Music’ Explored During Percy Grainger Society’s Third Sundays Event

The Percy Grainger Home & Studio in White Plains will conclude its 2023 Third Sundays series on November 19 with an exploration of the composer’s Free Music.

PGS’s current exhibition, Tone, Rhythm, Pitch: Exploring Percy Grainger’s Free Music, introduces Grainger’s work in what he called “Free Music,” which, as described by Percy Grainger Society’s website, is “a music unconstrained by fixed pitch, regular metre and human performance.”

The event will also demonstrate—through objects, images and text—how the White Plains home was an active creative workspace.  It was there that, in pursuit of this Free Music, Grainger built mechanical music machines that combine the makeshift and the futuristic.

Says Anne Ocone, the museum’s coordinator: “We’ve assembled photographs and video documentations of reconstructions of the machines to give [guests] an idea of what the sounds are. There are only two existing Free Music machines, one of which we have.”

Grainger, a composer, arranger and pianist who died in 1961, is best known for his prominent role in reviving an interest in British folk music in the early 20th century, worldwide performances, experiments with Free Music and the machines he designed to create Free Music.

From an early age, Grainger imagined music that would glide continuously across the pitch spectrum without the need for metrical rhythms and, ultimately, without the need for a performer.

“Grainger claimed to have been inspired when he was a boy by the sounds of nature, as well as visuals like being on a train and watching irregular hills go by, or seeing irregular waves when you’re on a boat,” said Ocone of Grainger’s experimental compositions.

Elements of Free Music can be found in many of Grainger’s instrumental and vocal compositions, which often feature sliding notes and irregular rhythms.

The exhibition’s curators, Ocone and Stewart Lee, will be available at the November 19 event to answer questions and elaborate on how they developed the exhibit.

The Grainger home will take a winter hiatus after the Third Sundays event. The next event is scheduled for March 3, 2024 – a talk and tour by a Grainger biographer and editor of a book of letters about Free Music.

Percy Grainger occupied the house at 7 Cromwell Place from 1921 until his death in 1961, using it as his practice studio, his home base for his world tours, and a laboratory for his avant-garde musical compositions and experimental music machines. After Percy Grainger’s death in 1961, his widow, Ella, continued to live in the house until her passing in 1979. This historic house, built in 1893, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April 1993.

Tone, Rhythm, Pitch: Exploring Percy Grainger’s Free Music will occur on November 19. Admission is free, but due to space limitations, visitors are encouraged to register in advance.

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