No one could accuse Percy Grainger of lacking imagination. Between his innovative instrumentation, both in his arrangements of folk music and original compositions, and the musical machines he created – not to mention his colourful personal life – his was a life infused with creativity.
Percy Grainger wearing a beadwork chestpiece, 1909. Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of George Percy Grainger
This is perhaps most luridly demonstrated in his only large-scale orchestral work, The Warriors, subtitled ‘Music to an Imaginary Ballet’, which he wrote between 1913 and 1916 – and dedicated to his friend, the English composer Frederick Delius – against the backdrop of the First World War.
While Grainger claimed in his program note that no specific program underlies the music, “certain mind-pictures set it going,” he wrote. “Often the scenes of a ballet have flitted before the eyes of my imagination in which the ghosts of male and female warrior types of all times and places are spirited together for an orgy of war-like dances, processions and merry-makings broken, or accompanied, by amorous interludes; their frolics tinged with just that faint suspicion of wistfulness all holiday gladness wears.”