The national affiliation of composer-pianist Percy Grainger (1882–1961) is a complex matter. While often claimed today to have been Australian or American, he was a ‘naturally born British subject’ for the first 36 years of his life. Thereafter, he was a naturalized American. Drawing on Grainger’s letters, essays, scores and memorabilia, this article investigates the reasons behind Grainger’s adoption of American citizenship during the final months of the First World War, and the subsequent national traits within his manner of living as well as his social attitudes, musical approach and style. His contributions to instrumentation, scoring and texture, as well as to music education, are seen from this analysis to have strong American traits, and subsequent influence, while his compositional style remained essentially English, although built upon a technical base established while a teenage student in Germany.
In later life, Grainger was ambivalent about remaining an American citizen and resident, not just because of an implied disloyalty to his ‘native land’, Australia, but also because of his lack of empathy with evolving American values. To a Yale University audience in 1921, he confessed to being ‘a cosmopolitan from first to last’. This article analyses Grainger’s thinking about cosmopolitanism, nationalism and universalism in the following decades, against the backdrop of his growing commitment to the racialist, later racist, cause of Nordicism. It focuses particularly upon Grainger’s series of articles about ‘Grieg: Nationalist and Cosmopolitan’ from 1943, before investigating the relationship between racial and national thinking in Grainger’s final years. This culminates in his last statement of musical ‘creed’, published in a Norwegian magazine in 1955: musically to support the ‘unity’ of the Nordic race, and to bring ‘honor and fame’ to his native land, Australia. Yet, Grainger died, in 1961, in America, and still an American citizen.