One Man’s Taste: Percy Grainger’s ‘Aims of the Museum’

By Monica Syrette.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger opened the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne in 1938. In his ‘Aims of the Museum’, written in 1955, he stated that the “contents of the Grainger Museum have been assembled with the main intention of throwing light upon the processes of musical composition (as distinct from performances of music)”. The contents selected by Grainger extended beyond objects directly related to his compositional career, such as scores, manuscripts and musical instruments, as he believed that in order to understand the creative process it was necessary to understand all aspects of the creator’s life. The collection contains over 100,000 objects ranging from correspondence to business files, folk song recordings, ethnographic objects, furniture, artworks and the “lust branch” – items related to his sexual activity including literature, photographs, news clippings, whips and clothing.
Originally conceived as a memorial to his mother, the Grainger Museum is primarily an autobiographical collection. However, Grainger also proposed that it be a site for the study of what he termed “neglected musics” – folk music, primitive music, and Asian and African art-music. His vision was to encourage Australia to be the first country to live by the axiom that “music is a universal language”.
With the museum re-opening in 2010 after lengthy renovations it is timely to ask questions about Grainger’s Aims. Was he successful in throwing a light upon the creative process by assembling such a vast and wide ranging collection or did he make it too difficult to see the wood for the trees? And has the level of personal detail in the collection, often of the most intimate nature, kept the “neglected music” in the shadows?

Keywords: Percy Grainger, Grainger Museum, Museums, Museum Collections, Folk Music, Free Music, Autobiographical Collections, Music Museum, Aims of the Museum, Music Composition

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.191-198. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 582.749KB).

Monica Syrette

Assistant Curator, The Grainger Museum, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monica Syrette has a background in art and music gaining a Bachelor of Arts from the Canberra Institute of the Arts and a Post Graduate Diploma in Animation and Interactive Media from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. She has worked at the Grainger Museum since 2004 and is currently Assistant Curator. Ms Syrette was Archivist at Arts Project Australia in Melbourne from 2004 to 2008 and is currently undertaking a PhD in the history and practices of art studios for people with intellectual disabilities at Sydney College of the Arts.


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