The Marching Song of Democracy by Australian-American composer Percy Grainger is an unusual piece, not only in a musical and aesthetic sense but also in its performance and reception history. Accompanied by an ambitious programme espousing metaphorical democracy and symbolic of ‘comradely affectionate athletic humanity’, the Marching Song was frequently singled out for promotion and performance by Grainger throughout his life. This signified its fundamental importance to him as a musical representation of his credo, and is at odds with the work’s present status as a rarely performed Grainger work. Through examining contemporary public responses, this article explores how the failure of the Marching Song to resonate with Australian audiences is linked with Grainger’s deliberate withdrawal of his original compositions from performance in Australia. It is argued that the Marching Song was therefore not only a major composition but also one through which Grainger had envisioned himself to be a prophetic composer of Australian identity. Indeed, even as his bitter attitude began to thaw, this specific work would remain withheld, unlike the more notorious Warriors, his Free Music experiments, or his controversial lecture series. The stark contrasts between the American and Australian receptions of the Marching Song and Grainger’s contradictory efforts of promotion and suppression across the two regions are illuminated to provide a degree of reconciliation between Grainger’s esteem for the work and its relative neglect.
“Percy Grainger’s Marching Song of Democracy:
Reception and Attitudes”
In Musicology Australia, Vol 40, No.2, 2018: 127-149