In its published forms, the Marching Song of Democracy by Australian composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961) occupies a middling position in his output, existing as either a piece for chorus and orchestra, or for wind band. It is a relatively large-scale work both in length and orchestration, but with fewer innovative qualities compared to his more notorious works such as the Free Music pieces. This has led to its neglect in academic circles, despite its frequent appearance in Grainger’s aesthetic writings, his demonstrated enthusiasm for its performance, and his sensitivity around its lukewarm Australian reception. Addressing this gap, the aim of this dissertation is to more closely examine the original ambitions for the piece, and demonstrate how the 1901 a cappella Marching Song sketches, through their radical approach to polyphonic texture, aim to express democratic principles and foreshadow Grainger’s free music objectives. A two-pronged approach was taken to accomplish these aims. Firstly, the compositional background and historical context of the Marching Song and associated sketches were explored to establish their origins, development, and the special esteem in which the piece was held by Grainger. Secondly, a wide range of analytical methods were employed – focusing on intervallic patterns, pitch-class relationships and other statistical perspectives – to measure and describe the sketches’ most distinctive and innovative qualities, in comparison to a corpus consisting primarily of Grainger works. The conclusions drawn from this study indicate that the expression of democratic principles in the sketches often creates liberated structures that are strongly influenced by principles of equality and independence. This research therefore aims to show that Grainger’s greatest and most mature musical achievements had surfaced at the very outset of his compositional career.
"Whose Line is it Anyway? Untamed Polyphony in Percy Grainger’s Marching Song of Democracy Sketches"
PhD Dissertation, (2017, University of Sydney)