Teresa Balough and Kay Dreyfus, eds. Distant Dreams: The Correspondence of Percy Grainger and Burnett Cross 1946–60

Book review by Erinn Knyt 

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Context 48 (2022): 113–16.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2023


Percy Grainger (1882–1961) is frequently remembered as a virtuoso pianist, a collector of folk songs, and an idiosyncratic composer. Yet in addition to his other activities, he also designed and built numerous sound-producing machines. These experimental machines enabled Grainger to begin realising the experimental music he envisioned, that is, sounds freed from traditional rhythms and pitches.

Grainger initially tried to create the new sounds he imagined with known instruments such as the theremin, but eventually began modifying instruments to create his own sound machines, such as the microtonal ‘butterfly’ piano. Grainger’s main collaborator, Burnett Cross (1914–1996), a high school science teacher with a background in both physics and music, helped to make those dreams a reality. Cross contributed technical expertise as the two worked together to bring Grainger’s ideas to life. Cross began working with Grainger in 1944 and became gradually more involved throughout the 1950s. By the late 1950s, Cross took the lead, especially with the electronic machine models. […]

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.46580/cx34958