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Today in WMH: Weird Composer Behavior

Image7/20 Today in Weird (Really, Really Weird) Music History: 1909.

Austrailian-born composer Percy Grainger wrote a strange letter to his girlfriend this day in 1909:

“Yesterday I whipped myself as I have never before been whipped in my life…when I had finished there were surely over 1000 long red stripes on me…Whipping is still lovely on all places but for me most ravishing on the breasts.”

But it gets even weirder.  Although he never married this particular girlfriend, he and his later wife documented and photographed their sadistic tendencies.  The walls and ceilings of their room were covered in mirrors so that after sessions of self-flagellation they could take pictures from all angles. They further documented each image with details such as date, time, location, whip used, and camera settings. 

In an unrelated weird story, Grainger was also a vegetarian who hated vegetables. So he lived on nuts, boiled rice, wheatcakes, cakes, bread, jam, ice cream and oranges.

And thus, you may never listen to his arrangement of Shepherds Hey the same way again!



  1. This was actually part of my thesis in graduate school! Percy Grainger was an autoerotic sadomasochist. He used to find pleasure in whipping himself, piercing his genitals, and having extremely violent sexual relationships with others. The claim I made in my thesis is that if you look at Grainger’s piano music and notice the thick texture, it is almost painful to play with many of the chords in the bass hand moving rapidly, but being 5 or more notes per chord. The language used in his music also reflects his sexual tendencies. Abandoning many of the conventions of musical notation (i.e., the Italian expression markings), Grainger developed his own expression markings such as “hard” and “severe” and “lingering”—all words which can be applied to his sexual fetishism. An article I wrote about it is available on my website.

  2. Composers have their odd streaks

  3. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    Maybe “Like” is the wrong word here … ; )

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