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Rose Grainger - Grainger Museum

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Rose Grainger: A Brief Biographical Background

by Dr Kay Dreyfus

Rosa (Rose) Annie Grainger (née Aldridge) was born at Adelaide, South Australia, on 3 July 1861, the eighth child and third daughter of George Aldridge and Sarah Jane Aldridge (née Grant). Both parents had come to Australia from Kent in England.

For the first nineteen years of her life, Rose lived at the family home. On 1 October 1880 she married John Harry Grainger, English-born architect and civil engineer, and moved to Melbourne. The marriage was not a happy one. In September 1890 John Grainger returned home to England on a visit. Though he was back in Australia by the end of the year, he did not rejoin his family, though they met occasionally and continued to correspond through the years to John's death in 1917.

For Rose, the major event of her marriage was the birth of her son and only child, George Percy Grainger, on 8 July 1882. Rose adored her son, and, from the time of her husband's departure in 1890 to the time of her own death in 1922, was his sole companion. He was the central focus of her attention: she shared his life, his friends, his travels and his interests. More than that, though, she believed unswervingly in his genius and devoted her life's energies to its development and recognition.

The boy showed early and precocious talent both in music and in painting, his earliest musical studies proceeding under his mother's supervision; Rose was herself an accomplished pianist. Indeed, as Percy had only three months' formal schooling, at the Misses Turner's Preparatory School for Boys in Caroline Street, South Yarra, probably in 1892 or 1893, Rose was responsible for his general education as well.

In May 1895, after Percy had made several successful public appearances as a pianist, Rose took him to Frankfurt am Main in Germany where, at the minimum age of thirteen years, he was enrolled at Dr Hoch's Conservatorium of Music. Rose left Australia with fifty pounds. In Frankfurt she supported herself and Percy by giving English lessons; John Grainger, from 1897 Chief Architect in the Western Australian Department of Public Works, sent what money he could.

Rose and Percy Grainger lived in Frankfurt until May 1901. It was during this German sojourn that Rose's syphilis, contracted from her husband before the breakdown of her marriage, first manifested itself in the form of severe neuralgia and nervous depression. From that time on her health was precarious and the chief responsibility for supporting the family including, from 1905, his father as well, shifted to Percy. Money, or the lack of it, the fear of loss of income and consequent relapse into poverty, were constant preoccupations; Rose's ill-health, the true cause of which could, of course, never be admitted, was a constant shadow.

In May 1901, with Percy's Frankfurt studies completed, he and Rose moved to London and addressed themselves to the serious business of launching Percy in a career in music. Rose devoted herself to this end with unique singlemindeness, combining the functions of housekeeper and hostess, business manager and concert agent, assessing and promoting each success, evaluating each failure, attending to every detail of Percy's public and domestic life - always with a keen eye to the effect of every action. There is no doubt that she derived deep satisfaction from her life with Percy and that her emotional well-being and personal fulfilment came to her through her unique (and exclusive) relationship with her son.

Rose's Costume Collection

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Date created:
25 March 2002
Last modified:
30 August 2012 15:21:03
Director, Grainger Museum
Grainger Museum