After an education in the city public schools, Grau attended the Free Academy, since called the College of the City of New York. His graduation in 1867, was followed by studies in the Columbia School of Law and an apprenticeship in a New York law firm.
By 1872, Grau's entire interest had become absorbed in the activities of an uncle, Jacob Grau, a well-known theatrical and musical manager, in whose opera house he had often sold librettos.
In that year, in association with Charles A. Chizzola, he demonstrated unusual ability in the management of a tour by Mlle. Aimée, the French singer, and very shortly afterward gained his first financial success by clearing $60, 000 on the tour of Anton Rubinstein, the pianist, and Henri Wieniawski, the violinist.
During the next three years, before severing connections with Chizzola in 1875, the younger manager was engaged in a variety of activities: he organized the English opera company of Clara Louise Kellogg; he introduced to the American public Tommaso Salvini; he managed three opera-boufife and operetta companies; and brought back to this country the distinguished Italian tragedienne, Adelaide Ris- tori.
In 1879, he conducted as an independent manager, and with great financial success, the tour of a celebrated French opera company. These early activities of Grau have tended to be obscured by the more important events during the years of his association with Henry Eugene Abbey and John B. Schoeffel, an association begun in May 1882 and extending over a period of many years.
Although his firm managed the American tours of such outstanding European actors as Bernhardt, Irving, Terry, Benoit-Coquelin, Jane Hading, Mounet-Sully, and Réjane, its fame is due more to its activities in connection with the Metropolitan Opera during one of its most brilliant periods.
When the Metropolitan Opera House opened its doors for the first time on October 22, 1883, Abbey was serving as manager, and Grau as business manager.
The winter and spring seasons resulted in a financial catastrophe for the managers, and it was not until almost eight years later, on December 14, 1891, that Grau and Abbey resumed the direction of the house. This second venture was more successful.
Subsequent seasons at the Metropolitan were good, but losses on outside theatrical ventures kept the managers financially distressed.
At the end of the 1895-96 season, creditors took over the direction of the Metropolitan and there was a confused transitional period of management, until in 1898, after the death of Abbey and the withdrawal of Schoeffel, Grau emerged as managing-director in charge of the Maurice Grau Opera Company.
From the fall of 1898 until the spring of 1903, when ill health forced him to retire, Grau directed the activities of the Metropolitan on a magnificent scale.
During the period when he shared the direction with Abbey and Schoeffel, and still more during his later years of autocracy, he established the hitherto undared policy of casting as many as five stars in the same production.
After retiring, he lived in Croissy-Chatou outside of Paris.
Grau insisted that operas should be sung in the language of the original libretto, and, although prejudiced at first against German opera, he was soon convinced of its marketability, and gave to it the same careful attention and sumptuous production that he gave to the better known French and Italian works.