Among the earliest twentieth-century opera composers in Australia were several English-born men and women: G.W.L. Marshall-Hall and Florence Ewart in Melbourne and W. Arundell Orchard, later director of the Sydney Conservatorium, in Sydney. Ewart, although originally a prodigy on the violin, studied composition with Respighi in the 1920s and subsequently composed The Courtship of Miles Standish in 1931 and Nala’s Wedding in 1933. Fritz Hart, the most prolific composer of operas in the country, director of the Melba Conservatorium and PGH’s composition teacher, was also born in England. Possibly at work on Isolt of the White Hands while Glanville-Hicks was studying with him, he left Melbourne for Hawaii soon after, having added fourteen operas to the list of all those composed in Australia. Below is Christian Waller’s poster for the production of Hart’s romantic comedy Pierrette (1913) in Melbourne in 1931, which involved Glanville-Hicks and her fellow students at the Melba Conservatorium.
Melbourne harpist Jacinta Dennett has released a CD of works for solo harp by Australian women composers, including a new recording of Glanville-Hicks’s harp sonata. Kate Rockstrom in the lastest Readings newsletter writes:
“Included on the album is the ever-popular Sonata for Harp by Peggy Glanville-Hicks, whose works are still undervalued in my opinion. But we also have works from lesser-known composers such as Helen Gifford and Alicia Grant. Grant’s three pieces for harp are a particularly delightful find; ‘Sea Breezes’, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ and ‘Ocean Floor’ are evocative of their names and the sweetness in their soft moments makes you focus your ears to hear every last drop of Dennett’s harp. ‘Fable’ by Helen Gifford lends its name to the whole album and it’s a brave start. With discordant chords littered throughout, it feels almost angry, but a controlled anger reminiscent of when someone is not allowed to express their emotions. I’ve listened to this album many times while writing his review, but each time I get something new – just the way it should be.”
A concert of Glanville-Hicks’s songs, including the Five Songs based on poems by Housman and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, will be held on 10 April 2022 at The MC Showroom, 48 Clifton Street Prahran in Melbourne. Artists are Heather Fletcher (mezzo), Samantha Hargreaves (soprano), Alastair Cooper-Golec (tenor) and Coady Green (pianist), with commentary from Suzanne Robinson and Joel Crotty in conversation with Patrick Burns. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Published in 1938, Come Sleep is one of the best-loved of all Glanville-Hicks’s songs. The poem, which she thought was by John Fletcher (seen here in a portrait by an unknown artist), was published in the Oxford Book of English Verse in 1919 and has been set by others, including Rebecca Clarke, as simply “Sleep”. It derives from the play The Woman Hater, now attributed to both John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, published in 1607. Possibly its origins were unknown to Glanville-Hicks, who was simply attracted to a song about delight, pleasing dreams and abiding joys. But as a hymn to women’s wiles and as an example of a women using music to woo a man impervious to her charms, it seems fitting that it was published in the year Glanville-Hicks married Stanley Bate.
A song titled Ireland is the earliest extant work by Glanville-Hicks. In 1931 the Australian Musical News claimed it was a setting of Herrick, but the manuscript score reveals that the poem’s author was the Irish-born poet David McKee Wright. Taken from Wright’s “Dark Rosaleen” suite, it was published in An Irish Heart of 1918. The title refers to Wright’s own nostalgia for “my country”, having emigrated at the age of eighteen to New Zealand.
PGH had never shown any interest in early music until she met the wealthy Connecticut-born conductor, linguist and musicologist Newell Jenkins in 1953. He quickly became a close friend, who wrote amusingly quixotic letters referring to Virgil Thomson as “Voigil” and constantly sent her expressions of love and encouragement. In the summer of 1955 she visited Jenkins, living on the Via delle Coste in Fiesole, outside Florence. Among the colony of expatriate composers then living in Florence were Ned Rorem and David Diamond, but Jenkins was there for rehearsals and recordings with his chamber orchestra, Piccola Academia Musicale, managed by another American, Jack Murphy. After a brief stay in Fiesole in June PGH travelled to discuss her operas with publishing houses in Germany and then returned to Fiesole before accompanying Murphy and Jenkins on a visit to the island of Giglio, famous for its coves, caves, shipwrecks and sandy beaches.
Probably the most amusing of all the concerts PGH attended and reviewed for the New York Herald Tribune was Anna Russell’s in 1951. With a reputation for skewering the classics, especially Wagner, Russell appeared before a capacity audience at Town Hall singing various operatic arias and folk songs. An extract from the operetta The Prince of Philadelphia provoked “howls of merriment”, the Russian song “Da, nyet, Da, nyet” “reduced the audience to near hysteria” and a French song, in PGH’s words, flaunted “every cliché and near cliché of Frenchness in music, while the text with lunatic limpidity flows from ‘la plume’ to ‘filet mignon’ with every semblance of logic”. A Wagnerian aria performed with appropriate props—a winged helmet, corn-coloured pigtails and toasting fork—was also received with “hurricanes” of laughter.
PGH provided a hint, though, that she knew more than she was giving away, when she referred to Miss Russell’s “clipped British accent” and “tremendously thorough musical training” for both she and Russell had studied composition with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. As they were born a year apart (Russell on 27 December 1911 and PGH on 29 December 1912) and both were at the RCM for four years it seems likely that they were contemporaries and would have known one another. Russell, however, was perhaps not as serious a composer as PGH: in her memoirs she recalled that she was such a capable mimic that Vaughan Williams asked her to refrain from writing in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan because the tunes were so catchy they were interfering with his own composing (which at the time included his very bleak fourth symphony, completed in 1935).
Whereas some critics might have been condescending in their review, PGH was quite the opposite, concluding, “There is not too much humor around these days, and certainly not of a kind to combine every facet of the art from pure slapstick to the most erudite. Miss Russel’s [sic] mad recitals are sheer joy, and cannot be too highly recommended”. Russell went on to have a spectacular career, appearing in operas and on Broadway, recording several bestselling albums and touring South Africa and Australia, where she died in 2006.