Music Reviewing single work   companion entry  
Issue Details: First known date: 2014 2014
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Notes

  • MUSIC REVIEWING

    The first report of musical performance in the colony at Sydney Cove is in the diary of Surgeon Arthur Bowes (Smyth), revealing that the legal inauguration of the new society on 7 February 1788 was accompanied by music: ‘The Marines … received the Governor with flying colours and a Band of Music … the Soldiers marched with music playing Drums and fifes’. François Péron, who visited Port Jackson in 1802, noted that at church services, ‘the regimental band plays various pieces’ and that the band of the New South Wales Corps was ‘numerous and well-composed’. Those bands were the backbone of early colonial music-making, both in the theatre (including The Beggar’s Opera in 1797) and in public and religious ceremonies.

    It is generally considered that the earliest authentic music reviews appeared in 1826 in the Sydney Monitor and the Australian. The knowledge of the anonymous writers was certainly not trivial, despite their sometimes quaint vocabulary. For such a young colony, there was a remarkable amount of musical journalism because of the impressive extent of musical activity, which involved such significant names as W. Vincent Wallace, the Deane family and, after 1840, the singers Anna Bishop and Catherine Hayes, as well as the composer-performer Stephen Marsh and Isaac Nathan, who brought considerable journalistic experience from London. Later in the century, the experienced Australian-educated journalist Francis Campbell Brewer wrote his comprehensive essay, Drama and Music in New South Wales.

    The music of Australia’s Indigenous people attracted early attention. In his Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (1798), the Judge-Advocate, David Collins, wrote: ‘[T]hey begin at the top of their voices, and continue as long as they can in one breath, sinking to the lowest note, and then rising again to the highest.’ The doctor-biologist John Lhotsky collected some Aboriginal music, but seemed not to have written about it, while Isaac Nathan did both, notably in The Southern Euphrosyne and Australian Miscellany (1849). He also collected ‘Koo-ees’ and successfully set one, the Koorinda-Braia of the ‘Maneroo tribe’, to music. The explorer and governor George Grey gave serious attention to the native people’s music in his Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery (1841), emphasising the social and ritual importance of music as well as the strong association of song and dance. In more recent years, anthropologists and musicologists have made and published numerous detailed field studies of Indigenous music (notably Alice Moyle), including its more recent incorporation into popular music.

    The wealth deriving from gold discoveries and growing pastoral prosperity made Australia an attractive destination for visiting musicians such as Paolo Giorza and Sir Frederick Cowen, as well as the many who chose to live and work here. Inevitably, as concert-giving increased (Giorza, for example, was contractually obliged to provide a daily concert during the 1879–80 International Exhibition in Sydney), so did journalistic commentary, with the three noteworthy names being Dr James Edward Neild in Melbourne (Australasian, Melbourne Punch, Weekly Review and Victorian), Gerald Marr Thompson (Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald) and James Griffen Foley (Star and Sun) in Sydney. All had been born and educated abroad, and wrote about drama as well as music; they were all extremely influential and feared.

    Henry Tate was a versatile writer whose writing about music—as a critic for the Melbourne Age (1924–26) and as a thoughtful composer and musical philosopher—was his most important achievement, particularly the essay Australian Musical Resources: Some Suggestions (1917) and the more substantial Australian Musical Possibilities (1924), in which he urged the creation of an ‘Australian school of music’ that drew on the sounds of the bush.

    European fascism and World War II greatly enriched Australian music criticism. When Kurt (Curt) Prerauer arrived in 1934, it was with a formidable background, especially in modernist music (he had been coach for the Berlin and London premières of Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck). His first writing was in the earliest issues of the ABC Weekly, established in 1939; he also presented opera broadcasts on ABC Radio. He wrote for the Sydney Sun and several European publications, but his greatest influence was as a music critic (with his wife, Maria) for the fortnightly Nation from 1960 to 1967. He championed Australian composition, initially Peter Sculthorpe and then Richard Meale. Neville Cardus, an Englishman who spent the war years in Sydney, succeeded Prerauer at the ABC Weekly as well as broadcasting on ABC Radio and writing for the Sydney Morning Herald. His was an experienced but conservative journalistic voice, and he was both less passionate and philosophical as a commentator than the German-Jewish composer and teacher, Felix Werder, who succeeded the composer Dorian Le Gallienne at the Age (1963–75). Werder was followed by the far more conservative Kenneth Hince. At the Herald, John Sinclair—whose background was in art—also offered his Victorian readers a traditional musical outlook.

    Roger Covell exerted considerable influence in his four decades at the Sydney Morning Herald (1960–2011). He paid notable attention to opera and Australian composition. His book, Australia’s Music: Themes of a New Society (1967), was a substantial achievement. At the Australian (1971–96), Maria Prerauer was no less passionate or authoritative but, in mostly restricting her politics and advocacy to her ‘Marietta’s Column’, was arguably more trustworthy.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘outer’ states have been less well served, though the eminent Handel scholar, Dr Robert Dalley-Scarlett, at the Brisbane Courier-Mail (1945–46, 1952–59) was a glowing exception, as were Albert Kornweibel in Perth, who wrote on music, dance and drama for almost 50 years as ‘Fidelio’ in the West Australian, and composer Tristram Cary in Adelaide in the 1980s. There were periods when the religious press did better than the metropolitan dailies. In the Sydney Catholic Weekly, Ron Roberts regularly reviewed classical recordings: while those reviews were almost invariably (and probably unrealistically) positive, he performed a notable service simply by documenting those activities. Even News-Weekly, the newspaper of the National Civic Council, ran articles on ‘classical’ music—both concerts and recordings.

    Pop and rock music were not so much reviewed as covered in a wide range of media outlets, from the Australian Women’s Weekly and its ‘Teenagers Weekly’, to disc jockeys on commercial radio. The establishment of Go-Set in Melbourne in 1966 provided a dedicated place for pop and rock criticism. The music reviewer who most helped shape popular music discourse in Australia was Lillian Roxon (1932–73), the Italian-born, Australian trained writer and activist who served as New York correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1960s among other appointments. Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopaedia (1969) was one of the first international commentaries on pop and rock.

    While ABC Radio has played a great deal of music over its history (‘classical’ repertoire on its national FM network since 1975 and before that on its AM network, as well as ‘non-commercial rock’ and other innovative popular music, with an Australian emphasis, on its youth network Triple J), it has a scrappy record in musical reportage and commentary. Glen Menzies’ Music Magazine in the 1960s and 1970s and Andrew Ford’s wide-ranging Music Show (1991– ) are noteworthy exceptions. ABC Radio, especially with such informed and committed presenters as Eric Child and Kym Bonython, consistently offered news and commentary as well as presenting jazz. Popular music journalists and reviewers include Glenn A. Baker (former Australian editor for international trade publication Billboard), Toby Creswell, Clinton Walker, Craig Mathieson, Jeff Apter and Christie Eliezer. Television has been a wasteland for classical music—both its performance and reportage—with critical commentary and assessment systematically (and ideologically) spurned.

    REFs: W. Bebbington (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Australian Music (1997); R. Covell, Australia’s Music (1967); A. Gyger, Civilising the Colonies (1999); J. Whiteoak and A. Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (2003).

    JOHN CARMODY

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Last amended 3 Nov 2016 11:14:04
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