Sir Eugene Goossens 1893-1962

Eugene Goossens

Sir Eugene Goossens

He was born into a remarkably populous musical family in London on 26 May 1893.

In 1907 Goossens’ youthful proficiency on the violin was rewarded with a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.

In 1923 Goossens was appointed conductor of the Eastman Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in New York State.

 

Triumph and tragedy

‘In June 1951, before I left for England, Eugene Goossens gave me the opportunity to appear on stage in six performances as the heroine of his opera Judith,’ recalled Joan Sutherland. ‘He conducted this Australian premiere and was most kind and helpful. I wanted desperately to do well and he had such faith in my ability. (A few years later) he said it was “high time Australia took steps to keep her talent at home. If we had a fine national opera house with performances the year round and adequate financial rewards for our singers, they would think twice before leaving the country.” He never let up on his dream of an opera house for Sydney, and although the realisation of that dream leaves much to be desired vis-à-vis practicality as a workable theatre, without him and those around him of like mind, the Sydney Opera House would not exist – nor would Opera Australia.’

Australians met Aynsley Eugene Goossens for the first time in 1946, when he toured for the ABC, conducting its orchestras in each state. His tour was so successful that the ABC’s general manager, Charles Moses, contrived to offer him two positions: as the recently-formed Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s first permanent conductor; and as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. It was said that the two salaries earned him more than the prime minister.

Goossens was a towering figure in international music circles. He was born into a remarkably populous musical family in London on 26 May 1893. His father was a Belgian-born violinist and conductor and his mother was a singer. His  paternal grandfather was also a violinist and conductor, and his mother’s father was an operatic basso. And Goossens’ siblings had notable musical careers: Sidonie and Marie as harpists, Leon as an oboist, and Adolphe on the horn.

In 1907 Goossens’ youthful proficiency on the violin was rewarded with a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he developed his talents as a composer. After graduation he played violin everywhere and anywhere: in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, in chamber music groups, in restaurants and in theatre pit bands. In 1916, at short notice, he conducted Charles Stanford’s opera The Critic. This led to positions conducting Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the Carl Rosa Opera Company at Covent Garden. In 1921 Goossens formed his own orchestra to give concerts of contemporary music in London – including the first British concert performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, after which The Evening News called him ‘London's Music Wizard’.

In 1923 Goossens was appointed conductor of the Eastman Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in New York State, and a teacher at the associated Eastman School of Music.

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Biographical references

Eugene Goossens: Overture and Beginners, Methuen 1951
Ava Hubble: More Than an Opera House, Lansdowne, 1983
Ava Hubble: The Strange Case of Eugene Goossens and Other Tales from The Opera House, Collins, 1998
Diane Collins: Sounds from the Stables, Allen & Unwin, 2001
David Salter: ‘Sir Eugene Goossens’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14. Melbourne University Press
Phillip Sametz: Play On!, ABC Enterprises, 1992
Joan Sutherland: The Autobiography of Joan SutherlandRandom House, 1997