Dame Joan Hammond 1912-1996

Joan Hammond

Dame Joan Hammond

Joan Hood Hammond was born on 24 May 1912 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

She began formal music studies in 1928 at the New South Wales State Conservatorium.

She made her professional debut at 19, singing the vocalise in Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony.

After a final concert in Sydney, she sailed for Italy on a Norwegian freighter. In 1936 she began three years’ study of opera and languages in Vienna, Florence and London.

 

Opera for the people

‘Joan Hammond was a superb artist and the most generous person imaginable,’ wrote British
music critic Alan Blyth. ‘In her prime she still had to fight a prejudice against English-speaking singers, especially those who appealed to a public outside the operatic elite. She ought to have had an international career commensurate with her extraordinary talent, which comprised a voice of great natural beauty and a temperament that enabled her to put across her music to a large audience. Indeed, long before the Three Tenors were thought of, she had carried the banner of opera to the people. Her technique was well nigh impeccable. She could fine down her large but always flexible voice to a thread of legato and expand it to heroic heights. Her many records are a lasting reminder of her rich, warm tone, excellent technique and, above all, her ability to communicate with an audience, even an unseen one.’

An operatic soprano who was also a first-class swimmer; a champion golfer who was also a keen yachtswoman; a sports writer who played the violin – will the real Joan Hammond please stand up!

The real Joan Hood Hammond was born on 24 May 1912 in Christchurch, New Zealand. She was only six months old when her parents moved to Sydney, where she began formal music studies in 1928 at the New South Wales State Conservatorium. She took violin as her first subject and voice as her second, financing her studies by filing sports reports for the Daily Telegraph. When she wasn’t practising music she was practising golf; at the age of 17 won the Junior State Championship.

For three years she played second violin in the Sydney Symphony but sang wherever and whenever she could – in cinemas, department stores and music clubs. She made her professional debut at 19, singing the vocalise in Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony.

In 1932, J.C. Williamson’s recruited local singers for minor roles and chorus work with their Italian Imperial Grand Opera Company; Hammond made her operatic debut as Giovanna in Rigoletto and also appeared as Siebel in Faust. In 1934, when Sir Benjamin Fuller’s Royal Grand Opera Company played in Sydney, Hammond stepped in at short notice to replace the singer scheduled to sing Venus in Tannhäuser. She also sang Helmwige in Die Walküre.

At the instigation of the wife of the Governor of NSW, Australia’s women golfers raised enough funds to send Hammond to Europe. After a final concert in Sydney, she sailed for Italy on a Norwegian freighter. In 1936 she began three years’ study of opera and languages in Vienna, Florence and London. One of her teachers was Dino Borgioli, who had been the leading tenor in Melba’s 1924 Australian opera season. In November 1938 she made her London recital debut at the Aeolian Hall, followed by a Messiah at the Queen’s Hall under Sir Thomas Beecham. She starred in La Bohème and La Traviata at the Vienna Staatsoper in early 1939, and opened the London Proms series with Sir Henry Wood conducting.

Media Gallery

Joan Hammond poster

Biographical references

Joan Hammond: A Voice, a Life, Gollanz, 1970
A Tribute to Dame Joan Hammond, Booklet published for the tribute to her memory, Melbourne Concert Hall, 17 December 1996