Margaret Sutherland AO OBE 1897-1984

Margaret Sutherland

Margaret Sutherland

utherland was born in Adelaide – on 20 November 1897 – during her father’s stint as a writer for The Register.

In 1914 Sutherland was awarded two scholarships at the Albert Street Conservatorium, one for piano with Edward Goll, the other for composition with Fritz Hart.

By 1923 Sutherland had saved enough to travel to Europe.

Sutherland married in 1927 and for the next few years devoted most of her energies to raising her two children.

 

The matriarch of Australian music

In her 1948 book Australia Makes Music, Isabelle Moresby describes Margaret Sutherland as
‘an original and fearless composer. By her faith and determination she has won distinction for her serious contribution to the musical literature of the world. Yet it takes her quite by surprise when others remark on the charm of her own work. Lili Kraus, the famous Hungarian pianist, heard some of Sutherland’s recordings and exclaimed, “These are exquisite!” then Frederick Grinke, leader of the Boyd Neel String Orchestra touring Australia was so impressed with her saxophone sonata and the singing quality of the composition, that he came to her and asked if she had any violin pieces as he would like to perform them. She believes that music is the ideal career to combine with domesticity, in spite of times of stress and strain that necessarily come when such a full “double” life is attempted. To be a success both ways is an achievement, proving that a vital and artistic gift must and will find expression.’

Margaret Ada Sutherland was a member of a large, close-knit and exceptionally talented Melbourne family. Her parents were keen amateur music-makers, and her uncles and aunts excelled in writing, science, history, art and music. Nevertheless, Sutherland was born in Adelaide – on 20 November 1897 – during her father’s stint as a writer for The Register. In 1902 he transferred to the Melbourne Age, so from then until her death, Sutherland lived in Melbourne.

At her small private school, Sutherland was taught music by Mona McBurney, this country’s first notable female composer. In 1914 Sutherland was awarded two scholarships at the Albert Street Conservatorium, one for piano with Edward Goll, the other for composition with Fritz Hart. When Goll, a Czech-born naturalised Australian, was dismissed as an enemy alien, Sutherland followed him to the University of Melbourne Conservatorium. She eventually became his assistant. She was a confident recitalist and soon started to teach. At the age of 19 she was invited to Sydney by Henri Verbrugghen to pay the Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in G Major under his direction.

By 1923 Sutherland had saved enough to travel to Europe. She visited Paris and Vienna, but spent most of her two years away in London, where she studied composition and orchestration. Her mentor there was the British ‘pastoral’ composer Arnold Bax; he was sufficiently impressed with her Sonata for Violin and Piano (1925) to call it ‘the best work by a woman that I know.’ Played by Edward Goll and Bernard Heinze, it was a highlight of a concert of Sutherland compositions given at the Assembly Hall in Collins Street, Melbourne, on 12 March 1926. The concert was organised by a group of friends and supporters including Louise Dyer, the Melbourne philanthropist whose Paris-based L’Oiseau-Lyre Press later published the Sonata and several other pieces by Sutherland.

Sutherland married in 1927 and for the next few years devoted most of her energies to raising her two children. In 1934 and 1935 her compositions won awards in ABC competitions. Her patriotic song ‘Land of Ours’ was featured during the 1934 Melbourne Centenary celebrations, and her first work for full orchestra, Suite on a Theme by Purcell, was conducted by George Szell during his 1938 ABC concert tour.

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Biographical references

Vicki Fairfax: A Place Across the River, Macmillan, 2002
Isabelle Moresby: Australia Makes Music, Longmans, 1948
David Symons: The Music of Margaret Sutherland, Currency Press, 1997
David Symons: ‘Margaret Sutherland’. in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, Oxford University Press, 1997