Uncovering the Kynoch music archive

Uncovering the Kynoch music archive
The archives of a music printer preserve the sounds and stories of Australian musical life.
5 December 2017

I have fond childhood memories of poring over yellowed sheet music stored in my grandmother’s piano stool. I enjoyed the beautiful illustrated covers, the old-fashioned lyrics and the hand-written annotations of distant relatives. Little did I know then that years later I would undertake an internship at the National Library of Australia, and explore Australia’s sheet music heritage on a much larger scale.

The Music Acquisitions and Cataloguing section is responsible for the selection, acquisition and description of published Australian and overseas notated music at the National Library. The National Library aims to comprehensively collect all music either published in Australia or published overseas with a connection to Australia. The archives of publishing and printing houses provide insight into changing tastes, styles and influences within Australian domestic music-making. During my internship, I worked with the National Library’s music archives produced by A. Kynoch & Co., music printers and engravers.

The Kynoch music archive

Kynoch & Co. printed music in partnership with major music publisher Allan & Co. in Victoria between 1921 and 1988. The founder, Alexander Smith Kynoch, was a Scottish-trained lithographic printer, and also a professional clarinettist with Melbourne cinema orchestras in the 1920s. Alexander’s technical knowledge allowed Allan & Co. to establish a cost-efficient printing operation through which original Australian compositions and overseas music imported under copyright agreements could be easily reproduced. In the early days of printing at the original Balaclava premises, printing compound was mixed on-site from ink and beeswax, and sheet music albums were hand-folded and sewn in the Kynoch & Co. bindery. A printing press (pictured below) used by Kynoch & Co. in the early decades is held in the collection of Museums Victoria.

A lithographic printing press with a green frame and flatbed plate, manufactured by Harrild & Sons.

David Demant, Harrild Printing Press, Museums Victoria, https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/405362, Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY 4.0.

From the outset, the Allan/Kynoch partnership produced educational music, numbers from popular entertainments, and long-running serials of popular and classical music produced for use in household music-making. For example, Allan’s old time dances (1930s) provided collections of music suitable for “old time” dances originally popular in Australia in the mid 19th-century, such as the varsoviana and schottische. Containing piano scores and separate instrumental parts, these albums would have been used at family and community celebrations. The cover designs for Allan’s old time dances provide a social history in themselves, documenting changing fashion styles. Material from the Kynoch music archive has filled gaps in the National Library collection, providing many of the instrumental parts for this serial that were previously lacking.

Cover to Allan's old time dances and new vogue, No. 9.

Allan & Co, Melbourne, Allan’s old time dances and new vogue, No. 9  1930s, https://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn1398717

The Kynoch music archive also contains works which help tell the stories of Australian musicians and composers.

Mirrie Hill (1889-1986)

Mirrie Hill is recognised today as one of Australia’s pioneering female composers. Her early-career compositions were critically acclaimed, and she later held a teaching position at the N.S.W. State Conservatorium. However, during her lifetime Mirrie’s compositional career was overshadowed by that of her husband, Alfred Hill, a prolific classical composer and co-founder of the Conservatorium. Mirrie wrote orchestral and chamber music, however the vast majority of her published works are educational piano pieces and songs for children. Seven little action songs for young folk, from the Kynoch music archive, is an example of this pattern, which perhaps reflects ideas about suitable genres for female composers in the first half of the 20th century.

Black-and-white photographic portrait of Mirrie Hill, aged 26, in an oval frame.

Mirrie Hill (neé Solomon) aged 26, The world’s news, 4 July 1914, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131499902

Paul Schramm (1892-1953)

The biography of Paul Schramm, Viennese-born pianist and composer, has the character of an ‘Aussie battler’ story. A resourceful musician, Schramm managed to make ends meet and bring fresh ideas to the classical music scenes of Australia and New Zealand despite the interruptions of two world wars. In the 1920s, Schramm enjoyed a successful international career on the world circuit. He toured Australia twice during 1937 and 1938, and newspapers celebrated him as ‘a distinguished Viennese pianist’. In 1938, Schramm and his wife Diny settled in New Zealand, where their musical endeavours were interrupted by economic hardship during WWII. In 1946 Schramm returned to perform in Australia, were he remained for the rest of his life. His informal lunch-hour concerts enjoyed popularity with audiences, mixing ‘serious’ classical masterworks with entertaining numbers influenced by jazz. In the late 1940s, Schramm performed on the radio as light entertainment. However, he became disillusioned with a perceived decline in the musical rigour of his performances, and abandoned his musical career in the 1950s. Music for home: five piano pieces is an example of Schramm’s dedicated efforts to make classical music accessible to the public. The copy included in the Kynoch music archive was published by Chas. Begg. & Co., New Zealand, but printed by Kynoch & Co. This evidence of the circulation of Schramm’s compositions in Australia speaks to his impact on the musical consciousness of Australians.

 five piano pieces’ by Paul Schramm, showing the title, author and contents, as well as an illustration of a woman playing the piano, printed in orange on a beige background.

Paul Schramm (1892-1953), Music for home: five piano pieces  1939, https://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn7502502

Australian music publishing : an evolving history

The Kynoch music archive also traces changes in the listening tastes of the public between the 1920s-1980s, which affected the Australian sheet music market. As radio became more affordable, Australians wanted to play the musical styles and instruments they were hearing in broadcasts. American music was a particularly popular, reflected in Kynoch publications Allan’s hillbilly and western folio (1920s) and The Hank Williams country music folio (1948). Similarly, movie music offered a new market. Allan & Co. published three selections from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after its release in 1938. However, over time the mass availability of recorded and broadcast music began contributing to a general decline in recreational domestic music performance.

Sound is a sensory aspect of history which is often under-represented in museums and textbooks. However, popular music in particular has the ability to encapsulate the aesthetics, atmosphere and values of a moment in time. Sheet music collections such as the Kynoch music archive represent one type of research resource which can help bring the sounds of the past to life. Of course, whether found in a family piano stool or the National Library, sheet music is also important for its ability to ‘take us on a trip down memory lane that can vividly recall shared experience.’


Feature image: A. Kynoch & Co., B. Johnson, Drink to me only with thine eyes, Allan's part-songs no. 211, 1920s-30s, https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/7504920


Great article. We dance to this music even now at Old Time / New Vogue classes and events.
Congratulations on this research! As well as our family collection of music from several generations, there is a lot of historic sheet music to be found in the WAMTA office.