From its establishment in 1932, the Australian Broadcasting Commission was the principal patron of Australian composers. By 1936 studio orchestras had been formed in all the capital cities, numbering from 11 to 45 players, and they were supplemented occasionally for symphony concerts. Each year over 100 Australian works were offered to the ABC and Keith Barry, the Controller of Programmes, and William James, the Controller of Music, ensured that many of them were broadcast on at least one occasion. These works were kept in the Federal Music Library, which was set up in 1936 as a central source for scores needed by ABC orchestras, dance bands and choruses.
Following the end of World War II, the ABC established full-time symphony orchestras in each of the capital cities. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra held its first concert in 1947, conducted by Eugene Goosens, and it was followed by Queensland (1947), Tasmania (1948), Victoria (1949), South Australia (1949) and Western Australia (1951).
In 1984 the Australian Broadcasting Commission was replaced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In the following years, the position of the symphony orchestras within the ABC was the subject of a number of reports. The Creative Nation Statement issued by the Keating Government in 1994 announced that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra would be transferred from the ABC to local control and it was duly incorporated in 1996. In 1996 the Cultural Ministers Council decided that the other five orchestras should follow suit. Symphony Australia was set up as an independent subsidiary company of the ABC, replacing the National Office of ABC Concerts. It was a service organisation providing the six orchestras with human resources, financial management, library and other services and managing an artist development program. Its activities and staff were drastically reduced in 2005. It is now known as Symphony Services Australia.
The Symphony Australia Library donated its collection of music scores to the National Library in 2001. Further instalments were added in 2003, 2005 and 2009.
The Symphony Australia Collection contains a very large quantity of music scores and parts, nearly all unpublished, which had been used by the orchestras of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Written between about 1910 and 1970, they include chamber, choral, piano and vocal works, as well as orchestral works. Some are signed and in the hand of the composer, while others are in the hand of a copyist. Many of the works contain revisions and annotations, such as records of performances, and a few are accompanied by letters or photographs.
The music was written or arranged by Australian composers, several of whom were on the staff of the ABC. The largest group, totalling 548 works, are compositions by Alfred Hill, who grew up in New Zealand and settled in Australia in 1911. They were donated to the Federal Music Library by his wife, Mirrie Hill, following his death in 1960. They mostly comprise chamber and vocal works, but there are also seven of his 13 symphonies and five concertos.
The music of the other composers totals about 1574 works. Many of them are orchestral works and include all the parts as well as the full score. The composers represented in the collection include John Antill, Edgar Bainton, James Brash, Clive Douglas, Felix Gethen, Eugene Goosens, Eric Gross, Edith Harrhy, Mirrie Hill, Robert Hughes, Frank Hutchens, Miriam Hyde, William James, Henry Krips, Dorian le Galliene, William Lovelock, David Lumsdaine, William Arundel Orchard, James Penberthy, Peter Sculthorpe, Larry Sitsky, Margaret Sutherland, George Tintner, Felix Werder and Malcolm Williamson.
The Eugene Goossens collection of scores contains approximately 220 volumes dating from 1720s to 1970s. The scores, most of which were owned and used by Goossens, include works by Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bax, Messiaen, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Some items include additional ephemeral material or inscriptions by the composers to Goossens.
The Musica Australis collection contains approximately 800 Australian compositions from the colonial era. The collection was compiled by Richard Divall in the 1960s to 1970s for the ABC Musica Australis concert and radio series.
The concert touring schedules provide a record of travel arrangements and itineraries of Australian and overseas performers. This collection is currently being digitised.
The Library has a microfiche copy of a card index of Australian orchestral concerts known as ‘Bob’s Index’. The main index is arranged alphabetically by composer and gives the date, place, conductor, associate artist and series or type of concert (such as schools, proms, radio program) of each performance. It includes performances in regional cities as well as the capitals. The entries extend from 1938 to 2001, with the bulk of the entries dating from 1960-2001.
There are four smaller indexes: performances of traditional songs and national anthems (1958-2001), performances of Australian Christmas carols (1960-2001), performances of Australian compositions (1946-61) and first Australian performances (1952-96).
The Symphony Australia Collection is kept together as a formed collection within the Music Collection and it is divided into its various components. All items in the collection have a catalogue record.
- The works by Alfred Hill http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn5786880
- The works by other composers are arranged alphabetically by the name of the composer http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2461899
- Eugene Goossens collection http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn4970820
- Musica Australis collection http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn5713337
- Concert touring schedules http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn5448271
- The microfiche of the index to performances is held in the Newspaper and Microform Collection at mc N 2246. There are 126 microfiche. The four subsidiary indexes are on fiches 124-26.
Buzacott, Martin, The rite of spring: 75 years of ABC music-making, Sydney, ABC Books, 2007
Holmes, Robyn, Keeping score, National Library of Australia News, vol. 14 (8), May 2004, pp. 11-12
Holmes, Robyn, Waller, Caroline and Davis, John, Preserving the ‘Symphony Australia Collection’, Music Forum, vol. 8 (4), April-May 2002, p. 12
Inglis, K.S., This is the ABC: the Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932-1983, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1983