Of Russian Jewish descent, Larry Sitsky (b. 1934) was born in Tianjin, China. He was educated at the Tianjin Jewish School and showed precocious talents as a pianist. In 1951 his family fled from China and settled in Sydney. Sitsky studied the piano at the New South Wales Conservatorium and the San Francisco Conservatorium. In 1961 he joined the staff of the Queensland Conservatorium and he was a lecturer in contemporary music at Queensland University. In 1966 he became Head of Keyboard Studies at the Canberra School of Music and in 1983 he was appointed Head of the Department of Composition. From 1994 until his retirement in 2005 he held a Personal Chair in Music at the Australian National University. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 1998 and he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2000.
Sitsky has had a long career as a concert pianist, as well as a teacher. He has frequently performed the great Romantic piano concertos and he also has had a strong interest in lost or little known chamber works of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the early 1960s Sitsky emerged as one of the leading avant-garde Australian composers with works such as his Wind Quartet (1963) and String Quartet (1969). With Keith Humble and Don Banks, he founded the Australian Contemporary Music Ensemble, which performed and recorded new Australian works, as well as European and American works. In his compositions, he has drawn on a wide range of sources, including Russian and Armenian folk music, Jewish music, Chinese music, the Second Viennese School, and the writings of Ferruccio Busoni. Sitsky has written orchestral music, chamber music, electronic music, choral and vocal music. He collaborated with the poet Gwen Harwood on several operas, such as The Fall of the House of Usher (1965), Lenz (1970-74), Fiery Tales (1974) and The Golem (1976-80).
Sitsky is the author or editor of:
In 1972 Larry Sitsky began to lend his music manuscripts to the Library for copying and he also donated some of his pencil scores. The first instalment of his papers, together with further manuscripts, was purchased in 1977. In the same year the Library received a collection of Russian music which he had bought during a visit to the Soviet Union. A further five instalments of papers and manuscripts were purchased from Sitsky between 1983 and 2008.
The Sitsky Collection contains a comprehensive collection of pencil scores, drafts of compositions, and fair copies dating from about 1958 to 2007. They include major works such as Sonata for flute (1959), Fantasia for piano (1962), Woodwind Quartet (1963), Dimensions (1964), the opera The Fall of the House of Usher (1966), Apparitions (1966), Concerto for Two Pianos (1967), String Quartet (1969), the opera Lenz (1970), the opera Fiery Tales (1975), The Ten Sephiroth of the Kabbalah (1977), the opera The Golem (1980), Music in the Mirabell Garden (1982), Violin Concerto No. 3 (1987), Cello Concerto (1993), In Pace Requiescat (1989) Violin Concerto No. 4 (1997) and Trio for Two Cellos and Piano (1999). Among the other scores are transcriptions from works by Bach, Bartok, Busoni and Anton Rubinstein. There are also a number of composition diaries (1968-72).
In addition to Sitsky’s own writings, there are a small number of published works by other Australian composers, such as Roy Agnew, Alfred Hill, Miriam Hyde, Margaret Sutherland, Gordon Watson and Ernest Wunderlich.
Another component is a collection of about 200 scores of Russian composers which Sitsky purchased for the Library when he visited the Soviet Union in 1977. The bulk of them were published in the 1972-77 period, but there are a small number of older imprints. They include works by Russian composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including such famous figures as Glazunov, Glinka, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky. In addition, there are works of many Soviet composers, such as Anatoly Alexandrov, Andrei Eshpai, Reinhold Glière, Dmitry Kabalevsky, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Andrei Petrov, Nikolai Rakov, Yuri Shaporin, Rodion Shchedrin, Vissarion Shebalin, Dimitry Shostakovich and Sergei Taneyev.
The personal papers of Larry Sitsky date from his schooldays onwards and include personal and family documents, correspondence with friends, students and organisations, contracts, diaries, files relating to his research and writings, scripts for talks and broadcasts, concert reviews, articles about Sitsky, concert programs, photographs and printed material. The diaries cover his trips to China (1983), Russia (1977, 1988) and the United States (1959-61, 1989). The correspondents include Roy Agnew, Rosemary Brown, Colin Brumby, Winifred Burston, Nigel Butterley, Frank Callaway, Roger Covell, George Dreyfus, Gwen Harwood, Richard Meale, James Murdoch, James Penberthy, Egon Petri, Vincent Plush, Jan Sedivka and Roger Woodward. Among the many organisations that had dealings with Sitsky were the music publishers J. Albert and Son, Allans Music, and Boosey and Hawkes, various conservatoria, and cultural organisations such as the Australia Council, Australian Ballet, Australian Music Centre, Australian Opera and Musica Viva.
The manuscript and printed music and personal papers of Larry Sitsky are kept together in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 5630. A finding-aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-233783465/findingaid. Some of the correspondence in the Sitsky Collection is held under restricted access.
There are copies of many of Sitsky’s published scores in the Music Collection. The collection of Russian music is also held in the Music Collection. It has been catalogued as a collection, but the scores have not been individually catalogued.
De Berg, Hazel, Oral history interview with Larry Sitsky, Nov. 1967, TRC 1/313-14
Holmes, Robyn and Campbell, Peter, Sitsky, Larry, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, Macmillan, 2001, vol. 23, pp. 456-57
Holmes, Robyn, Shaw, Patricia and Campbell, Peter, Larry Sitsky: a bio-bibliography, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1997
Martin, Ruth Lee, Oral history interview with Larry Sitsky, May-June 2001, TRC 3969/7
Shaw, Patricia, Sitsky, Larry, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, edited by Warren Bebbington, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 518-19
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)