[Start of recorded material at 00:00:00]
Blackburn: Good evening everyone, and welcome to the National Library of Australia. It’s wonderful to see so many friends able to gather back in here together; it’s been quite some time. I’m Kerry Blackburn, and I’m Chair of the Friends of the National Library Committee. To begin, I acknowledge Australia’s First Nations peoples – the First Australians – as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and give respect to their Elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And thank you to Dr Marie-Louise Ayers and the staff of the National Library, for your support that’s culminated in this event tonight.
The Friends, all of you, support the Library in many different ways, but one of the most enduring is the Creative Arts Fellowship that’s funded by the Friends. The program began in 2015, and the annual $10,000 a year Fellowship has been awarded to a fascinating array of musicians, choreographers, visual artists and playwrights. They’ve all delved into the Library’s collections and come up with some of the most amazing discoveries during their four-week residency here. They’ve developed their own creative works, and added to both the scholarship and the appreciation of what’s in the Library’s collections. But this evening our very special guest is the  Creative Arts Fellow, David Wickham. So welcome, David, to the National Library. [Applause.]
So David has a stellar background as a concert pianist, a music director, a conductor, a repetiteur, he’s an extensive background in recitals with both opera companies and chamber music in both Australia and also in New Zealand and Europe. His field of research is Australian art songs, a body of work that he began when he was lecturing at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, after he came out from the UK. He’s recorded nine CDs and edited numerous volumes of art songs. You may have heard him live on ABC National – or ABC Classic, rather – at the Perth International Festival, the Sydney Opera House, Fringe Festivals and in cabarets, and as I leant yesterday, folk festivals as well; so quite a variety.
But David’s Fellowship drew him to the National Library to examine all of the manuscripts of Frederick Septimus Kelly, with a view to preparing them for publication. Tonight, David’s going to share his discoveries and perform a selection of Kelly’s works, including his first Violin Sonata. I’m delighted that David will be joined by guest performers, Helen Brown and Christopher Latham, for the performance tonight. So please join me in welcoming David, Helen and Chris. [Applause.]
[00:03:13 – 00:04:49]
Wickham: Thank you. And thank you for the Acknowledgement of Country. I’m proud to live on Whadjuk land of the Noongar people. I’d also like to thank all the Friends of the NLA, and pay tribute to my fellow Fellows who are a very genial and talented group of people with fascinating topics of study. And it’s been a real pleasure to meet them and work alongside them. So if you have not heard of Frederick Septimus Kelly, it is not your fault. And if you have, it’s probably due to the efforts of a small band of experts, enthusiasts and idealists such as Christopher Latham, artistic director of the Flowers of War, and conductor and musicologist Richard Divall. And you’re perhaps aware of being in the vanguard of a movement to resurrect and celebrate the work of a number of Australian composers.
Kelly is certainly among the most significant cultural losses to Australia of the Great War, to be ranked alongside more familiar British names like Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and George Butterworth. So tonight will serve as a brief introduction to the man and his music, and as a taster of music mostly not previously recorded or performed in modern times. His admirers among my colleagues get very attached to him, and we use two of the nicknames that Kelly acquired in his life. At Eton he became known as Cleg, after Cleg Kelly, a larrikin character from a novel. Chris prefers Sep, the name his family used. As to character, a friend described him as possessing transparent honesty and truthfulness, unswerving tenacity and energy, and as being warm hearted and genial.
So who he is? He was born in Sydney in 1881, and his wealthy father was a metal magnate and active in politics. Among his siblings, Bertie was a violinist – a very fine one – and Maisie – Maisie Australia, what a great name – a singer and pianist for whom Kelly wrote several songs, and you’ll hear some later. Sydney Grammar School, Eton College and Bailey Old College Oxford were his elite educational institutions, grounding him in technique and tradition, instilling a conservative outlook but also providing a breathtaking range of musical and social contacts at the highest levels of the profession and of society. Of his musical beginnings, his brother Bertie wrote, “He was still quite a small boy, but his playing was very brilliant. In those days he had not achieved the perfection of technique to which he attained later on after years of study in Germany, but he made a most effective performance of the most difficult works.”
And connections were indeed made to composers Hubert Parry, Charles Stanford, Thomas Dunhill, Roger Quilter, Walter Parratt – who was Master of the Queen’s Music – and Frank Bridge. But also to high society, as his diaries attest, he moved in the highest circles with ease and tact, often playing the piano for the assembled company. At Oxford, though he read Modern History, Kelly won the Lewis Nettleship Musical Scholarship, mentored by the former winner, Donald Francis Tovey, who is close to Kelly and his development through his short life. Artists at the Bailey Old concerts with whom Kelly performed included Tovey, Brahms’s favourite violinist Joseph Joachim, pianist Leonard Borwick, violinists Jelly d’Aranyi and her sister Adila, Adolf Busch, violist Lionel Tertis, and other elite soloists in British music. Most were also friends and colleagues of Vaughan Williams. Kelly’s piano playing had long been recognised as deft and lyrical, reflected in this next piece; one of the rediscoveries from the NLA’s collection.
[00:09:09 – 00:11:09]
Wickham: After Oxford, in 1904 Kelly took the tried and tested route of Anglophone musicians: study in Germany. England could not yet offer the depth and rigour of the German Conservatorium. Frankfurt, though conservative, was certainly thorough. Kelly’s principal mentors among his friends were perhaps the biggest influence on him: Edward Dent the musicologist, Leonard Borwick the pianist of whom we’ve made mention, and Tovey. Again, conservative as pianists, composers and musicologists. And this is bound to be audible in his early works. We imagine composers of genius to be busy breaking moulds as very young men. For early Romantics this was often true, thinking of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Bellini, Donizetti. They all flourished quickly and died much too early.
Later in the century, technique, style and reputation all took longer to mature. We think of Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss as older men. Even Liszt was a fiery young performer, but took longer years to settle as a composer. From Kelly there is a great range of compositions, all the way from an early symphony to what the core of the work that we particularly love – the chamber music – especially for violin and piano, solo piano, piano duet and songs, and we should hear the first of those now. I’d like to welcome Helen, and we will sing Wordsworth’s To The Daisy.
[00:12:54 – 00:14:54]
Wickham: I mentioned in my borrowed title, that Kelly is also the lost Olympian. After rowing at Oxford he was three times winner of the Henley Diamond Sculls, and a record holder there for a further 38 years. And, in 1908, Olympic gold medallist for the British Eights crew, training after his final year in Frankfurt. He’s trained for limited periods, but intensively, choosing not to try to combine musical and rowing work; an approach maybe favoured by the great amateurs of any subject of the day. But his growing solo piano and accompaniment career saw him playing with distinguished partners around London and beyond, including the outstanding cellist of his day, Pablo Casals.
He sought a commission in England as soon as the First World War was declared, joining the Royal Naval Division. He served at Gallipoli after training, among a close-knit and distinguished group of junior officers. Among his battalion there was William Denis Browne the composer, Arthur Asquith the Prime Minister’s son, Bernard Freyberg later Commander of the New Zealand Forces in World War II, fellow Old Etonians Patrick Shaw-Stewart a director of Barings Bank, poet and classicist, Charles Lister a junior diplomat. And alongside the better known Rupert Brooke, they styled themselves the Argonauts – an obvious classical reference to Greek heroes – referencing also Troy on the Dardanelles, for where they were bound.
Brooke suffered a similar fate, of course, to Lord Byron. Heading off to fight for Greek independence over a century earlier he, Brooke, succumbs to an infection from a mosquito bite on boar the troop ship. Kelly actually wrote, “I had a foreboding that he is one of those like Keats, Shelley and Schubert who are not suffered to deliver their full message.” Kelly, indeed, was in the burial party on the Island of Skyros and wrote a moving elegy in memoriam, which is one of the pieces that the Flowers of War have been responsible for reintroducing to the world. Kelly helped keep his battered battalion going after they suffered appalling losses, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After leave recovering from a wound, his battalion was sent to France, and he was killed in the last days of the Somme operation; long after it had ceased to be a serious offensive.
Now one of the pieces that he had written in the trenches in northern France was the theme for a projected set of orchestral variations. Now we don’t have those variations. But Chris has arranged that theme and retitled it The Somme Lament. And reading Kelly’s diaries, it’s apparent that he had a fatalistic sense of his mortality and the chances of any of his brother officers making it through. So The Somme lament is a fitting tribute, and it is pretty much the last piece that we have of his.
[00:18:25 – 00:23:00]
Wickham: So this man is a serious polymath of many abilities. But even his prodigious energy was insufficient when split three ways. He was possessed both of a sense of beauty, but also of a sense of duty. He was fully committed to all his pursuits. His 1915 diary records that he was planning another symphony and a Lyric Phantasy for large orchestra, working out all the details in his head, as he always did. His military duties left him little time to actually notate this music on paper, however, and hence much of it died with him. So we are left with this great, “What if?” as well as a great body of existing work. Composition would have persisted and matured. The sport was dropped first, as there’s no serious training or competition after the Olympics mentioned in his diaries.
The performing career might have assisted the composition, in his range of musical contacts and performing his own works; we just don’t know. Let’s hear one of my newly recovered works now. This is another song to Shelley’s poem There Be None of Beauty’s Daughters.
Speaker 1: Cut.
Wickham: It’s Byron.
[00:24:43 – 00:27:48]
Wickham: So to my project specifically, it’s emphatically a project to add my part to the collaborative work of more than a decade by a number of people. Christopher Latham has led the Flowers of War program, part of the Australian War Memorial, with editions by a number of musicians, a large and detailed website, two recordings on ABC Classics, and a third on Toccata Classics, plus several life performances; some of which you may have seen yourselves. Richard Divall edited several Kelly works, most of which were published through Monash University. The Lost Olympian of the Somme, also titled Kelly’s War, edited by John Cooksey and Graham McKechnie presented Kelly’s wartime diaries. And an important biographical work by Dr Therese Radic of the University of Melbourne concentrating on the music, and by Martin Cross focusing on rowing and Kelly’s military career awaits publication.
So my first task was to identify all the manuscripts held here at the NLA, and typeset everything and edit everything that had not previously been done, establish a chronology and prepare everything for publication and for recording. What does that mean? What have I spent a month doing? Well, the editing involves interpreting the sometime ambiguous handwriting on manuscripts, making a clean computer copy, correcting obvious errors that might be made in haste, reconciling differences in notation between identical or similar passages as the composer hurried to get his ideas down, or searched for the most communicative way of rendering them – changing his mind as he went – or perhaps he just simply relied on an indifferent copyist. He gets furious with someone he entrusts his manuscript to in Belgium during the war; scrawls angry notes on the front about them.
Then one has to compare different manuscripts of the same work to determine which might represent the composer’s later thoughts. Parts prepared for players contain a wealth of practical detail. The violin part clearly, carefully rehearsed for the first Violin Sonata, for example, has numerous different tempo indications, expressive markings, bowings and articulations, all of which shed light on the similar music in the piano part. Poetic texts have to be compared to reliable original sources to check accuracy and punctuation. A crucial step that even many composers overlook; though I must say that Kelly is very particular about this. Perhaps a composer repeats a word or a line to help the musical structure or emphasis. Perhaps they altered a word for personal preference or omitted verses altogether.
All this aids the performer to make detailed decisions about the composer’s intentions and then, by extension, their own. And the publications should be ultimately in five volumes: keyboard works, vocal music, chamber music, string orchestra pieces, and finally for orchestral music. They will include Kelly’s whole surviving output, including works issued by Schott in the 1900s, and by Richard Divall funded by the Marshall Hall Trust in the 2000s, and latterly by Chris Latham’s The Flowers of War funded by the Australian War Memorial. It’s intended that these will all be able to be used freely. So was your generous funding well spent? Well, I’ve typeset and edited quite a list of works.
There are two piano Allegrettos, an Allegro vivace, an Etude, a Fugue – which is fascinating – an Impromptu, an Irish Air with Variations, a charming Jig for his niece Beatrice to dance to, Moderato, a Pastorale, Polka for his other niece Patricia who had to wait a further two years to get hers – and she must have been very cross – a Prelude, the Risoluto you’ll hear shortly, a Scherzo, and the delightful The Spring Honeysuckle and the Song of the Bee which is a mash-up of one of Kelly’s songs and a piece of Mendelssohn’s Spring Song in double counterpoint, and a Waltz. Let’s hear the Risoluto from that collection.
[00:32:29 – 00:35:50]
Wickham: But wait, there’s more. Cadenzas for the Movements 1 and 3 of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 were composed for his Sydney concert in 1911, and they’ve been duly recorded and set down. A Sydney critic actually wrote that, “People were amazed that someone would insert their own music into a work by the Master.” And now, of course, it’s standard practice. So, you know, Kelly leading the way perhaps. For piano duet, I’ve added the Allegretto in D major and a little duet in E flat. Several of these titles I should say are mine; just borrowed from Kelly’s indications on the manuscript. He himself sometimes fretted about titles for months. For violin we now have what we think is his earliest surviving work, an Andante in A major, and a Mozartian duet for violin and viola which I had to complete using material from Kelly’s all but illegible sketches, trying just to stick to the music that I find there.
And I’ve also set the Serenade for Flute in the arrangement for flute and piano that Kelly himself made, which was only published in its original instrumentation for flute, harp, horn and string orchestra; written for the Australian John Lemmone, who he met on the ship coming back to Australia. Kelly often wrote for vocal ensembles, seeming to see it as ideal for social music making, which is absolutely right of course. So there are also a handful of rounds and part-songs, as well as youthful works written for performance at Eton. And these latter include the unison song Eton and Winchester, written for the annual cricket match between the two schools. There’s no record of Kelly actually playing cricket, though we have a picture of him in a cricket jumper so who knows.
The most significant new addition though is the first Violin Sonata, 1901, written on a visit to Sydney to be with his father who was gravely ill, and it’s written for his brother Bertie. One can’t help feeling that as well as his own original inspiration, there is in this music the pain and grief from knowing that his father – who was really his hero – was in the house, dying.
[00:38:24 – 00:46:51]
Wickham: So that is the magnificent First Movement of three of his First Sonata. I think that’s an important piece. It’s obviously – it’s audibly inspired by Brahms – this is 1901, Brahms dies 1907 – there’s a bit of Tchaikovsky – died 1893. Over all this presides the spirit of Schumann. But saying this, it’s no pale imitation. It’s a powerful piece. It’s got a gift for texture and gesture. It’s got sustained emotion. It’s more ambitious than most contemporary Australian music at that time. Kelly described it at the time as being, “Far and away the best thing I have done yet.” And what is he? He’s 20, so he’s probably not wrong. There was a period more recently when musicologists would have dismissed such an achievement as backward looking, even irrelevant in a century of musical revolutions. But that rather ahistorical view has got to be nuanced and set beside a large and still-growing catalogue of Australian music using variants of traditional forms.
Remember also that Brahms, as I say, has only been dead four years. This is contemporary music. Here is an Australian writing a large scale work to be savoured in just the same way as any late Romantic music. We rather think that this is in fact the first great Australian Sonata. I’ll just leave that for – that will take years of discussion. And who knows what else is out there; we didn’t know that was there until very recently. So let me offer my thoughts on how to assess his place in history. Why compare at all? I mean I can tell you about Kelly. I can even assert how good he is. But what does that mean? We need to set him aside his contemporaries in Australia, but also in Britain, where he lived most of his short life and which was the principal influence upon Australian musicians.
It’s not a beauty contest, and I’m not aiming to topple other greats simply to put Kelly on their pedestal. It’s also important to consider what Australia meant for Kelly and other young musicians in terms of their training. There could not be any density of world class performers, composers, teachers, nor a large market for fine music in Australia in 1901. Not yet. Certainly, there was plenty of quality cultural activity, but when Kelly was ready to study, he couldn’t do so in Australia to the highest level. And it’s also important to put a limit on how Australian Kelly was, in terms of his actually living and working here. He left at 12, returned briefly at 18 – so we’re up to 1899 – made a brief stay in 1901, performed in 1911, and left for London again.
Nevertheless, I think it’s quite legitimate to claim that Kelly was Australia’s greatest cultural loss of the First World War. To start making the bare outlines of this comparison, England in 1901 is dominated by Parry and Stanford, who he’d met at Eton, and Edward Elgar. And they’re following German models in a new high seriousness. He goes to Frankfurt, a conservative city, and a conservative Conservatorium. It’s the natural place to go for a man guided by Tovey, Parry, Steiner and others. Percy Grainger, on the other end of the scale, had been a student there, and composers like Roger Quilter, Cyril Scott and Henry Balfour Gardiner also made the journey.
And of course, it took him time to find his voice. His brother Bertie wrote that, “After several years of hard work and study in Frankfurt, Sep’s character underwent a change. He became very self-critical and imbued with a conscious desire to increase his knowledge of many things which, as a boy, he had laughingly disregarded because they did not interest him. He showed the restraining effects of the straight waistcoat of rigid mental training. But he did not feel at ease, for his natural honesty of character would never be content to rest in a mould of accepted opinion.” Tovey counselled that Kelly would perhaps feel bereft of ideas for a year or two, but should battle on and he will become a real composer.
Kelly’s and Tovey’s relationship remains tense however. The diaries revealing both Kelly’s sincere admiration for his mentor, and flashes of resentment at Tovey’s high-handed manner and innate conservatism. Tovey all the while insisted that established models should be studied and imitated before one could move on to find one’s own voice. But one can’t help thinking that Kelly had done exactly that for several years by now. Returning to the quote that Sep’s brother, Bertie, offered at the beginning of this talk, he continues, “He made a most effective performance of the most difficult works as a young boy, perhaps all the more effective because he was, at that time, quite free from all self-consciousness. His music bore no trace of the studied restraint which he afterwards showed when he worked at it more seriously.”
So this is a phase he had to get through; a crucial, critical phase in his life. There’s plenty of new music in the world. There’s the influence of Delius with its French accent, there are the hymns and the folk songs and French music in Vaughan Williams. There’s the wonderful chromaticism of Scriabin and the breakdown of tonality of Schoenberg. We’ve heard a bit of that music in Canberra International Music Festival, and how wonderful to be able to do so. So this is a crucial time for Kelly, when he needed to move on. And one wishes that he could have thrown off his yoke much earlier. But music from the 1910s does indeed show new harmonic boldness, more experimentation in form and texture, and more individuality. Let’s hear one of his later songs; another recent disc – rediscovery I should say, The Summer is Ended.
[00:53:36 – 00:56:20]
Wickham: Now I’ve spent a week listening to music by Kelly’s Australian contemporaries, and there’s much to admire. My favourite I think’s George W L Marshall-Hall’s best music deserves repeated hearings. His one act opera Stella, has music recalling act one of Puccini’s La Bohème, and a tense, dramatic domestic setting. As the opera unfolds, the quality of inspiration seems to dip however, and Kelly’s comment on it that, “The music seemed to flow along very nicely, if without much force or individuality,” begins to seem just. Marshall-Hall’s quartet for horn, violin, viola and piano is another fine piece, with good sweep and long melodies, fine range of textures using the four instruments. But again, harmony and rhythm start to flatten and flag by the last two movements.
Alfred Hill has become established as a leader of Australian music then, and there’s a good Sonata Movement – a single movement for cello and piano – written when he studied in Leipzig from 1891. Kelly heard Hill’s Māori string quartet in London and four of his songs in 1910, and wrote wittily but perceptively that, “I wanted to size him up as a composer, so I stayed through the whole concert. The string quartet turned out to be rather a pleasing, if somewhat undistinguished work in Sonata form. And the rather elaborate program attached as to the Māoris, their origin and customs, seemed to have very little connection with the music. Two of the songs are written to words of his own, also about Māoris. In another song, a consolation came a quotation of the opening phrase from Tristan and Isolde which nearly broke down my composure. The singer’s manner and voice were also rather a test on one’s powers of control.”
But there’s simply too much music to attempt to finally argue the comparison here, so look we just present you a few tiny excerpts from Australian songs from the same period, staring with Alfred Hill’s A Māori Canoe from 1887, which I’m sure is one of the ones that Kelly is talking about.
[00:58:51 – 01:00:02]
Wickham: And the song goes on. Next, there’s a little piece by Louis Lavater entitled Remembrance, which is very pretty.
[01:00:11 – 01:01:27]
Wickham: Again from the turn of the century, a little song by Mona McBurney, Waldtraut’s Song, in German.
[01:01:43 – 01:2:26]
Wickham: And so it continues. Henry Handel Richardson is a very interesting woman – this is Ethel Richardson – better known as a novelist, but who also studied in Leipzig in the 1880s and in Munich in the 1890s. This song is Goethe’s Erster Verlust ,which you may know in Schubert’s much more well-known setting.
[01:02:49 – 01:03:22]
Wickham: Tiny taste – just a tiny taste. A recent arrival in Australia in 1910 was Fritz Hart, came as a conductor, stayed as a composer and a wonderful teacher in 1909. And this, we think, I believe is his first song written in Australia, The Ewe and the Cyprus, to the poem by Robert Herrick.
[01:03:51 – 01:04:44]
Wickham: And it continues. So there’s good music here. There’s some merely pleasing music. And elsewhere, buried in these vaults, is much that is probably deservedly forgotten. My simple point is that Kelly can stand alongside the best, and even outshine it in flair and invention. Of the Australians at this time, only Percy Grainger stands apart; who Kelly knew well actually, and with whom he often played duets. It’s very hard to compare the two composers though. Kelly, as you can probably hear now, is firmly established in his roots in the 19th century, and Grainger is bounding athletically in his towelling clothes into the 20th century. Grainger’s tireless experimentation, eclectic sources of inspiration and exhilarating, rhythmical energy mark him out as unique and genuinely original. He was really uninterested in perfecting the large scale abstract forms that Kelly did.
And Kelly’s comment on this is honest, maybe slightly barbed, but recognises their different outlooks, “PG is an original musician, but does not seem to me to really care for the greater things in music.” That’s from the heart. I think it acknowledges Kelly’s old fashioned sense of beauty and a gentlemanly connoisseurship. He also wrote, however, that, “My whole impression of Grainger was of a composer of a rather restricted emotional range, but a decided musicality,” with which I think we can agree. And finally he wrote affectionately that, “Percy is delightful and seems to be entirely without any of the meaner human characteristics.” The key comparison though, for Kelly, is to the dominant English composer of the 1910s and beyond. And this is where we bring all our threads together.
Chris puts it thus, “If Ralph Vaughan Williams had also died at the age of 35, their musical output would be an almost exact match in quality and quantity, but with Kelly writing more piano works and Vaughan Williams writing more chamber works.” So in this decade he’s not yet the grand old man of English music, the confident composer of symphonies. But there are already successful songs, orchestral rhapsodies. Vaughan Williams is not a natural pianist, so there was on piano music of note; the songs perhaps only let down by the limits of his piano technique. But this wonderful one song stands out from Vaughan Williams’s output of this time. I think it’s from 1904. We’ll give you a very quick excerpt of Silent Noon. [Pause.]
[01:07:35 – 01:07:45]
Wickham: Now Kelly heard that song and very much liked it, and as he often does in his diary, he notes the opening vocal phrase in musical notation after a concert. He had this fantastic memory as I’ve mentioned. A quick comparison with the two men – we have to do this – in terms of natural ability, both had abundant talent, a puzzling lack of self-confidence, and they also had the ability to work and study. There are great similarities elsewhere. Vaughan Williams studied in Germany with Brooke and acquired confidence. Kelly studies in Germany with Knorr and finds discipline but no spark. How does a composer develop and mature? In Vaughan Williams’s case, “Because so many early works were suppressed, there’s a tendency to imagine that the composer suddenly and surprisingly burst forth in about 1907. That certainly was when he emerged as a musician of positive idiosyncratic character. But the years in the chrysalis were not barren and fruitless.” And that’s Vaughan Williams’s biographer Michael Kennedy.
I mention this because it’s important to understand what Kelly had done at the same decade. Kelly’s a much better pianist. Vaughan Williams a decent violist. Kelly has critical friends but, as we’ve said, very conservative. Vaughan Williams has the enormous advantage of the progressive and supportive Gustav Holst, Fritz Hart, John Ireland, and many opportunities to have his music played. Kelly split his talents into three for a time. Vaughan Williams just one, maybe two if you count the compilation of the English hymnal and his collection of folk songs as separate. But those musical expirations gave Vaughan Williams the confidence that his instincts and language had value and generative power. Kelly was just discovering this self-belief and more progressive techniques before war took up all his time.
So returning to the actual side-by-side chronology. Vaughan Williams served as an artillery officer and as an ambulance driver, as did his and Kelly’s mentor Ravel. But he was by then in his 40s. The Sea Symphony On Wenlock Edge, the London Symphony had already been written. 1910 to 1914 have been crucial for Vaughan Williams’s development. At the same age – going back to our chronology – Kelly spent much of 1905 to 8 in rowing and performing as much as composing in that critical time. But we know, in the end, that Kelly’s Elegy stands alongside the music of George Butterworth in style and quality. Butterworth was sadly another victim of the Somme offensive; his career cut short by war.
As time goes on, we know that Vaughan Williams begins to stand out for individuality of expression, directness and sheer memorability, like Silent Noon. But surely – surely – Kelly, on even this hearing today, deserves to be far more than a footnote in his strength of conviction, his musical dynamism, his seriousness of purpose, his mastery of craft, but also his gift for melody and his sheer charm. I wonder if he was overlooked by Australians as he lived his adult life in Britain, overlooked quickly by the British as being Australian, overlooked by rowers as a part-time musician, and by musicians – particularly critics – as a dilettante rower who happened to play and compose.
And into that unfortunate well, he remained mostly forgotten for something like a century. He wasn’t instantly forgotten I should point out. Jelly d’Aranyi, virtuoso violinist, [unintelligible 01:12:31] of Ravel’s Tzigane and of Kelly’s Gallipoli Sonata – the second – championed his memory as someone who loved him devotedly. A memorial concert was given in London. A few pieces appeared in Schott’s catalogue. Although being in a German publishing house was probably not the best position for a British musician to be after the war, sadly. Time has generally not been kind to Australia’s composers of the first half of the 20th century. Kelly, Fritz Hart, Phyllis Campbell, Roy Agnew, Hooper Brewster Jones, and many others, are for the most part the province of specialists. So it’s really time for serious recognition of Kelly as a giant of early 20th century Australian music, regardless of his ex-patriot status, or his gifts in rowing, or his early death.
[01:12:58 – 01:14:32]
Blackburn: So it’s been a real privilege to hear so much of Frederick Septimus Kelly’s tragic, short life and his amazing legacy, and I have to say that what David has managed to find amongst the Library’s treasures in its collections, has just been astounding. So that we hope that some of his works, which have not been heard up until now, will be heard in the future. That’s the end of our presentation tonight, but David has said that he’s happy to take questions after if you have any; just mix informally. We are opening on the 7th of June our 2022 Friends Creative Arts Fellowship, so that if you or anyone you know thinks they would benefit from this wonderful opportunity, please have a look at the Library’s website. So thank you all for coming. As I said, it’s wonderful to see a whole group of friends together in-person at the Library. And please join me in thanking, for their wonderful presentation, David, Helen and Chris.
[End of recorded material at 01:16:23]
F.S. Kelly (1881-1916) produced a body of compositions in his short lifetime that outshines any of his Australian contemporaries, excepting the extraordinary Percy Grainger. For his National Library of Australia 2021 Creative Arts Fellowship, David Wickham examined all extant Kelly manuscripts in the Library’s collection, with a view to prepare them for publication in five volumes.
This performance, also featuring soprano Helen Brown and violinist Christopher Latham, showcases the songs, solo piano works and the first Violin Sonata of F.S. Kelly for the first time since the composer's death.
David Wickham is a pianist specialising in accompaniment, with considerable recital and opera experience. His field of research is Australian art song, a body of work begun while a lecturer at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He has recorded 9 CDs of Australian songs and chamber music and edited 32 volumes of art songs for the publisher Wirripang. He has broadcast numerous live and studio recitals on ABC Classic FM, and played in the Perth International Festival, at Sydney Opera House, and in shows ranging from recitals to cabarets in Fringe festivals, as well as having been a member of the teaching staff at the Australian Opera Studio and WAAPA for many years.
The Friends of the Library support the Creative Arts Fellowship annually.