Saturday, 8 March 2014


“A woman is like a tea bag - you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy International Women’s Day! March 8 is International Women's Day as commemorated by the United Nations and celebrated in many countries around the world. Women on all continents, who are often divided by nationality, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, and they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

This commemorative day celebrates ordinary women as makers of history and as the foundation stone on which family is built. The idea of an International Women’s Day first arose at the turn of the 20th century, which in the then industrialised world was a period of expansion and turbulence, social and economic changes, booming population growth and radical ideologies.

For Music Saturday, music by an Australian woman, Peggy Winsome Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990). Glanville-Hicks was born in St Kilda, Melbourne in 1912. At age 15 she began studying composition with Fritz Hart in Melbourne. She also studied the piano under Waldemar Seidel. She spent the years from 1931 to 1936 as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, where she studied piano with Arthur Benjamin, conducting with Constant Lambert and Malcolm Sargent, and composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams (she later asserted that the idea that opens Vaughan Williams’ 4th Symphony was taken from her, and it reappears in her 1950s opera “The Transposed Heads”). Her teachers also included Egon Wellesz.

From 1949 to 1958 she served as a critic for the New York Herald Tribune and took out U.S. citizenship. After leaving America, she lived in Greece from 1957 to 1976. In the United States she asked George Antheil to revise his “Ballet Mécanique” for a modern percussion ensemble for a concert she helped to organise before returning to Australia in the late 1970s. She lost her sight in the last years of living in the U.S. as a result of a brain tumour. She had this tumour successfully removed in a marathon operation and regained her sight. However, a result of this operation was her loss of a sense of smell.

She died in Sydney in 1990. Her will established the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composers’ House in her home in Paddington, Sydney, as a residency for Australian and overseas composers. Major works in her output include the “Sinfonia da Pacifica”, “Etruscan Concerto”, “Concerto Romantico”, and her “Harp Sonata” which was premiered by Nicanor Zabaleta in 1953, as well as several operas. Her best known operas are “The Transposed Heads” and “Nausicaa”. “The Transposed Heads” is in six scenes with a libretto by the composer after Thomas Mann and premiered in Louisville, Kentucky on 27 March 1954.

“Nausicaa” was composed in 1959-60 and premiered in Athens in 1961. The libretto was prepared together with Robert Graves in Majorca in 1956, based on his novel “Homer’s Daughter.” Her last opera, “Sappho”, was composed in 1963 for the San Francisco Opera, with hopes that Maria Callas would sing the title role. However, the company rejected the work and it has never been produced. This opera was recorded in 2012 by Jennifer Condon conducting the Orquestra Gulbenkian and Coro Gulbenkian with Deborah Polaski in the title role.

She was married to British composer Stanley Bate, who was gay, from 1938 to 1949, when they divorced. She married journalist Rafael da Costa in 1952; the couple divorced the following year. She was also involved with Mario Monteforte Toledo and Theodore Thomson Flynn. Like Bate, many of the men with whom Glanville-Hicks was close were gay; she had few intimate female friends, and often dressed in male attire. She was an intimate friend of the expatriate U.S. writer and composer Paul Bowles, and they remained very close all their lives.

Here is her “Etruscan Concerto” for Piano. Glanville-Hicks wrote the “Etruscan Concerto” in 1954 for the then 32-year-old Italian virtuoso pianist Carlo Bussotti. The Etruscan was the first of three concerto-like works composed by her in the mid 1950s, followed by the “Concertino Antico” (1955) for harp and string quartet, and the “Concerto Romantico” (1956) for viola and chamber orchestra. The commission forms part of a cluster of successful works written during this decade, which was to be the most productive period of her composing career. Lester Trimble said of this work: “[It is]...riotously rhythmic in its speedy movements ...all very delicately exotic, and yet quite clear and Anglo-Saxon in its means.”


  1. Fascinating piece of history. Thank you.

  2. A new one on me, but so refreshing. Thanks for posting.

  3. If anyone tries to stick me in hot water, well I guess i'll probably just boil :)