Beath, Betty (1932—)

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Beath, Betty (1932—)

Australian composer who wrote chamber, choral, and instrumental music as well as music for the theater. Name variations: Elizabeth Margaret Beath Cox. Born Elizabeth Margaret Eardley on November 19, 1932, in the Gooburrum district near Bundaberg, Queensland; oldest of five daughters of Edith Mary and Maurice Wilmot Eardley (a cane farmer); married John Beath (a patrol officer), in 1953; married David Cox (a writer and artist), in 1970; children: (first marriage) two. Awarded the University of Queensland Music Scholarship to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (1950).

Realizing that her daughter was talented and resources in the district were limited, Edith Eardley felt study in a distant town with a respected teacher was her daughter's only alternative. Thus, Betty Eardley (Beath) was sent away at age three to study piano with Lorna Pollard . Beath would later recall that her early training called for a pink ribbon on her right wrist, a blue on her left. These ribbons corresponded with treble notes in pink on the score and bass notes in blue. Her family then moved to Brisbane so that Beath could live at home and study music. While in school, she regularly presented recital programs on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Young Australia Program.

In 1950, she began studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with the composer Frank Hutchens. Her marriage in 1953 interrupted her studies, and she did not return to full-time musical activity until her two children were older. She and her husband John Beath, a patrol officer, went to Papua and the tiny island of Abau where she was the only white woman.

In 1970, she met and married David Cox, a writer and artist, who encouraged his new wife to pursue her composing interests. In 1972, they collaborated on a 40-minute opera for children titledThe Strange Adventures of Marco Polo. Other commissions followed as Beath literally began her career in middle age. The couple created another opera The Raja Who Married an Angel, which was also quite popular. A volume of poems by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold , The Beasts' Choir, handed to Beath as she was leaving a dinner party, provided the inspiration for her next work, Songs from the Beasts' Choir. Roman Gales premiered this work at Carnegie Hall. In 1984, Beath developed a program about women composers which came to be a regular feature on Australian radio about the works of women.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia