Glanville-Hicks, Peggy (1912–1990)

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Glanville-Hicks, Peggy (1912–1990)

Australian-born composer and critic who was a key figure in the production and promotion of contemporary music in the United States in the years following World War II. Name variations: P.G.-H., P. Glanville-Hicks. Born in Melbourne, Australia, on December 29, 1912; died of a heart attack in Sydney, Australia, on June 25, 1990; daughter of Ernest Glanville-Hicks (an Anglican minister who went on to several other occupations) and Myrtle (Bailey or, possibly King) Glanville-Hicks (a ceramic artist); attended private school in Australia and Royal College of Music, London, 1931–35 (or 1932–36); studied with Nadia Boulanger, 1936–38; married Stanley Bate, on November 7, 1938 (divorced, June 1949); no children.

Left Australia for Britain and received Carlotta Rowe Scholarship for Women at the Royal College (1932, some sources cite 1931); made a visit to India with Indira Gandhi (1933); had compositions broadcast on BBC Empire Service (1934); won Octavia Snow Travelling Scholarship (1936, some sources cite 1935); moved back to Australia (1940); settled in U.S. (1942); hired as a music critic for New York Herald Tribune and made return visit to Australia (1947); became American citizen (1948); received her first Guggenheim grant for study in Greece (1956); settled in Athens (1959); suffered temporary blindness due to brain tumor (1969); returned to Australia (1976, some sources cite 1975); received Royal Medal from Queen Elizabeth II (1977).

Major works:

(opera) The Transposed Heads (1953), Nausicaa (1960); (ballet) The Masque of the Wild Man (1958), Saul and the Witch of Endor (1959); (orchestral pieces): Concertina da Camera (1946), Letters from Morocco (1952).

Of Australian background, Peggy Glanville-Hicks was a distinguished composer who went on to play a major role in the American music scene. The author of five operas and several ballets, Glanville-Hicks was also a skilled composer in numerous other musical genres. She was, in addition, a tireless promoter of modern music. Educated at the Royal College of Music in London and in the Paris studio of Nadia Boulanger , Glanville-Hicks stands as an innovator whose techniques combined neoclassicism and elements from Greece and the Mediterranean world as well as those from various Asian musical traditions. Although she was temporarily hindered in her rise to prominence by a period of distraction while married to fellow composer Stanley Bate, she gained renown starting in the late 1940s. Distressed by the unwillingness of the music world to accept female composers, throughout her career she signed her works as P. G-H. or P. Glanville-Hicks.

In her last years, the noted composer provided abundant, but apparently contradictory, information to two aspiring biographers. Thus, the works by Deborah Hayes and Wendy Beckett sometimes present differing versions of some details, especially dates, concerning the life of Peggy Glanville-Hicks. A vibrant and often difficult personality, she readily responded to critics who disliked her work with caustic notes, asking if they had stayed through the entire performance, and she herself was famous as a confident and opinionated commentator on the composition of others. Writes Beckett: "She was usually straightforward, direct and spontaneous, and if this was her least liked side, it was also her most admired quality." Choreographer John Butler found her "always dominating" but "fascinating" and "worth it."

Peggy Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne, Australia, on December 29, 1912. She was the daughter or Ernest Glanville-Hicks, an Anglican minister, and Myrtle Glanville-Hicks . Peggy's father left the ministry for a variety of other occupations, moving from work as a journalist to become an executive who ran charity operations. Her mother, whom her father met while preaching in New Zealand, was a ceramic artist. Myrtle came from a religious background as well: her father was a minister. She was also, according to members of her family, a talented vocalist and a pianist of professional caliber.

During her piano lessons, the young Glanville-Hicks showed herself to be a gifted musician, and, as early as 12 years of age, she decided to become a composer. She was educated at the local Methodist Ladies College and later at the famous Clyde School, a private academy for girls, in Woodend, Victoria. A teacher at Clyde encouraged Peggy's music ability, though even she failed to grasp the girl's determination to become a composer. A notable temper contributed to Peggy's difficulties at Clyde, and eventually her mother brought her home and permitted Peggy to study at Melbourne's Albert Street Conservatorium. There she received an intensive grounding in musical fundamentals along with training in languages and proper deportment. According to Beckett, the education she received at the "Melbourne Con" was invaluable as a technical basis for her later achievements.

At the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, which she entered with a scholarship in 1931 or 1932, the young Australian worked with some of the most famous figures in the British musical world. One of them, the composer Cyril Scott, quickly recognized her gift in writing original scores. "She has something very definite to say through her compositions and her piano," he declared. Her years at the Royal College brought her into contact with such luminaries as Igor Stravinsky and the conductors Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Thomas Beecham. Beecham sought to recruit her as a conductor, but Peggy stuck to her resolve to compose music.

A lady composer … has to be twice as good.

—Peggy Glanville-Hicks

Glanville-Hicks also became a somewhat eccentric figure whom her college friends remembered all their lives. She espoused socialist political views and developed a friendship with Indira Gandhi , the future prime minister of India, then a student at Oxford. She also smoked a small silver pipe and openly declared her desire to be as famous as the renowned Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the leading composers of the time. A disturbing note for some of her friends was Peggy's infatuation with a fellow composer, Stanley Bate. While she worked ferociously hard at her studies, she sometimes expressed her affection for Bate by taking time to copy out his scores. "She was mesmerised by Bate," writes Beckett, "and found numerous excuses to be in his company."

As a student composer, Glanville-Hicks produced works ranging from chamber music and brief orchestral pieces to a three-act opera. She continued to take time out to work at copying, but she benefited from the opportunity to do such chores for Vaughan Williams. Her years at the Royal College culminated in notable success. In 1936 (some sources cite 1935), she tied with Bate to receive the prestigious Octavia Snow Travelling Scholarship.

Despite their growing romantic link, Glanville-Hicks and Bate went in separate directions. Bate used his award to work under Paul Hindemith in Berlin, but Glanville-Hicks' options were limited since many composers were unwilling to work with female students. She studied briefly in Vienna, then found a more congenial musical home in the studio of Nadia Boulanger, a renowned music teacher in Paris. Her year and a half of study with Boulanger constituted a turning point in the young composer's career. Writes Beckett, "Peggy began to feel a stirring of something original within herself," and "she began to create for the first time." She produced a vast quantity of music, ranging from a concerto for flute and small orchestra to a choral suite for women's voices, and she began the synthesis of diverse musical elements that would characterize much of her career. To her training in neoclassicism, she added characteristics of the music of Greece, India, and other parts of Asia. Glanville-Hicks' interest in Indian music went back to a visit she had made to India with her friend Indira Gandhi in 1933.

Her work in Paris culminated in the performance of her music—two movements from her Choral Suite—at the International Society for Contemporary Music in London in June 1938. She was the first Australian composer to have a work played at this prestigious gathering of European and American experts in contemporary music.

Also in 1938, Glanville-Hicks and Stanley Bate were married in London. He had joined her shortly before to study with Boulanger in Paris, and the two now settled in London with hopes of moving on to the United States. The marriage required a number of serious adjustments for Glanville-Hicks. Bate was openly homosexual, and he frequently indulged in alcoholic binges. She had the task of bailing Bate out of jail when the British police arrested him for such unsanctioned behavior; homosexuality was then a crime in England. Moreover, the couple's financial needs forced her to put aside much of her work as a composer in order to earn money by copying music and writing free-lance articles on musical topics. In the end, she brought her work as a composer to a complete halt while Bate's career soared.

Bate was exempt from military service in World War II due to an old injury to his leg, but he was showing signs of mental illness. Doctors in Britain advised him to get a prolonged period of rest. Peggy arranged their relocation by secretly soliciting work for Bate with an orchestra in her home country, and the two left for Australia in 1940. The pattern of their recent years in Britain repeated itself: Bate enhanced his reputation as a composer in this new locale, while his wife's work languished. A newspaper headline of the time showed their relative reputations: "Mrs. Bate not as famous as her husband is also a composer." Unfortunately, Bate's professional progress increased his tendency to drink to excess.

A turning point in Glanville-Hicks' life came in 1941 when her husband was offered a teaching position at Harvard. The two settled in the United States, but the strains now evident in the marriage pushed them to live apart. While Stanley settled in Boston, Peggy, hoping to renew her career, set up housekeeping in New York. She worked at a variety of jobs, including writing free-lance articles on a range of topics from women's clothing to modern composers. She also moved to acquire American citizenship.

In her new environment, Glanville-Hicks made a name for herself as a music critic. According to Beckett, she worked at first as a part-time writer at the New York Herald Tribune, which needed to fill gaps left by members of the staff who had left for wartime service. On the other hand, Deborah Hayes dates her work as a critic for the Herald Tribune as beginning only in 1947 when Glanville-Hicks obtained a regular position on the staff. By the late 1940s, the newspaper printed column after column of her writing, and her critical reviews regularly appeared two or three times a week. She reportedly worked as a ghost composer as well, doing pieces when the individual who had received the original commission turned out to be unable to complete it. Glanville-Hicks continued to present her ideas at even greater length in a number of American magazines devoted to the music scene. She began to obtain an audience for her own music as well, especially after Columbia Studios had recorded her Concertino da Camera written in 1946.

In addition to these activities, she took on increasing responsibilities within the New York musical community in organizing concerts. As a key figure in the League of Composers Committee in 1943–44, she helped to organize concerts in Central Park. In the International Music Fund, her efforts helped artists reestablish themselves after their careers had been disrupted by the war. Noted Beckett: "Peggy became very much a person who could make things happen."

While her relationship with Stanley Bate languished, Glanville-Hicks began a love affair with Paul Bowles, an American writer-composer and husband of writer Jane Bowles , sometime around 1945. Paul was an expatriate who spent most of his time in Morocco, and he met Glanville-Hicks on one of his visits to New York. Both of them remained married, even though their relationship would extend to the end of the 1950s.

By the last years of the 1940s, Glanville-Hicks' compositions were receiving proper recognition. Twenty of her works had been recorded, and she was soon busy on her second opera. In 1948, her work was performed once again as part of the program of the International Society for Contemporary Music meeting in Amsterdam. This helped spread her reputation to a wide international audience. Moreover, the previous year, she had given a successful series of lectures on modern composers during a visit to her native country. In the next two decades, her career as a composer reached its apex, and her work was now frequently available on records. As her reputation grew, her compositions, notably the Concertino da Camera, were performed in such distinguished venues for modern music as the Yaddo Music Group in New York and the Philadelphia Art Alliance. She was sometimes irritated, however, by reviews that called her a "newcomer" and that labeled a recent composition as "a first work."

A notable new work from Glanville-Hicks' pen was Letters from Morocco. It grew directly upon her fading relationship with Paul Bowles. Since he was firmly rooted in Tangier while she felt herself tied to New York, they could see each other only from time to time. However, she took his letters, especially those with lyric descriptions of life in Tangier, and used them as the basis for this work for voice and orchestra. It was performed for the first time in early 1953 at the Museum of Modern Art. Another milestone in her career at this time was a commission from the Louisville Philharmonic, supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, to write an opera. Taken from a novel by Thomas Mann, The Transposed Heads was first performed in 1954 in Louisville.

Reviewers found her music, despite its firmly modern character, distinguished by its accessibility. Although she did not work with the harmony that characterized more traditional music, her compositions featured the role of melody and rhythm. As one reviewer put it in 1956, Glanville-Hicks' music is "surprisingly easy to understand once her basic principles or ideas are grasped." That same year, another reviewer stated: "Here is music that is, to my ear, the best of the new."

Continually interested in sponsoring the work of young composers, Glanville-Hicks found an appropriate tool for such efforts in the Composers Forum of New York. She became its director in the early 1950s and set about organizing a series of concerts each year that mixed the work of newcomers with that of established conductors. These performances were often followed by the recording of some of the key works presented. In these same years, she took on the massive task of updating the material on American composers for Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The revised edition, with her material occupying a prominent place, appeared in 1954.

The composer's marriage with Stanley Bate came to an end in 1949. The two had lived separately since their arrival in the United States in the early 1940s. Glanville-Hicks flew to Reno to obtain the divorce, but Beckett suggests that Bate took the initiative in pushing for a formal end to the marriage; he was becoming involved with a wealthy Brazilian woman named Margarida Nogueora who was willing to sponsor his work. In October 1959, Glanville-Hicks was devastated to learn of Bate's death from an over-dose of sleeping pills. It is likely that he took his life deliberately after Nogueora discovered his homosexuality and terminated their relationship. Glanville-Hicks remained a devotee of Bate's musical accomplishments, and she saw to it that all of his scores still available were gathered and preserved.

In addition to the stimulus she continued to receive from Indian civilization, Glanville-Hicks became increasingly interested in the archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean. She collected Etruscan art, and in 1956 her Etruscan Concerto for piano and orchestra was performed for the first time. It tried to capture the moods of Etruscan archaeological sites as described by authors such as D.H. Lawrence. Like much of her work, it was designed to be played by a specific artist, in this case Carlo Bussotti, a talented Florentine pianist.

Seeking to pursue her interest in exotic forms of music, Glanville-Hicks used money she had inherited from her late mother and set off for Greece. She soon bought a house in Athens, and, a few years later, a second home on the island of Mikonos. She took advantage of her residence in Greece to study the country's folk music. Several awards, including two Guggenheim grants in the late 1950s, served as a valuable form of recognition of her status as a composer. They also permitted her extended stretches of time to devote to writing music, and she now wrote only occasional critical pieces for the Herald Tribune.

A new turn in Glanville-Hicks' work came in the late 1950s when she concentrated on music for the ballet. The Masque of the Wild Man and Saul and the Witch of Endor appeared in 1958 and 1959, respectively. Meanwhile, her growing tie to Greece helped foster collaborations with some of the great literary figures of her time. Since the mid-1950s, she had been working on Nausicaa, an opera set in Greece and based on Robert Graves' novel Homer's Daughters. Nausicaa had a triumphal premiere at the Athens Festival of August 1961. Starting in 1963, she became immersed in a similar project, developing a opera entitled Sappho from the novel by Lawrence Durrell. Due to artistic disagreements between the two, the finished product never reached the stage.

These years of achievement were accompanied by both mental and physical ailments. In the aftermath of Stanley Bate's death, observers close to her noticed Glanville-Hicks' heavy drinking, and she now suffered from depression and panic attacks. Her eyesight also began to deteriorate noticeably. As early as 1961, both the British and the American press reported that she was going blind. In 1966, her sight worsened to the point that she was taken to a hospital in New York and diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Glanville-Hicks' artistic successes had so far outstripped her financial rewards that a group of her friends had to launch a campaign to raise the money for the surgery she needed. Luminaries of the music world like Herald Tribune critic Virgil Thompson and violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin took the lead in contributing to the fund. The surgery was successful, and the composer's sight was restored. She was dismayed, however, to learn from her doctor soon afterward that her life expectancy was now only three or four years.

She now retired to her home in Greece. In that inexpensive locale, she was able to live on the royalties from her work. To her happy surprise, her health remained stable. After several years had passed, she announced to a friend: "I've been twiddling my fingers for years and now it hasn't happened. I'm going to live." Typically, she celebrated her revelation with a stiff drink of brandy.

In the early 1970s, she began to think of returning to Australia. Her family had remained in close touch with her, and she heard that her music was becoming increasingly accepted in her home country. Moreover, she was disturbed by many of the new trends in electronic music and had little desire to remain tied to New York, the center of the avant-garde music world.

In 1975 or 1976, Glanville-Hicks began to live in Australia once again. In 1977, she was honored by a medal from Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of the monarch's silver jubilee. Tapping her long-standing interest in various areas of Asian music, Glanville-Hicks obtained part-time work at the Australian Music Center as a lecturer on Asian music. In her last years, she was sometimes disturbed to find her own music presented in only mediocre performances in her native country, but she threw herself into a new project, an opera entitled Becket based on T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Increasingly frail, she was unable to accept an invitation in 1984 to be composer-in-residence at California's Cabrillo Music Festival. Three years later, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney. She was still at work on Becket when she suffered a fatal heart attack at her home in Sydney on June 25, 1990.


Beckett, Wendy. Peggy Glanville-Hicks. Pymble, Australia: Angus and Robertson, 1992.

Ewen, David. American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary. NY: Putnam, 1982.

Hayes, Deborah. Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Bio-Bibliography. NY: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Randall, Don Michael, ed. The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1996.

suggested reading:

Miller, Jeffrey, ed. In Touch: The Letters of Paul Bowles. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Sawyer-Laucanno, Christopher. An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles. NY: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Neil M. Heyman , Professor of History, San Diego State University, San Diego, California

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Glanville-Hicks, Peggy (1912–1990)

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