Sutherland, Margaret (1897–1984)

views updated

Sutherland, Margaret (1897–1984)

Australian composer. Born Margaret Ada Sutherland in Adelaide, South Australia, on November 20, 1897; died in Melbourne on August 12, 1984; daughter of Alice (Bowen) Sutherland and George Sutherland (leader writer on The Age); attended Marshall HallConservatorium; married Dr. Norman Albiston, in 1926 (divorced 1948); children: two.

Selected works:

Pavan (1938); Prelude and Jig (1939); Suite on a Theme of Purcell (1939); Concertino (1939); Concerto (1945); Rondel (1945); Adagio (1946); Threesome (1947); Ballad Overature (1948); Bush Ballad (1950); The Haunted Hills (1950); Open Air Piece (1953); Violin Concerto (1954); Concerto Grosso (1955); Outdoor Overature (1958); Three Temperaments (1958); Movement (1959); Concertante (1961); Fantasy (1962).

Margaret Sutherland's career documents what all composers, especially women, endure as they struggle to gain recognition. She was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1897. In 1914, she received a scholarship to study at the Marshall Hall Conservatorium. She also studied with Edward Goll and Fritz Hart, and the Belgian conductor and violinist Henri Verbrugghen provided opportunities for Sutherland to hear live music, particularly chamber music. When she was 19, he invited her to go to Sydney to perform Beethoven's G major Piano Concerto. In 1923, Sutherland went to Europe for further study with Arnold Bax in London. While there, she composed her Sonata for Violin and Piano which Bax considered the best he had ever heard written by a woman. After two years' study in London, Paris, and Vienna, she returned to Australia in 1925. Sutherland would struggle for the next four decades. There was little interest in new music in Australia, making it particularly difficult for her compositions to be heard. Friends arranged performances of her music at small gatherings in Melbourne. Sutherland married in 1926 and had two children. For the next decade, she taught at the Melbourne Conservatory as well as privately. She did not compose much during this time although she continued to perform in chamber groups.

In 1935, ten years after she wrote it, her Sonata for Violin and Piano was published. That same year, she completed Suite on a Theme of Purcell, a work that received many performances under the direction of George Szell. In 1937, she composed Dithyramb. String Quartet, House Quartet, Pavan for Orchestra, The Soldier, and Prelude for Jig followed. During World War II, Sutherland arranged mid-day concerts of works of modern Australian composers which were sponsored by the Red Cross. Although the Australian Broadcasting Company could have broadcast the concerts, they were ignored. As an active member of the Council for Education, Music, and the Arts, Sutherland worked tirelessly to reform music education in her country, which she felt lacked creativity. In 1943, she determined to set aside land for the Victoria Arts Center, collecting over 40,000 signatures to implement the project. The Center was completed in 1982.

After Sutherland's divorce in 1948, she began a creative period in her life during which she composed nine orchestral works, twelve chamber works, a chamber opera, and many smaller pieces. Also that year, Boosey and Hawkes agreed to publish her Concerto for String Orchestra which she had submitted under the name "M. Sutherland." The offer was withdrawn, however, when the publisher discovered the "M." stood for Margaret. When this work was performed in 1958, The Sydney Herald News noted on February 17, "Another concerto for strings by Margaret Sutherland of Melbourne was not out of place in this august company." When her Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra did not win the Composers Competition Concert in Sydney in 1958, some were critical of the judges, as they considered hers to be "a far more finished and solidly inspired composition" than the winning piece. The Haunted Hills, which premiered in 1951, was recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as was her orchestral suite, Three Temperaments, composed in 1958. The Australian Broadcasting Company recorded 19 of Sutherland's orchestral and chamber works, although not all were widely available.

In the 1950s, Sutherland organized the Camerata Society, a chamber group dedicated to performing Australian music. It was no easy feat to assure that younger Australian composers would have an opportunity to have their music performed. In 1965, she collaborated with Lady Maie Casey on The Young Kabbarli, a chamber opera based on the life of Daisy May Bates , a pioneer worker among the Aborigines. This work was the first Australian opera to be recorded in Australia. Toward the end of her life, Sutherland's compositions finally began to gain the recognition long denied her. At age 70, she received her first commission, and the University of Melbourne awarded her an honorary doctorate. At age 73, she was made an Officer of the British Empire Order. For her 75th birthday, a week of celebrations marked her accomplishments. During that celebration, Dr. H.C. Coombs, chair of the Australian Council for the Arts, noted: "Dr. Sutherland was one of the first practicing artists to proclaim the need for a unified vision of the arts. [She was] also in the very front ranks of those who ventured to be identified unequivocally as a modern Australian composer." Sutherland lived to be 87 and her contributions were increasingly recognized. Said James Murdock, "If Alfred Hill is the Father of Australian music, then Margaret Sutherland is the Matriarch."


LePage, Jane Weiner. Women Composers, Conductors, and Musicians of the Twentieth Century. Vol. III. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1988, pp. 250–263.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

More From