Which composers and works come to mind when you think of the great symphonies of the 20th century? Shostakovich’s Fifth? Sibelius’s Seventh? Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie  perhaps? Are Australian symphonies and their composers on your list? Unbeknownst to many, there is a considerable body of Australian symphonies from the 1890s to the present. However, our lack of awareness of this music has prevented its dissemination at home or to the major music centres of the world.

1890s – 1930s: THE PIONEERS

We begin with three pioneering figures. The colourful George Marshall-Hall arrived in Melbourne from England in 1891 and dominated music there until his untimely death in 1951 at age 53. He is remembered as a pioneer of tertiary music education. Appointed as the first Ormond Professor of Music at the University of Melbourne, he was subsequently dismissed in 1900 following outrage over the publication of his book of poems which were deemed sacrilegious. He then set up a rival academy of music, which later became the Melba Conservatorium.

Arthur Streeton’s portrait of George Marshall-Hall (1862 – 1915)

His Symphonies in C Minor (1892) and E Flat (1903), cast in three large movements, demonstrate compelling craftsmanship,...