Australian composer Colin Brumby passed away in Brisbane today at the age of 84.

Brumby was represented by the Australian Music Centre, which posted a statement on its website saying: “It is with great sadness that we receive the news of Colin Brumby’s passing in Brisbane this morning.”

“His passing leaves a significant legacy, as his vast musical output includes symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, film scores, musicals, chamber music, songs and choral works, amongst others. Many of these works have found a place in the repertoire, and continue to enjoy performances and broadcasts in many contexts. Along with many in the music community, in Brisbane and around Australia, we send our condolences to his wife Jenny.”

Colin BrumbyComposer Colin Brumby, who was a long-time announcer at 4MBS Classic FM. Photograph: 4MBS

Brumby was also a long-time announcer and programmer at 4MBS Classic FM. In a tweet, the radio station said:

4MBS Classic FM has since announced that it will present a special two-hour programme of Brumby’s music tomorrow (Thursday) from 2pm.

Born in Melbourne in 1933, Brumby was educated at the Glen Iris State School, Spring Road Central School, and Melbourne Boys’ High School. It was while he was studying for a Bachelor of Music at the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music that he began to develop an interest in composition.

In an interview celebrating his 80th birthday, published by the Australian Music Centre, he recalled how as a conservatorium student in the 1950s he decided to take formal lessons and enrolled as a student of Dorian le Gallienne. “After two lessons it was clear that this was not one of my best decisions,” said Brumby. “I then sought help from the freelance conductor, Verdon Williams, who set as an exercise the composition of a work for oboe and string orchestra.” This resulted in his first work to receive a professional performance: Romance for Oboe and Strings, which was performed on ABC radio by the Czech-born Australian oboist Jirí Tancibudek with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1954.

After graduating from the Conservatorium, Brumby taught for several years then in 1962 he won a Spanish Government Scholarship and left Australia to study advanced musical composition under Philipp Jarnach at an international music course in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It was there that he met Australian guitarist John Williams, who suggested he should go to London. Taking Williams’ advice, Brumby was appointed Head of Music at Greenford Grammar School, and studied composition privately with Alexander Goehr. This resulted in his major orchestral work, Fibonacci Variations of 1963, which was premiered a year later by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Henry Krips and then performed at the Perth Festival where it was hailed by one critic as putting him “at the cutting edge of serial music in Australia” at that time.

Brumby returned to Australia in 1964 and joined the Department of Music at the University of Queensland. In the late 60s, at the invitation of the Queensland Division of the Arts Council of Australia, he composed several 20-minute operettas for children, which were toured around the state where they were enjoyed by more than 70,000 children annually.

From 1968 – 1971, Brumby was Music Director at Queensland Opera Company. In 1972, he was awarded a Doctorate in Music by the Melbourne University, prior to returning to Europe for a further 12 months of study in advanced music composition with Franco Evangelisti in Rome.

During this time, his dissatisfaction with the prevailing atonal style of composition came to a head and he returned to composing tonal music with The Phoenix and the Turtle for string orchestra and harpsichord written when Musica Viva commissioned him to compose something for the 1974 Australian tour of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner.

This work marked a lasting change of compositional style for Brumby, who said at the time, that he had become convinced that the atonal style “was an attempt to raise gibberish to an art form. When I said so publicly, I knew that it would earn me few friends among the composing fraternity, but many amongst the music loving public – and this indeed proved to be the case.”

Brumby is one of Australia’s most frequently broadcast and performed composers. His huge musical output includes symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, film scores, musicals, chamber music, songs and choral works.

In 1981, he was awarded an Advance Australia Award for services to music, and the Don Banks Music Award in 1990.


Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine