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Robert Hughes (1912-2007) : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Symphony : full orchestra by Robert Hughes, from the CD Australian composers


Photo of Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes (1912-2007) is as renowned for his own music as he is for promoting and supporting other Australian composers’ work. His compositional successes, as well as his work in organisations such as the Australasian Performing Right Association (of which he was chairman between 1977 and 1985) and the Music Board of the Australia Council, led him to be awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australia Day Honours in 2005.

Hughes’s early life was not necessarily an indicator of the accolades that would later follow. Born the son of a fishmonger in Leven, Scotland in 1912, Hughes immigrated to Melbourne with his family in 1929 at the age of seventeen. There were not many opportunities in Melbourne for an aspiring composer in those days, and Hughes ended up working as a costing clerk for a clothing company while trying to increase his knowledge and understanding of music through the study of orchestration books, and by attending as many concerts as he could.

In 1938 Hughes was offered a scholarship to study at the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music. Due to the need to support his family, however, Hughes was only able to take up the offer of private lessons with A.E.H. Nickson, the Melbourne music teacher and critic. When World War II began the following year, Hughes enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. While posted in the New Guinea jungle he heard the first public broadcast of one his compositions played over the field radio.

After the war, Hughes became the music arranger and editor for the Victorian Symphony Orchestra (later the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). Some of his best-known orchestral scores originate from this period, including Symphony no. 1, which was awarded first prize in the Australian section of the Jubilee Competition of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1951, and Sinfonietta, which was commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra in Britain for its centenary season in 1957. The musicologist Roger Covell described Hughes’s early music as 'muscular, pugnacious, assertive, with a dark, troubled, driving quality'.

A later notable commission was Sea Spell, which, somewhat unusually, was written for the Australian Dental Association for the Twentieth International Dental Congress. The first performance in 1973 was one of the first held at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. One of his later important commissions was Essay II, which was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the ABC in 1982.


Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2005 Order of Australia Officer of the Order For service to the arts through music, particularly as a composer, and for the promotion of Australian music through representative organisations for musicians
2003 Classical Music Awards - Distinguished Services to Australian Music Winner
1997 Classical Music Awards - Long-Term Contribution to the Advancement of Australian Music Winner

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Masquerade overture : full orchestra Commissioned by Festival of Perth.

Analysis & Media

Book: The Australian symphony from Federation to 1960 / Rhoderick McNeill.

- Article: Across her bridge of dreams