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Keith Humble (1927-1995) : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Arcade V : full orchestra by Keith Humble, from the CD Nexus, Nocturnes


Photo of Keith Humble

Photo: La Trobe University

Keith Humble was born in Geelong, Victoria, in 1927. He started to learn the piano at the age of five, and while in high school began to perform with jazz groups. In 1946 he enrolled at the Melbourne University Conservatorium, where he studied traditional harmony, composition and counterpoint. The awarding of an AMEB Commonwealth Scholarship enabled him to travel to Britain in 1950 to study at the Royal College of Music, London. Here he studied under Howard Ferguson and Paul Steinitz to obtain his Licentiate Diploma, before travelling to Paris on another scholarship to attend the École Normale de Musique, where he studied piano with Madame Bascourret, Alfred Cortot's assistant. Humble was accepted as a private composition student by René Leibowitz, who introduced him to the concept of serialism.

After studying with Leibowitz for a year, Humble became his teacher's assistant, working as a rehearsal pianist for recordings such as Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, and also gaining experience as a conductor. Having been offered a position on the staff of the Melbourne Conservatorium, Humble returned to Australia in 1956, but became so discouraged by the lack of interest in contemporary music that he remained in Australia for only one year before returning to Paris. He returned to working with Leibowitz on recording projects and in classes and established the Centre de Musique at the American Centre for Students and Artists in 1959. He was the musical director of the Centre de Musique from 1960 until he returned to Australia permanently in 1966, resuming this position for periods of three and six months respectively in 1966/67 and 1968. In this period (1959-68) Humble also gave 'composition classes for the young', for 7 to 12-year olds.

In 1964 Humble undertook a lecture/recital tour of colleges and universities in the USA and also visited Australia briefly to present a composers' workshop, which has been regarded as being the impetus for the formation of the Melbourne Branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). He returned permanently in 1966, taking up the position of Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Conservatorium, where he established the Electronic Music Studio at the Grainger Centre, re-established the Opera School and formed the Society for the Private Performance of New Music (SPPNM).

In 1974, Humble returned to Australia and was appointed Foundation Professor at La Trobe University. This position gave him the opportunity to put into practice the ideas on music education he had been formulating throughout his career, and which had hitherto only occasionally been realised, in such achievements as the Centre de Musique. As the brief for the establishment of the department was that it should complement the other tertiary music institutions already established in Melbourne, Humble was able to make technology a focal point, placing electronic music on an equal footing with more traditional music studies.

Humble helped to found the Australian Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) in 1975, with the purpose of promoting contemporary music and encouraging and performing the work of young Australian composers. His vision for this ensemble was that it would be a national group, which would present the best of contemporary music played by the best available performers. He himself performed with the group and was their musical director until 1978. An accomplished pianist and conductor, Humble made regular tours of Europe and the USA to perform, and was frequently a guest lecturer at American universities. He maintained a special relationship with the University of California, San Diego, where he was several times Visiting Professor after having made Australia his permanent home. The periods of time he spent in this fashion at UCSD between 1982 and 1986 saw him engaged in computer-assisted experimental and intuitive music research as part of the ensemble KIVA, in conjunction with Professors Jean-Charles Francois and John Silber.

In his compositions, Humble's early influences came from the Second Viennese School; his intense studies with Leibowitz resulting in his String trio completed in 1953. He was subsequently in Paris among the avant garde during a period of heated aesthetic debate between the students of musique concrete and the phonic poets. In establishing the Centre de Musique in 1959, Humble looked towards a synthesis of particular sounds while avoiding the dogma of these opposing traditions. His interests in electronic writing emerged from this period and was accompanied by a particular interest in the timbre of sound and the various possibilities offered by electronically generated sounds, tape-machines and acoustic instruments. One of his most important works from the 1960s was Music for monuments for prepared tapes featuring a collage of sounds and a solo basson part incorporating elements of randomness. His establishment of the SPPNM with Barry McKimm on his return to Australia also demonstrated Humble's committment to experimental forms and styles and which was manifested in works such as the his Nunique series of large-scale music theatre works.

In 1982 Humble was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to music and in 1989 he retired from La Trobe University. He continued to compose and his last orchestral work, A symphony of sorrows (1993) demonstrates his increasingly expressive musical language.

Keith Humble died on 23 May 1995. His activities for ISCM, the ACME, his conducting of ABC and Conservatorium groups and contemporary ensembles, his membership of the Music Committees of the Australia Council for the Arts and his own personal championing of new music, as a composer, educator and brilliant pianist, have together had a marked effect on Australia's musical climate.


Teacher/Influence on

Tony Gould

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
1982 Order of Australia Member of the Order
1970 Albert H Maggs Composition Award First Prize

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Sonata for flute and piano : flute with piano (1991) Commissioned by 2MBS-FM Radio (Sydney).
Digital sheet music sample Soundscapes too : version for instrumental ensemble & tape (1987) Commissioned by Ensemble Pipeline.
Digital sheet music sample Sonata for percussion : percussion (1986) Commissioned by Graeme Leak.
Digital sheet music sample Ways-by-ways : for sextet (1983) Commissioned by Flederman Ensemble.
Digital sheet music sample Trio No. 2 : for violin, clarinet & piano (1980) Commissioned by Collegium Ensemble.