Esther Rofe (1904-2000) : Represented Artist
Photo: Rebekah Thompson
Esther Rofe was born in Melbourne in 1904 and studied with Alberto Zelman jnr, Fritz Hart and A.E. Floyd. A talented violinist and pianist, she worked as an accompanist, and performed with small ensembles and the original Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In the early 1930s Esther enrolled at the Royal College of Music and studied with, amongst others, Gordon Jacob, Ralph Vaughan Williams and R.O. Morris. She was there at the same time as Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Miriam Hyde, John Tallis, and later with Dulcie Holland. It was at the College that she committed herself to composition.
Rofe returned to Australia at the outbreak of World War II worked at the ABC and then in the Colegate-Palmolive Radio Unit in Sydney for a five-year stint. She had the uncanny ability to be able move easily between serious composition and the needs of the commercial environment . In the Unit she composed, arranged, conducted and organised the musicians' calls. She found it tiring work as nearly every musical item was live to air.
The ballets in which she wrote the music proved to be mainstays with either the Borovansky Ballet (Sea Legend and Terra Australis) or the Ballet Guild of Victoria (L'Amour Enchantee (later The Lake), and Mathinna).
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s Esther continued to compose but the motivation was lessened by the lack of performance opportunities. Like so many of her generation she was distanced by her younger colleagues for being out step with newer compositional trends.
However, these hardlined attitudes did not last, and when in the late 1980s Australians began to re-evaluate their past in positive rather than negative ways, it was only a matter of time before Esther was 'rediscovered'. With her support, Therese Radic, Pauline Petrus, Monique Geitenbeek, and Jeannie Marsh (amongst others), were eager to see that her music was given a another chance to breathe again.
The last years of her life were hampered by poor eyesight but this did not stop her from composing and, with all the attention she was receiving, it was with renewed vigour. Her cantata Somebody Asked was completed only just last year. In between the composing tasks Esther was the Composer-of-Honour in the School of Music-Conservatorium at Monash University in 1993 and five years later was the, Australia Day Citizen of the Year for the City of Boroondara. In 1998 she became a represented composer at the Australian Music Centre, and in December 1999 the Esther Rofe Songbook (an AMC publication) was launched in Melbourne.
Esther Rofe died in February 2000.