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Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984) : Represented Artist

Sutherland's music generally displays cogent and sinewy strength of argument happily merged with a rich and humane emotionalism.

Random Audio Sample: Two chorale preludes (solo piano) by Margaret Sutherland, from the CD Retrospect


Photo of Margaret Sutherland

The stature of Margaret Sutherland is unique in Australian music. She is honoured both as a distinguished composer and as one who continuously generated fresh interest and activity in the field of music. She asserted the importance of new music, particularly the work of Australian composers, and demonstrated her commitment to this belief by an extraordinary range of activities.

Her work spans more than fifty-five years, with more than ninety compositions, years of inspired teaching, recitals, and close personal involvement with Australian poets, young composers, with music education, and with the wider struggle for the recognition of the arts in Australia.

Margaret Sutherland was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on November 20th, 1897. When she was four years old, her family, noted for its artistic and musical interests, moved to Melbourne, Victoria, where she lived until her death in 1984.

In 1914 she was awarded a scholarship to study piano with Edward Goll, and composition with Fritz Hart at the Marshall Hall Conservatorium, where she completed her term of scholarship, after which she taught piano and theory and worked as assistant to Edward Goll.

In 1923 she went to London and Vienna where she became involved in the musical life of these cities and absorbed the influences of European culture. In England, Sir Arnold Bax became a valued friend and musical mentor. She returned to Australia in 1925. During World War II she arranged midday chamber music concerts for the Red Cross and became a member of the Council for Education, Music and the Arts (CEMA). For many years she was associated with the Australian Advisory Committee for UNESCO, and was a member of the Advisory Board for the Australian Music Fund as well as a Council Member of the National Gallery Society of Victoria. She was also instrumental in promoting the plan for the present Victorian Arts Centre.

Margaret Sutherland's only opera The Young Kabbarli,based on an incident in the life of Daisy Bates, was composed in 1964, and received its first performance at the Theatre Royal, Hobart, in 1965. It was again performed by the State Opera of South Australia, in Adelaide and in Melbourne in 1972, and was honoured as the first Australian opera recorded in Australia.

More than half of Margaret Sutherland's compositions are chamber works, reflecting her life-long participation in this form and her final reputation will almost certainly rest on the body of this work. Her music generally displays cogent and sinewy strength of argument happily merged with a rich and humane emotionalism.

In 1976, Graeme Murphy choreographed her orchestral work Haunted Hills in the award-winning Glimpses which has been performed with great success by the Australian Ballet and the Dance Company of New south Wales (now the Sydney Dance Company).

In 1969 Margaret Sutherland was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Melbourne in recognition of her contribution to Australian music. In 1970 Commonwealth recognition followed with the awarding of an OBE.

It was Margaret Sutherland who pioneered new music in the first half of this century in Australia, at a time when Australian composers experienced public indifference and a profound sense of isolation. Also she laboured under the extreme disadvantage in Australia, of being a woman. But for her example, it is unlikely that Australia would have produced such a proliferation of woman composers.


Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Pieces for cembalo : harpsichord solo (1938) Written for Mansell Kirby

Analysis & Media

Book: Women of note : the rise of Australian women composers / Rosalind Appleby.

Book: The music of Margaret Sutherland / David Symons.

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

- Program note: Margaret Sutherland's "Concertante for Oboe and Strings: