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Roy Agnew (1891-1944) : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Etude (solo piano) by Roy Agnew, from the CD Piano Music

Photo of Roy Agnew

Roy Agnew was born in Sydney in 1891 and taught himself to play the piano at an early age. His first formal music tuition was with Emanuel de Beaupuis, an Italian pianist living in Sydney, and he later studied composition with Alfred Hill at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music.

Although Agnew's first publication (Australian Forest Pieces for Piano) appeared in 1913, it was not until Benno Moiseiwitsch performed Deirdre's Lament and Dance of the Wild Men at the Sydney Town Hall in 1920 that his music became known. In 1923 Agnew travelled to London, where he studied with Gerard Williams and Cyril Scott at the Royal College of Music and gave recitals of music by contemporary composers such as Debussy and Stravinsky. His own compositions were performed by William Murdoch (to whom Agnew dedicated Sonata Fantasie), and were also published in London by Augener Ltd, and in New York by the Arthur P. Schmidt Co.

Returning to Sydney in 1928, Agnew's music was beginning to be well-received by Australian audiences. He gave recitals, and his poem for orchestra and voice, The Breaking of the Drought, was encored after a performance conducted by Alfred Hill. However, he did not remain in Australia for long. He married in 1930 and shortly afterwards returned to Britain where he performed his compositions in London and Glasgow and for BBC broadcasts. He remained in Britain for three years, and finally returned to Australia in late 1934 to undertake a recital tour for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

In 1938 he accepted a position with the ABC arranging and presenting a weekly programme on contemporary music, "Modern and Contemporary Composers' Session". He broadcast the music of composers such as Webern, Berg, Busoni, Szymanowski, Debussy, Stravinsky and Scriabin, sometimes performing the pieces himself. He also prepared and presented another programme for the ABC, "Music Through the Ages: The Piano and its Composers" for which he performed the music of composers such as Giles Farnaby, Scarlatti, Mozart, John Field, Chopin and Debussy. He remained with the ABC for five years. Agnew joined the staff of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music at the beginning of 1944, but died in November of that year from septicaemia following tonsillitis.

Apart from his career as a piano recitalist and his compositional activity, Agnew was also a piano teacher, a teacher of 'Practical Composition' and 'General Interpretation and the Art of Pedalling' (his pupils including Dulcie Holland and Frank Hutchens), and an examiner for the Australian Music Examinations Board. He recorded his Sonata Ballade (a prize-winning composition in the NSW Music Association's Sesqui-Centenary Competition) for the Columbia Phonograph Co., and in 1943 the ABC recorded him playing many of his own compositions - forty-four piano works and five songs. These were broadcast nationally and in Papua New Guinea on many occasions.

Analysis & Media

Book: One hand on the manuscript : music in Australian cultural history, 1930-1960 / edited by Nicholas Brown, Peter Campbell, Robyn Holmes, Peter Read & Larry Sitsky.

Book: An analytical study of the piano works of Roy Agnew, Margaret Sutherland and Dulcie Holland, including biographical material / by Rita Sandra Crews.

Book: The career of Roy Agnew and his impact on Australian musical life / Fiona McGregor.