Peggy Glanville-Hicks

Peggy Glanville-Hicks


• 1912 1990


Fascinated by Greek, Aegean demotic, and Far Eastern musics, this Australian-born composer united these influences with contemporary techniques to create a unique musical voice. She began composition studies at the Melbourne Conservatorium in 1927 with Fritz Hart (composer of 20 operas and conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). From 1931 to 1935, she studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams after gaining a scholarship to London's Royal College of Music. An Octavia Travelling Scholarship allowed her to study with Wellesz in Vienna and Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1936 - 1938). In 1938, Sir Adrian Boult conducted her Choral Suite for female chorus, oboe, and string orchestra at the I.S.C.M. Festival in London.

She moved to New York in 1942 and lived there until 1959, becoming an American citizen in 1948. Her Concertino da camera was performed at an I.S.C.M. Festival in Amsterdam that year and her Thomsonia, with its humorous text built of quotes from Virgil Thomson's music reviews, was premiered in 1949. Her first major opera, The Transposed Heads (1953), was premiered in 1954 in Louisville. Based on Thomas Mann's 1940 novella, subtitled A Whimsical Legend of India, the composer humorously mixes erotic fantasy with Indian philosophy and religion. Terror, religious awe, and sympathy are awakened in a tragi-comedy of errors, as Sita misplaces two friends' heads on opposite bodies after the two have beheaded themselves, one out of piety and one out of friendship and fear of accusation. The lively score sophisticatedly combines elements of neo-Classicism and North Indian classical music and employs tabla and Indian bells in the percussion section which is equal in orchestral activity with the strings, brass, and winds.

Glanville-Hicks became deeply involved in various social activites centered around music after her move to America. She co-founded the International Music Fund, which helped to re-establish European artists after World War II; she was a director of the New York Composers' Forum; she organized concerts of contemporary music at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, and Central Park; in 1958 she founded the Artists' Company, which promoted American opera; and she was a music critic for The New York Herald Tribune from 1948 -- 1958.

A Fulbright Fellowship (1960) and a Rockefeller Grant (1961) enabled Glanville-Hicks to pursue her research in Aegean demotic and Middle and Far Eastern musics. Her operas Nausicaa (1961), with a libretto by the composer and Robert Graves, and Sappho (1965), which sets a text by Lawrence Durrell, directly reflect these influences. She settled in Athens in 1959 and returned to Australia in 1976. Glanville-Hicks also composed ballets, such as The Masque of the Wild Man (1958), Saul and the Witch of Endor (1964; made for television), and A Season in Hell (1965; after Rimbaud). Her film scores include The Robot (1936), Clouds (1938), Tulsa (1949), The African Story (1956), and A Scary Time (1958). Her various instrumental works, such as Musica antiqua No. 1, rejoice in combining the timbres of harp and percussion.