Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A transposed life
Pendragon Press, $103 hb, 331 pp
Peggy Glanville-Hicks ranks as one of the few Australian composers whose international training and reputation mean that she remains vastly more appreciated outside Australia than within the shores of her native land. A student of Vaughan Williams and Nadia Boulanger, a close friend of the Menuhins, Carlos Surinach, and a host of other major figures, she was a genuine pioneer in the realms of ethnomusicology and music journalism, and an energetic advocate in the articulation of a post-serial musical aesthetic. Her courage and enduring individuality in all of these areas make her one of the most interesting figures in the annals of Australian composers.
Yet, as James Murdoch’s intricately detailed biography amply demonstrates, this story is about an Australian – well, an Australian with a US passport – rather than about Australia. The biography’s settings are multifarious: London, Vienna, Paris, New York, to name a few. Similarly, her human contacts, personal and professional – and Murdoch emphasises that the two were rarely separate in her life – display fascinating variety: from husbands Stanley Bate and Rafael da Costa, to lovers including Errol Flynn’s father and a sea captain, Bernard Hickey; all upheld by enduring friendships with the likes of composer Virgil Thomson, choreographer John Butler, and composer and writer Paul Bowles.
Hers was clearly a dazzling life despite its poverty, frequent ill-health, and often tortured and fractious relationships with friends and colleagues. Murdoch presents her story with the intimate authority of an old and trusted friend. He reveals not only her driven artistic energy and indefatigable entrepreneurship but also her querulousness, occasional nastiness, not inconsiderable ego, and vulnerability.