University of Melbourne Library Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library




Uncatalogued Organ Music Collection - History

The Organ-music Collection at Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library, University of Melbourne, compiled by Harold Fabrikant

The organists' art depends on many factors; unfortunately, we tend to ignore some of them at times. In sequence, we need: the organ-builders, composers, publishers and distributors, libraries and finally the players. A failure of any one may be disastrous. Libraries are especially important as holding bays where music which has fallen out of favour may possibly survive. Their rôle in teaching and research is even more obvious.

The Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library (on the third floor of the Baillieu Library Building) is blessed with a superb collection of organ-music but a chronic shortage of funds limits its use. Only a part is currently on the shelves, available for general loan — and some of this is rather dilapidated, lacking stiff covers and well-used over many years. Another part is available only for University staff to borrow on a short-term basis (more a reference library), comprising major general sets, such as the almost entire published output of JS Bach, Reger, etc. in which their organ-works are included.

Particularly remarkable is the vast organ-music collection in the "stacks" which is now largely sorted and in process of being catalogued. Library purchases form but a small part of this, for the bulk comes from bequests; their content reflects the interests of the original owners and the period in which they lived. The condition of this "second-hand" music varies greatly from virtually unusable (even incomplete) to as-new. Very little is bound; most volumes have such flimsy paper covers that they cannot be placed on the shelves until money is found to provide stiffeners for their protection.

Donors are probably unaware (as was this writer) that a library must spend a great deal before bequests can be put to use. Staff must catalogue and compare each volume with material already held; book-binding is frequently essential as a public library will expose the volumes to far greater trauma than a private owner's usage and this is expensive. Not surprisingly, library funds are such that bequests must often languish, awaiting the day when money appears. One may go so far to ask that bequests be accompanied by cash donations to permit this necessary work — hardly an acceptable way of wooing donors!

The library has substantial bequests from the following (and I refer here only to the organ-music given, ignoring the other sheet-music or books on music which often accompanied these gifts):

1. Bernard Clarke (1906-1965), pupil of AEH Nickson, was organist at All Saints' Church, Windsor from 1951, teacher of June Nixon and Barrie Cabena. His well-used books comprise standard repertoire, eg, Bach from Novello, Mendelssohn, Guilmant, Romantic English and German writers.

2. Leonard Fullard (1907-1988), was organist at Christ Church, South Yarra for many years and founder of the annual Bach Festival. Another Nickson pupil, he was initially a thoroughly trained pianist who turned to the organ relatively late. He was subsequently attracted to the Orgelbewegung in Germany and in the process was derided by the ultraconservatives in Australia. His contribution to the library bears a major Baroque component, as expected, but there is also much Romantic music (Widor, Rheinberger, etc.).

3. AEH Nickson (1876-1964), was particularly eminent in Melbourne music; the biography by Rev. Howard Hollis is eagerly awaited. Nickson's large Karg-Elert collection is stored with his personal papers in the Grainger Museum; curiously, Karg's Op.96, dedicated to Nickson in 1921, is nowhere to be found amongst his belongings but there are other pieces by Karg-Elert inscribed affectionately to him. The library's acquisition from Nickson is almost entirely Romantic and largely Anglo-German: Rheinberger, Reger, Howells, etc.; even transcriptions are to be found here, by Saint-Saëns and Lemare, for example. The most outstanding donations of organ-music, however, come from the next three sources:

4. Leslie Curnow (1887-1976), was an amateur of great ability from a Ballarat Methodist family, organist of Christ Church, South Yarra in the 1920s, who presided over the Willis III organ in the First Church of Christ Scientist in the St. Kilda Road from 1946 (where the instrument rather than the religion was the attraction). Curnow was manager of the Men's Suits Department at Myer's city store, conductor of the Myer's store choir, eisteddford adjudicator and recitalist. He had a vast repertoire, mainly Romantic, and was learning (and playing publicly) new works even in his old age. A recital on the Willis in 1963, for example, includes Tournemire's improvised Petite rapsodie and Cantilène, reconstituted by Duruflé as recently as 1957 and published in 1958. The former is no easy piece and Curnow was then almost 76! He was an avid Karg-Elert player: that 1963 concert included two movements from the Partita, Op.100 and the complete Jesu meine Freude Symphonic Chorale from Op.87, both very demanding. It ended with Vierne's Carillon de Westminster, once again, a very difficult piece.
His enormous music-library is in superb condition, some of the books hard-bound. Throughout are his meticulous pencilled notes — registrations, fingering, pedalling — showing how detailed were his studies of almost everything in the collection. May this be a model for us all. Many of his volumes have long been on the library's shelves where they have been frequently used, surely the fulfillment of any donor's wish.
In case one thinks Leslie Curnow spent his entire life selling suits and playing the organ, it transpires that he had two marriages, starting in 1912, each of which produced three children — a truly full life!

5. Michael Wentzell (1939-1973), was a brilliant student of AEH Nickson in the late1950s, who became an Anglican priest soon after graduating in music. A meeting with Cochereau in 1959, during his ABC tour, led to European studies, by which time Wentzell was firmly committed to a more contemporary repertoire than AEHN had taught. He bought organ-music on a grand scale but studied very little of it before his tragically early death; most of this is French. Michael Wentzell was unfortunately rather brutal with his sheet-music and the bold pencillings generally mean that a studied work is unusable to anyone else. Because of his premature death, very little in this collection is in that state — indeed, most has never been used. Included are such writers as Tournemire (much of L'Orgue mystique), Dupré, Barraine, Daniel-Lesur, Langlais, etc. — truly a great treasure-chest.

6. Reginald Raymond (ca.1890-ca.1960), has provided undoubtedly the most stunning bequest, which arrived as recently as 1990. This enormous body of sheet-music is again largely Romantic and mainly German, all in outstandingly good order. Much has been studied, and some of the pencil-marks are unfortunately rather coarse, but nothing has suffered destruction and a good deal is as-new. In addition to large collections, eg, Dupré, Karg-Elert and Rheinberger, there are some virtually complete sets, eg, Vierne and Basil Harwood, and also some writers largely if not totally unknown to us. The most striking example of this here is a very large collection from Hans Fährmann (1860-1940), who is not even mentioned in passing in the New Grove (or in earlier editions of Grove for that matter); one must consult a major German encyclopaedia of music — the library possesses two such works! — to find that this prolific composer, who lived in Dresden, was highly regarded in his day and did not limit his writing to the organ.
Reginald Raymond was a successful manufacturer, a supplier of goods to the shoe trade. He had a passion for organ-music but was apparently an incapable player. Undeterred by this, he procured a 3-manual organ from Fincham in the late 1920s and had it installed in the basement of his home at 1 Warringal Place, Heidelberg. Raymond was affiliated with the Collins Street Baptist Church where the organist was Lawrence Warner (before his shift to the nearby Scots' Church). Warner, an architect by profession, was designer of the Raymond villa in Heidelberg. Now armed with a room and its instrument, Raymond bought music in bulk and patiently studied it, undeterred by his inability to play it fluently. He obviously derived great pleasure from these strenuous endeavours; decades later, it is we who now reap the rewards.

How fortunate we are to own such a body of sheet-music. The task of placing all in a catalogue is in progress but the material will not reach the shelves unless and until money is found for its hard-cover protection. By that time, this fine library will have fulfilled its rôle in seeing to the maintenance of the organists' art but will always look forward to receiving more bequests in expanding that rôle.

H.F. 8th June, 1998

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