Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (Parkville)
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Biography of Peggy Glanville-Hicks

Chief Investigator: Dr Suzanne Robinson

This project aims to produce a scholarly biography of Australian-born composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912–1990). It will be the first such study to document archival records in public libraries, institutional libraries, recorded sound archives, publisher and recording company archives and opera company archives in Australia, the USA, UK, France and Greece, as well as to rely on personal interviews with friends and colleagues in those countries.

Although born in Australia, Glanville-Hicks emigrated to the USA at the age of twenty-eight and is recognised as one of the most significant American women composers of her century, being the first to be commissioned to write an opera. She was one of very few American women of her generation to make a living as a music critic, and the first American woman to have an opera staged at a European venue.

Her major works include operas to texts by Thomas Mann, Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell, reflecting her passionate interest in modern literature as well as classical mythology and anthropology.

While biographies have been written of many of her male friends and colleagues (such as Paul Bowles, Colin McPhee, Peter Sculthorpe and Virgil Thomson), and while these men are appreciated on the basis of their artistic achievements alone, this study concludes that the woman composer’s output can only properly be evaluated in light of identifiable contingencies of value.  Glanville-Hicks’s experience as a creative woman and an expatriate is comparable to that of women such as Christina Stead and Stella Bowen, who found creative fulfilment on foreign soil and at the margins of social and gender norms.

Thus it is not merely a chronological account of the intersections of life and works, but also one of personal tribulation, conflicted nationalism, institutional patronage and prejudice, feminine and feminist protest and, ultimately, rejection of biological and social imperatives in order to pursue creative impulses.

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