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Bourne, Una Mabel (1882–1974)

by Peter Burgis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Una Mabel Bourne (1882-1974), pianist and composer, was born on 23 October 1882 at Mudgee, New South Wales, daughter of James George Bourne, store-keeper, and his wife Margaret, née Webber. The family moved to Melbourne when Una was a child. An infant prodigy, she was playing by ear when 4. She was taught first by her elder sister, and later by Benno Scherek; in the 1890s Una made her first public appearances in orchestral concerts under his conductorship. In her mid-teens she gave many solo recitals which established her as an artist of considerable promise. In May 1899 she was enthusiastically praised for her contribution at a benefit concert for the soprano Amy Castles.

In 1905 Una Bourne undertook an eighteen-month study tour during which she visited Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Paris and London. She had not intended to perform publicly but, before her return home, friends arranged recitals in the Bechstein Hall, London, which were acclaimed by English critics. (Dame) Nellie Melba selected her as her associate artist for tours of Australia in 1907, 1909 and 1912. She occasionally accompanied Melba and these engagements established her as a solo performer. Their lifetime association and friendship contributed substantially to Una Bourne's international repute as a concert pianist.

In November 1912 Una sailed for England to pursue her career. On her arrival she was engaged by Melba for a provincial tour, during which she performed many of her own compositions with success. In February 1914 she gave concerts in Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig, as well as a command performance before Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace. Throughout World War I she remained in England, giving many concerts for hospitals and the Red Cross. She established herself as a pioneer recording artist when in 1915 she began a thirteen-year association with the English Gramophone Co. (His Master's Voice). She recorded over eighty titles, including many works by Chaminade as well as several duets with the violinist Margaret Hayward, and her own compositions — Caprice, Petite Caprice Valse, A Little Song, Cradle Song, Humoreske, Gavotte, Marche Grotesque and Nocturne. Unfortunately, most of her forty-four recordings were deleted from the H.M.V. catalogue by 1930 and no long-playing reissues of her discs have been made.

Following a tour of Australia in 1920 with Melba, Una Bourne performed both on the Continent and in North America. In the United States she made player-piano rolls for the Duo-Art Co. and emerged as an important broadcaster. She made several return visits to Australia, including one in 1939 when she gave celebrity concerts under (Sir) Bernard Heinze and Eugene Ormandy. She remained in Melbourne to work throughout World War II giving concerts and broadcasts; in 1942 she established a master school of piano-playing at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Albert Street, and a scholarship bearing her name. After the war she gave private piano tuition and continued to write and broadcast. Her declining years were spent at her South Yarra home with a lifetime friend and companion artist, Mona McCaughey (d.1964). She died on 15 November 1974 and was cremated. Her estate, much of it inherited from Miss McCaughey, was valued for probate at $169,168.

Una Bourne had great musical intellect and integrity, coupled with magnificent technique. It was said she played with her mind, her brain and her heart, as well as her fingers.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Moresby, Australia Makes Music (Melb, 1948)
  • Lone Hand, 1 June 1914
  • Australian Musical News and Musical Digest, 1 May 1942
  • P. Burgis, interview with Mr A. Brahe (tape, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Peter Burgis, 'Bourne, Una Mabel (1882–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bourne-una-mabel-5307/text8961, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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