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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Code, Edward Percival (1888–1953)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Edward Percival Code (1888-1953), musician, was born on 3 July 1888 at South Melbourne, son of Edward Thomas Code, picture-frame maker and bandmaster, and his wife Mary Ann, née Payne, both from Bendigo. His father, a trumpeter, conducted Code's Melbourne Brass Band from 1892; it was a frequent winner of competitions and won the championship of Australia in 1898-1900. The family included other bandsmen. Taught to play violin and cornet by his father, Percy won numerous cornet competitions while attending school at Faraday Street, Carlton. Following his win at the South Street competition, Ballarat, in 1910, he was invited to join the visiting English Besses o' th' Barn Band. Leaving Australia early in 1911 he studied with bandmaster Alec Owen, won the gold medal of the London College of Music and played as a soloist with the band on a world tour. Returning to Australia, he settled in Ballarat as a choir and band conductor and music teacher. On 23 March 1915 at Lydiard Street Methodist Church, he married Elsie Maude Miller; they had no children and lived apart from about 1930.

In 1921 Code went to the United States of America and played with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Alfred Hertz in its 1922-23 season. He returned to Melbourne in 1924 and moved into radio work with station 3AR, also playing in theatre orchestras. In July 1929 he became principal conductor for the new Australian Broadcasting Co. When the Australian Broadcasting Commission replaced the company in 1932, he remained in command of the new and larger orchestra.

Senior conductor for the A.B.C., Code was transferred to Sydney in October 1936 and trained its orchestra for a demanding series of celebrity seasons; he also conducted broadcast operas and travelled extensively within Australia. Much of his work was hampered by World War II. In April 1947 he exchanged positions with Joseph Post and spent his last active years in Melbourne. He retired sick in November 1951 and died of cardiovascular disease on 16 October 1953. He was buried in Box Hill cemetery with Methodist forms. His estate was valued for probate at £11,333.

Short, solid and somewhat colourless, Code was modest, and very popular with his players, although there were complaints about his difficult beat and his tendency to stamp when emphasizing time. Nobody saw him as a great conductor but he was a master tradesman. He was devoted to the works of Elgar—his most notable performance was of the symphonic study, Falstaff, in Sydney on 21 June 1941. He published Allan's Modern Method for Cornet or Trumpet in 1936 and most of his many compositions for bands and solo brass are still well known.

Select Bibliography

  • G. W. Davey and A. E. Warne, Memoirs: Edward Thomas Code (np, nd)
  • Wireless Weekly, 9 Oct 1931, 19 Apr 1941
  • Australian Musical News and Musical Digest, 9 Jan 1952, 2 Nov 1957
  • Tempo (Sydney), Nov 1957
  • Table Talk, 5 Sept 1929
  • private information.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Code, Edward Percival (1888–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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