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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ewart, Florence Maud (1864–1949)

by Thérèse Radic

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

Florence Maud Ewart (1864-1949), musician, was born on 16 November 1864 at Kentish Town, London, daughter of Frederick William Donaldson, accountant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Lewis. A brother, Frederick Lewis Donaldson, became a canon of the Church of England.

Florence made her début as a violinist at the Albert Hall, London, at the age of 14. Taught by John Carrodus, she was one of the first twelve to win a Birmingham scholarship to the South Kensington National Training School (Royal College of Music). She went on to study at Leipzig and at Berlin where she was a pupil of Joseph Joachim, paying for her instruction with her earnings as a coach for Dr Adolph Brodsky of Leipzig. By 1894 she had established a reputation in Birmingham as a conductor, recitalist and lecturer. On 17 December 1898 at the parish Church of St Paul, Oxford, she married Alfred James Ewart whom she had met in Leipzig. The couple lived at Birmingham; their two sons were born in 1900 and 1902.

In February 1906 the Ewarts moved to Melbourne. In 1907 Florence was co-conductor for the first Australian Women's Work Exhibition, winning first prize for an ode, 'God guide Australia', which was performed by the all-women orchestra at the exhibition. A rheumatic condition was the reason she gave for curtailing her appearances as a violinist from that time and she turned more to composition; her music was performed before such groups as the Musical Society of Victoria, at the Melbourne University Conservatorium, and occasionally at private vice-regal parties.

Unhappy and unsettled in her domestic life, Florence went abroad in 1910, 1916, and in 1920-21 when she visited Italy and Paris and first came under the influence of Debussy's music. After this trip she asked for a separation from her husband. In Europe again from late 1924 until June 1928, she studied with the composer Ottorino Respighi, working ten hours a day for nearly three years. In March 1925 Alfred petitioned for divorce. A decree absolute was granted on 24 December 1929.

Florence Ewart began work on the opera The Courtship of Miles Standish in mid-1928, at Olinda, near Melbourne. It was performed in 1931, first at the New Conservatorium of Music and in May at the Melbourne University Conservatorium, a piano reduction being used in place of the orchestral setting; excerpts were broadcast on 3LO. Altogether Florence Ewart composed six operas of which the four-act Ekkart is thought to be the first, probably completed about 1909 though dated 1926; the prologue was first performed in 1923. Mateo Falcone (two acts) and Nala's Wedding (one act) followed. A Game of Chess exists only in fragments, under the pseudonym of 'Sonia Aldon'. Pepita's Miracle is dated November 1945. She wrote five works for voice and orchestra, forty-six songs and a body of instrumental works. All these are housed at the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne. Totally dedicated to composition, she had no chance to hear her major works or to grow through experience in performance, while the social and domestic duties expected of her left her no time to produce a large body of tested work.

Florence Ewart died at her home in South Yarra on or about 8 November 1949 and was cremated. She was survived by her sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Women Individual Arts Collective, Lip, 1978-79, p 97
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13, 14, 17, 18 Sept 1929
  • Florence Donaldson Ewart collection (Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Thérèse Radic, 'Ewart, Florence Maud (1864–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Aldon, Sonia
  • Donaldson, Florence Maud

16 November 1864
London, Middlesex, England


8 November 1949
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage