Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Herbert, William Scott (1920–1975)

by W. L. Hoffmann

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

William Scott Herbert (1920-1975), tenor, was born on 6 December 1920 at Albert Park, Melbourne, seventh of eight children of Victorian-born parents Frank Harry Herbert, traveller, and his wife Jean Whatley, née Ingram. As children, he and his siblings gathered at the piano to sing together under the spirited leadership of their father who was of Welsh descent. William was educated at Trinity Grammar School. While a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, he was influenced by the choirmaster Dr A. E. Floyd who became his mentor; Floyd was primarily responsible for his development, particularly in oratorio, and for the excellent diction which remained a notable feature of his singing.

In 1939 Herbert made his first public appearance as a soloist in the Messiah with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. His success was quickly followed by solo performances with choral societies around Australia and with the Australian Broadcasting Commission's orchestras under eminent visiting conductors, one of whom, (Sir) Malcolm Sargent, was so impressed by the musical and technical qualities of his singing that he assisted him to find his first engagements in England. Shortly after his arrival in London in 1947, Herbert appeared at a promenade concert at the Albert Hall and was engaged by the British Broadcasting Corporation. He participated in the inaugural concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1951 and was soloist in the first performance at a 'prom' of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, the work with which he was most closely associated. In Europe he was probably best known for the role of the Evangelist in Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Although he sang in opera and in concert, it was as a singer in oratorio that Herbert established a wide reputation, frequently appearing at the Three Choirs and the Edinburgh festivals. In 1953 he was a soloist at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and in 1958 he was one of four singers from Britain chosen to take part in a concert to celebrate the United Nations which was held in Geneva and transmitted to ninety-eight countries. He had married Jeanne Bethan Harries on 3 May 1952 at St Margaret's parish church, Westminster, London; they were to be divorced in 1964. Herbert toured Australia for the A.B.C. in 1950, 1956 and 1959 before returning permanently in 1963 to take up the post of lecturer in voice at the University of Western Australia. At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Perth, on 17 September 1964 he married Rosemary Frances Hunt, a museum artist.

In 1965 Herbert moved to the new Canberra School of Music as lecturer in voice. He took an active role in the musical life of the city, not only as a teacher, but as conductor of the Australian National University Choral Society, soloist with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and as a recitalist. His wealth of experience, urbanity and wit endeared him to students and colleagues. As an artist he had two important attributes: a love and deep understanding of the music he sang, and a completely professional approach to its performance. Survived by his wife and their 6-year-old daughter, he died of bronchitis and emphysema on 23 December 1975 at Woden Valley Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • B. and F. Mackenzie, Singers of Australia (Melb, 1967)
  • J. Glennon, Australian Music and Musicians (Adel, 1968)
  • Canberra Times, 26 Dec 1975.

Citation details

W. L. Hoffmann, 'Herbert, William Scott (1920–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/herbert-william-scott-10489/text18355, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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