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Hutchens, Francis (Frank) (1892–1965)

by Helen Bainton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Francis (Frank) Hutchens (1892-1965), pianist, teacher and composer, was born on 15 January 1892 at Leeston, near Christchurch, New Zealand, son of Cornish parents Richard Lavers Hutchens, and his wife Maria Siles, née Hoskins. His father had migrated to Christchurch in 1879 and, after failing at farming and bootmaking, settled at Hawera and taught the piano. Frank was educated at Hawera District High School and when only 12 played for Paderewski, who advised him to study abroad. In 1905 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, London, and studied under Tobias Matthay and Frederick Corder. Hutchens won the Sterndale Bennett and the Thalberg scholarships, and the Chappell gold medal for pianoforte playing. In 1908 he became the youngest sub-professor yet appointed to the academy staff. Learning that his mother was ill and family funds strained, he regretfully returned home in 1911. Before leaving London he gave a recital at the Bechstein Hall. The critic of the London Musical Times wrote, 'considering the youth of the performer his individuality is extraordinary'.

Hutchens found few opportunities in New Zealand as a concert pianist. In 1913 he decided to return to London via Sydney, but he remained in Sydney, where friends helped him. He gave a recital and soon made a name for himself as a teacher. In 1915, at the invitation of Henri Verbrugghen, he became a foundation professor at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. An influential and successful teacher, he was one of the first exponents of the Matthay method in Australia. He was rejected for military service in 1916.

His name also became a household word in Sydney through his association with Lindley Evans in a two-pianoforte partnership from 1924. Annual concerts, broadcasts and music club recitals were given. They were among the first composer-performer teams to be recorded commercially in Australia, when Hutchens's Fantasy Concerto and Evans's Idyll were given their premières in the Sydney Town Hall on 4 September 1943 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Edgar Bainton.

In 1932 Hutchens had returned to London, and gave three concerts at the Aeolian Hall. In 1939 he was made a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music. His extensive compositions were soundly professional and useful for teaching; they had qualities of charm and craftsmanship; the best-known were Concerto Symphonique for pianoforte and orchestra, the Concerto for pianoforte and strings, Quintet for piano and strings and 'Air Mail' Palestine for baritone and orchestra set to the words of David McNicoll. He also made many recordings for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

As an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College of Music, London, Hutchens was admired throughout Australia. An organizer of the Australian Music Examinations Board as an indigenous body, he also helped to inaugurate demonstration recitals for teachers in country towns. He became a vice-president of the Musical Association of New South Wales in 1940, a member of the advisory panel that controlled the conservatorium in 1946, and was a director of the Australasian Performing Right Association in the 1950s.

On 2 June 1955 at St Peter's Anglican Church, Neutral Bay, Hutchens married Joyce White, granddaughter of R. H. D. White, whom he had met as one of his students in 1927. A keen musician herself, she gave him invaluable support in his career. In 1962 he was appointed O.B.E. Hutchens was still an able pianist and an active teacher when he died on 18 October 1965 in Mona Vale Hospital after a car accident. He was cremated after a service at St Martin's Church of England, Killara. He was survived by his wife. His estate was valued for probate at £142,634. Composition scholarships are awarded annually in his name, to students under 25. His portrait, by the Cornish painter Stanhope Forbes, is held by the State Conservatorium of Music, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Jobson (ed), Frank Hutchens (Syd, 1971), and for compositions
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Oct 1965
  • Australian, 23 Oct 1965
  • Hutchens papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Helen Bainton, 'Hutchens, Francis (Frank) (1892–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchens-francis-frank-6776/text11719, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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