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Richardson, Peter Alfred (1933–1973)

by John Carmody

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Peter Alfred Richardson (1933-1973), flautist, was born on 29 August 1933 at Crows Nest, Sydney, son of Australian-born parents Frank Alfred Richardson, real-estate agent and later journalist, and his wife Nell Victoria, née Morrison. After his parents' divorce, Peter spent his childhood and adolescence at Thirroul, living with his mother and maternal grandmother. His musical education began at Thirroul Public School with the 'State Schools' Flute Programme'. In his spare time between commuting from Thirroul and attending (1952-54) the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, he worked as an orderly at Sydney Hospital where he developed an interest in medicine and drugs. He studied the flute with Victor McMahon, and then with Neville Amadio who influenced him greatly and considered him his finest pupil. In several respects he modelled himself on Amadio: both were debonair, charming, and stylish musicians. Despite his sophistication and the depth of his performing experience, Richardson never intimidated his colleagues.

At St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick, on 3 September 1954 Richardson married Marilyn Ann Alle, a soprano. He later described it as 'marrying an image'. They were to have three sons before their marriage was dissolved on 15 October 1965. The handsome young couple were prominent contributors to Sydney's musical life, especially during the 1950s and early 1960s. With the pianist-composer Larry Sitsky, they formed the Melba Trio and played for many music clubs. With Richard Meale, they founded the ensemble Musica Nuova which, under Meale's direction, gave the first Australian performance (1959) of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. Nigel Butterley wrote his carol Joseph and Mary for the Richardsons in 1959.

Although Richardson disliked playing in orchestras, financial necessity compelled him to undertake that work, which included a number of J. C. Williamson Ltd's musicals (such as My Fair Lady and The Pajama Game), casual engagements with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and periods as principal flute with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Clarice Lorenz's National Opera of Australia. He taught at the Canberra School of Music, the University of Sydney, the Conservatorium, Abbotsleigh Church of England School for Girls and Presbyterian Ladies' College, Croydon. Richardson was revered by his students for 'his great skill and patience', and by his professional colleagues for the 'brilliant sheen and exact intonation' of his performances.

His intelligence and musical curiosity soon brought him under the influence of Dene Barnett, who pioneered authentic stylistic practice in early music; thereafter, Richardson was prominent in performances of Bach and Handel and with the Sydney Baroque Ensemble. He was also a mainstay of new music, especially (but not exclusively) the avant-garde. A committee-member (1964-73) of the local chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music, he was almost a fixture at its regular concerts and at those of Musica Nuova. He premièred Meale's Flute Sonata, and gave the first Australian performance of Pierre Boulez's Sonatine (with Gordon Watson) and works by Elliott Carter, Goffredo Petrassi, Bruno Maderna and H. W. Henze. Richardson played in the premières of Meale's Las Alborados (1963) and Butterley's Laudes (at the 1964 Adelaide Festival of Arts).

Following his separation from his wife in 1964, Richardson began to drink heavily and to take drugs, activities which continued after he married Margaret Alison Eyres, a 26-year-old nursing sister, on 22 October 1965 at St Andrew's Scots Church, Rose Bay. Despite his acknowledged success and popularity, he was subject to depression, psychosexual turmoil and feelings of worthlessness. Ambivalent about psychotherapy, he dealt with his depression through drug abuse. He died of 'chloral hydrate poisoning self administered as a sleeping draught' on 11 March 1973 in his home at Paddington and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, and their son and daughter, survived him, as did the sons of his first marriage. In 1974 students and colleagues gave a concert in memory of Richardson; it included the première of Raymond Hanson's Dedication.

Select Bibliography

  • Music Now, 2, no 2, Dec 1974
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Apr 1958, 11 Nov 1964, 13, 14 Mar 1973, 19 Mar 1974
  • private information.

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Citation details

John Carmody, 'Richardson, Peter Alfred (1933–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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