Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Truman, Ernest Edwin Philip (1869–1948)

by G. D. Rushworth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Ernest Edwin Philip Truman (1869-1948), by unknown photographer, 1913

Ernest Edwin Philip Truman (1869-1948), by unknown photographer, 1913

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/272

Ernest Edwin Philip Truman (1869-1948), musician, was born on 29 December 1869 at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, son of Edwin Philip Truman, fish, game and poultry dealer, and his wife Elizabeth Robinson Cranford, née Smith. About 1875 the family migrated to Melbourne and soon after to New Zealand. Ernest was taught music by his father and began formal studies at 13 with A. J. Bath of Dunedin. Moving to Sydney in 1885, he studied piano with Julius Buddee.

In 1888 Truman enrolled at the Royal Conservatorium of Music, Leipzig, Germany, to study under Salomon Jadassohn and Karl Reinecke (composition), Bruno Zwintscher (piano) and Paul Homeyer (organ); Alfred Hill was a fellow-pupil. Several of Truman's compositions were performed at concerts by the Ossian Society and Gewandhaus Orchestra. He visited London and qualified as associate of the Royal College of Organists and licentiate of the Royal College of Music. In 1893 he received a diploma from the Leipzig conservatorium.

Returning to Sydney that year, Truman was successively an occasional organist at St Mary's Cathedral, Christ Church St Laurence and St Patrick's, Church Hill. On 30 June 1894 at the registrar's office, Glebe, he married a divorcee Nellie Edith Bettye, née Maxey; she often accompanied him at recitals. He hoped to become a successful composer: his works include a Mass performed in St Mary's Cathedral in 1899, an operetta (Club Life), chamber music, a Magnificat setting, a book of songs and a cantata (The Pied Piper of Hamelin), based on Robert Browning's poem and first performed in Adelaide on 25 September 1913. Although well received at the time (three were broadcast in the 1930s), his works are now mostly forgotten.

Appointed city organist in 1909, Truman presided at the Sydney Town Hall organ for twenty-six years. His programmes at over 3000 concerts were probably designed to appeal rather than to educate, although he generally included more genuine organ music than had his predecessors. A gifted musician, he was also a respected teacher of piano and organ. He accompanied many distinguished artists including Melba, Florence Austral, Peter Dawson, Dame Clara Butt, Laurence Tibbett and Richard Crooks.

From 1912 Truman's fondness for opera was displayed in 'Grand Operatic Organ Recitals' at Sydney Town Hall; in 1925 he included his transcriptions of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci and the first Australian performances of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Il Tabarra. He devised concerts devoted to transcriptions of music from Gilbert's and Sullivan's operas in the 1930s. His retirement in 1935 marked the end of an era of free weekly organ concerts. He was rarely heard again.

Of medium build, Truman had dark, wavy hair and a handlebar moustache. He was described by W. A. Orchard as 'cheerful' and 'much-liked … not only for his musical ability, but because of his dry humour'. Truman's wife died in 1917; on 8 November 1923 he married a 27-year-old musician, (Marie) Millicent Anglés, at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst. Survived by his wife, Truman died in St Vincent's Hospital on 6 October 1948 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was predeceased by the son of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Orchard, The Distant View (Syd, 1943)
  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • G. D. Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales (Syd, 1988)
  • All About Australians, 29 May 1901
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Mar, 29 Aug 1891, 18 Nov 1892, 30 Apr 1932, 23 Mar, 6 Apr 1935, 8 Jan 1942, 9 Oct 1948
  • Sydney Mail, 14 July 1894, 24 Nov 1900
  • Town and Country Journal, 4 Aug 1909
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Sept 1913
  • Truman organ concert programmes, 1910-25 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. D. Rushworth, 'Truman, Ernest Edwin Philip (1869–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/truman-ernest-edwin-philip-8858/text15549, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Ernest Edwin Philip Truman (1869-1948), by unknown photographer, 1913

Ernest Edwin Philip Truman (1869-1948), by unknown photographer, 1913

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/272