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Joseph Bradley (1857–1935)

by P. F. Leighton

This article was published:

Joseph Bradley (1857-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

Joseph Bradley (1857-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 31480

Joseph Bradley (1857-1935) musician and music teacher, was born on 28 February 1857 at Newton near Hyde, Cheshire, England, son of Matthew Henry Bradley, later publican, and his wife Mary, née Heywood. Trained by Dr Frederick Bridge of Manchester Cathedral, at 12 he was appointed assistant organist of St Paul's Church, Stalybridge, Lancashire. In 1873 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Organists, matriculated to New College, Oxford, in October 1874 and graduated Bachelor of Music next year. As organist in 1876-80 at St Thomas's Church, Heaton Norris, Stockport, he formed and conducted a fifty-piece orchestra. On 8 August 1877 with Anglican rites he married Catherine Mary Pickering at Manchester; they had two children.

Bradley's first major post was as deputy conductor and organist for the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester in 1881-87. There he once conducted Handel's Messiah seven times in a week. As chorus-master and conductor of the Glasgow Choral Union in 1887-1908 he controlled over 400 members; the leader of its orchestra was Henri Verbrugghen. Bradley opened the organ at the International Exhibition of 1888, Glasgow, and in 1890 applied unsuccessfully for appointment as city organist of Sydney.

Appointed conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney in 1908, Bradley arrived with his wife on 23 March in the Somerset. With the Philharmonic Choir and the new Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which he also conducted (always without a baton), in 1908-14 he was able to introduce such contemporary works as Elgar's Caractacus and César Franck's Les Béatitudes. In 1915 he presented the difficult Grande Messe des Morts of Berlioz to mark the death of Sir William P. Manning, long president of the society.

In Bradley's twenty years in Sydney he conducted 126 performances including 29 of the Messiah, 8 of Mendelssohn's Elijah, 5 of Haydn's The Creation, 4 of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust and 4 of Elgar's Caractacus. Conforming with the style of the society, his performances were safe rather than adventurous.

Verbrugghen was chosen in preference to him as first director of the new State Conservatorium of Music, but Bradley philosophically accepted the professorship of theory and later also taught solfeggio. He published A Solfeggio Manual for Teachers (1919) and A Manual of Musical Ornamentation (1924). He was one of three conductors for the opening concert of the conservatorium in 1915 but, being bald, rotund and impassive, he seemed stodgy compared to Verbrugghen. Though dreaded by students as something of a martinet, he was recognized by all as peerless in theoretical and practical musicianship.

When Verbrugghen resigned, Bradley was on the committee which governed the conservatorium in the interregnum, then in 1924 went on a short visit to Europe, partly to introduce Gladys Cole, a favourite singing pupil, to the musical world. Soon after his return his eyesight began to fail. Pugnaciously proud and reserved, he told nobody, not even his wife, conducted from memory as long as he could and resigned without explanation only when faced with a new score. The Philharmonic Society was angered and gave him only a lukewarm farewell and a meagre cheque. He returned to England in January 1928 to join his son Julius who had spent years in China. An operation for a cataract left him blind. Aged 78, he died of cerebral vascular disease at Harrow, Middlesex, on 3 March 1935.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Orchard, The Distant View (Syd, 1943)
  • R. Craig, A Short History of the Glasgow Choral Union (Glasgow, 1944)
  • E. Wunderlich, All My Yesterdays (Syd, 1945)
  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • Sydney Mail, 5, 23 Mar, 1 Apr 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Dec 1923, 3 June, 14 Dec 1927, 5, 7, 9 Mar 1935
  • letter from J. Bradley, 20 Aug 1890 (Sydney City Council Archives)
  • Royal Philharmonic Society, Concert programmes 1909-27, manuscript 5335 (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

P. F. Leighton, 'Bradley, Joseph (1857–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Joseph Bradley (1857-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

Joseph Bradley (1857-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 31480

Life Summary [details]


28 February, 1857
Hyde, Cheshire, England


3 March, 1935 (aged 78)
Harrow, London, England

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