Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ada Elizabeth Corder (1895–1987)

by Emma Matthews

This article was published:

Ada Elizabeth Corder (1895-1987), pianist and music teacher, was born on 20 March 1895 at Ararat, Victoria, daughter of James Charles Freeman, railway guard, and his wife Ada, née Byrne, both Victorian born. For her sixth birthday Ada was given a piano; by 8 she had won an under-13 piano championship, her early musical development being fostered by Mother Mary Agnes (also known as Madame Stewart) during her education (1906-12) at the Faithful Companions of Jesus’ Vaucluse convent at Richmond, Melbourne. In 1910 Ada was selected as solo pianist for concerts given in Melbourne by the Australian tenor Walter Kirby, and in 1911 she was awarded an Australian Natives Association scholarship. That year she attained licentiates of the Royal School of Music (piano) and of Trinity College of Music, London (piano and teaching). At 17 she entered the University of Melbourne’s conservatorium of music (B.Mus., 1917), where, after completing a diploma in music, she was admitted to the third year of the bachelor of music degree. Studying (1913-16) piano under Edward Goll, she won an Ormond exhibition each year and graduated with honours.

Miss Freeman was `constantly before the public’, as solo pianist, accompanist and performer with orchestras. She introduced Australia to works by Elgar, Prokofiev and Ravel then regarded, she later said, as `weird music’. But it was as a teacher that she made her greatest contribution. Her students were regularly celebrated for their `excellent grounding’ and ability, and she taught and promoted many young pianists of exceptional talent, among them Stephen McIntyre, Geoffrey Saba and Raymond O’Connell. Nancy Weir was her most renowned pupil, and in 1930 Freeman travelled with her 14-year-old protégée to Berlin, where they both studied with Artur Schnabel. Freeman proceeded to further study in London with George Woodhouse, returning to Australia in 1931. On 26 January 1937 she married Henry Corder, a clerk, at Our Lady of Victories Basilica, Camberwell.

Mrs Corder took great pride in her teaching, trusting—as she put it—in `some intuitive feeling’ that she could `get out of [pupils] what is in them’. In 1965 she joined with Weir to found the Australian Musicians Overseas Scholarship, which (to 1976) commissioned original works for piano by Australian composers and enabled Australian pianists to study abroad. She was an honorary life member of the Victorian Music Teachers Association and a member of the Royal Overseas League (London and Melbourne) and the Lyceum Club, Melbourne. In 1974 she was appointed MBE. She retained a `tremendous enthusiasm’ for teaching into her eighties, although her playing was by then inhibited by arthritis. Predeceased (1965) by her husband, and childless, she died on 27 September 1987 at Camberwell and was buried in Box Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Lofthouse (compiler), Who’s Who of Australian Women (1982)
  • M. C. O’Connor, The Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus in Australia (1982)
  • Australian Musical News, Oct 1923, p 25, Oct 1928, p 15, Feb 1931, p 9, Nov 1931, p 10
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 June 1975, p 19.

Citation details

Emma Matthews, 'Corder, Ada Elizabeth (1895–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Freeman, Ada

20 March, 1895
Ararat, Victoria, Australia


27 September, 1987 (aged 92)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.