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Sir Bernard Thomas Heinze (1894–1982)

by Thérèse Radic

This article was published:

Sir Bernard Thomas Heinze (18941982), musician and conductor, was born on 1 July 1894 at Shepparton, Victoria, fourth child of Victorian-born parents Benjamin Heinze, jeweller, and his wife Minnie Frederica, née Greenwell. Both parents were amateur musicians who encouraged their children to follow their example. Educated at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, Bernard became a pupil of Walter Gude, the founder of the local Lyric Orchestra. At 16 he won an Australian Music Examinations Board scholarship to the Melbourne University Conservatorium (MA, 1948). He was awarded the (Sir William) Clarke scholarship at the end of his first year, enabling him to study at the Royal College of Music, London, where his teachers included the violinist Achille Rivarda, the pianist Herbert Sharpe, and the composers Frank Bridge and Sir Charles Stanford.

World War I interrupted Heinze’s studies. Commissioned on 23 September 1915 in the Royal Garrison Artillery, he served on the Western Front and as an aide-de-camp to Major General Sir Herbert Guthrie Smith, the director of artillery. After being demobilised in 1920 he wrote music criticism for the London Saturday Review while completing his term as Clarke scholar. In 1920 the Gowland Harrison scholarship took him to the Schola Cantorum, Paris: he studied history and composition under its founder, Vincent d’Indy, violin with Nestor Lejeune, and solfège with G. De Lioncourt. Having a particular interest in orchestral techniques, he attended rehearsals of the Concert Coloune under Gabriel Pierné. In 1922 he toured southern Europe as a member of the Lejeune String Quartet, but left it after only a few months to study violin with Willy Hess in Berlin.

In 1923 Heinze returned to Australia, in part to adjudicate the South Street eisteddfod, Ballarat. The following year he joined the Melbourne University Conservatorium as teacher of violin. He rapidly gained prominence and supporters as conductor of the Melbourne University Symphony Orchestra and founder of the Melbourne String Quartet. In 1925 he succeeded William Laver as Ormond professor of music: `his energy is boundless’, Table Talk noted, `his ambition, the same’.

Heinze was committed to increasing the public performance of music, and to securing the professionalism of players. In 1925 he inaugurated free concerts for schools at which he lectured and conducted; he also introduced subscription series and, after a short visit to Europe in 1928, launched celebrity concerts, featuring many outstanding overseas performers. Already the conductor of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society (1927-53), after a period of competition with Fritz Hart’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, in 1933 he amalgamated the USO with the effectively bankrupt MSO (Victorian Symphony Orchestra after 1949), remaining with it until 1956.

As a conductor, Heinze revealed his strength in the interpretation of the Romantics, from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Elgar; Richard Strauss, Mahler and Sibelius were also high on his preferred list. New music featured regularly in his programs: in 1929 he gave the first Melbourne performances of works by Percy Grainger, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, and in 1933 the first Australian performance of Bruckner’s symphony in C minor. In 1931 he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Music. At Newman College chapel, University of Melbourne, on 6 July 1932, he married Valerie Antonia, daughter of Sir David Hennessy.

Heinze’s influence was greatly enhanced by his appointment in 1929 as part-time director-general of music to the Australian Broadcasting Co., and consolidated by his role from 1934 as part-time music adviser to its successor, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In these positions he supervised performance of music for broadcast, co-ordinated educational concerts, and championed the ABC’s policy, adopted in 1936, of establishing professional symphony orchestras in each State. In 1938 he toured Europe and the United States of America to investigate the role of radio in promoting music, also conducting in Paris, Berlin, Budapest and Helsinki, and serving as a juror for the Concours Ysaÿe in Brussels (for which he was appointed to the Ordre de la Couronne).

Amid the stringencies of war, in 1941-45 the university agreed to release Heinze to act as chief resident conductor for the ABC’s celebrity concert seasons. In part through wartime necessity, he included Australian artists as soloists. Music could easily have stagnated in such a climate, but instead it flourished. While staging popular festivals featuring Beethoven’s and Russian music (in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, in 1944) and challenging audiences with a radical series of symphonies by Honegger, Heinze also featured works by Australian composers of `great promise’, Roy Agnew, (H. J.) Brewster Jones, Clive Douglas, Miriam Hyde and Robert Hughes among them.

Resuming his duties as Ormond professor early in 1945, Heinze remained a pervasive force at the ABC. In 1947, after a tour as guest conductor for the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (which was to lead to an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of British Columbia, 1947), he introduced to Australia the youth concert series that would shape the musical taste of a generation. He welcomed steady increases in subscriptions to orchestral series, devising innovative programs offering works by Shostakovich, Britten and Bartōk. Critics were sometimes uneasy with the dominance of his personality and occasional lapses in direction, but none the less welcomed the freshness he brought to both the podium and the audience. Some concerts, Kenneth Hince later recalled, were `careless’ but `none was dull’. If Heinze’s frequent absences from the university provoked questions, the conservatorium still benefited from his prestige and energy. During what he called his `golden years’ as director, it produced composers of the calibre of Donald Banks, James Penberthy and Peter Sculthorpe. Heinze was knighted in 1949; later that year he received an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Western Australia.

Tall, urbane, impeccably groomed and a noted raconteur with a carefully cultivated, mellifluous voice, Sir Bernard had, at least in public, a contagious enthusiasm and cheerfulness. In 1956 he resigned from the conservatorium and succeeded (1957-67) Sir Eugene Goossens as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. With legendary restlessness he continued to travel extensively, promoting music. In a daring initiative given the political climate of the times, he undertook a conducting tour of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1958. Across Australia audiences continued to adore him; his players, however, generally considered him dictatorial, anti-female, and someone to be feared. His extensive influence ensured that a word in the right quarter could make or break a career.

Heinze had always drawn much power from his control of strategic committees, through chairmanship or sheer gamesmanship. Beyond the ABC, these included service as a representative of education in music on the Victorian Council of Public Education (1936-57), as a close associate of the AMEB, as vice-patron of the Arts Council of Australia, Victorian division, and as an active member and international representative (Belgium, 1953) of the Australian National Advisory Committee for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In Sydney, and with expanding public support for the arts, new opportunities arose. He served as vice-patron (1955-65) of the Arts Council of Australia, New South Wales division; on the executive committee (1957-66) and later as a trustee of the Sydney Opera House; and as foundation chairman of the advisory board of Commonwealth Assistance to Australian Composers (1967), and the music advisory committee of the Australian Council for the Arts (1968).

Without doubt the dominant musical figure of twentieth-century Australia, Heinze raised and maintained national musical standards, providing an unparalleled example of leadership to the profession. He thought of music in nineteenth-century `high art’ terms, seeing it as a moral good to which the community should aspire while using contemporary means to ensure that outcome. He also gained recognition for music teaching as an accredited profession in schools. As Felix Werder noted, Heinze `was not simply another curator-conductor, he was godfather to the Australian composer’. The fiftieth anniversary of his first public appearance as conductor was celebrated at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1974. He was named Australian of the Year in 1975, appointed AC in 1976 and in 1979 became the first Australian to receive UNESCO’s International Music Council award.

Fit and active well into his eighties, Sir Bernard Heinze remained a keen gardener and collector. He died at Bellevue Hill, Sydney, on 10 June 1982, survived by his wife and their three sons. Following a requiem Mass at St Peter’s Catholic Church, Toorak, at which Fauré’s Requiem was sung, he was buried in Brighton cemetery, Melbourne. He left behind an immense legacy, securing for serious music a permanent place in Australia, not as a remote European inheritance but as the ancestral house in which Australians could live and grow. In 1957 a portrait by Paul Fitzgerald was presented to the university conservatorium, and in 1975 the ABC televised a biographical feature, `The Bernard Heinze Story’. An annual award in his name, established in 1985, is given in recognition of an outstanding contribution to music in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This Is the ABC (1983)
  • T. Radic, Bernard Heinze (1986)
  • P. J. Tregear, The Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne (1997)
  • Table Talk, 26 Aug 1926, p 17
  • Australian, 19 Oct 1974, p 21
  • Heinze papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Thérèse Radic, 'Heinze, Sir Bernard Thomas (1894–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 July 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]


1 July, 1894
Shepparton, Victoria, Australia


10 June, 1982 (aged 87)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.