Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cyril Farnsworth Monk (1882–1970)

by Helen Bainton

This article was published:

Cyril Farnsworth Monk (1882-1970), violinist, was born on 9 March 1882 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of James Monk, grocer from England, and his native-born wife Rosa Agnes, née Bullen. His mother began teaching him the piano when he was 4 and he was later sent to Samuel Chudleigh for the violin. He made frequent public appearances until he became a pupil of Josef Kretschmann and of Alfred Hill who taught him theory and composition. In 1894 he won a gold medal at the Sydney Eisteddfod. He was a member of the orchestra conducted by Roberto Hazon for J. C. Williamson's Italian opera season in 1901-02 and was first violin with the Sydney Philharmonic Society in 1901-03.

Financially assisted by a benefit concert, in September 1904 Monk went to London to study with Guido Papini at the College of Violinists, London, and also visited France and Germany. In 1906 he was awarded the college's diploma and gold medal. After his return from London in 1906 he was engaged as a soloist by Hill for the New Zealand International Exhibition's orchestral concerts at Christchurch and next year he toured New Zealand with the orchestra.

Settling in Sydney, Monk began teaching and in 1908 presented his first students' recital. He formed the Austral String Quartet (which included Hill) in 1910 and introduced many new works by such composers as Ravel, Debussy, Milhaud, Englishmen Herbert Howells and York Bowen and the Australian Arthur Benjamin. On 22 December 1913 at St Philip's Church, Sydney, he married Isabel Varney Desmond Peterson (1892-1967), composer and pianist; they lived at Mosman, where he enjoyed gardening and chess and she collected Australian first editions and antique furniture.

When the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music was founded in 1916, Monk was appointed to its staff. He was leader of its orchestra under three directors, Verbrugghen, Arundel Orchard and Edgar Bainton, and conservatorium examiner for the Australian Music Examinations Board; he composed various educational pieces. In addition, in 1919-23 he was principal violinist in the New South Wales State Orchestra. Although the Austral String Quartet had been disbanded when Verbrugghen formed the Conservatorium Quartet, Monk continued to give annual recitals and to play new works including Eugene Goossens's Violin Sonata in 1923. At his last public recital on 5 April 1927 he was accompanied by Frank Hutchens and displayed 'an admirable technique'.

Thereafter Monk concentrated on teaching and occasionally gave lecturette recitals when he would play part of a work as illustration. In 1932 he stressed the need for a professional orchestra. He was a member of the first Federal Council of Music Teachers and president of the Musical Association of New South Wales. He retired from the conservatorium in 1955. Survived by his son and daughter, he died in Royal North Shore Hospital on 7 March 1970 and was cremated.

His wife, known professionally as Varney Desmond, was born on 18 January 1892 at Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, daughter of Ernest John Peterson and his wife Miriam Jane, née Roberts. She wrote many songs and in 1923 won the Sunday Times song competition; she set to music lyrics by A. L. Gordon, H. Kendall and H. Lawson. Her elaborate musical romance, Collits' Inn, involving redcoats, bushrangers and Aborigines, was staged by Frank Thring and ran for seven months in Melbourne in 1933; the cast included George Wallace and Gladys Moncrieff. A Sydney season followed. Another operetta, The Cedar Tree (1934), was staged in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1966 she won the Henry Lawson Festival award at Grenfell for song-writing. She died on 7 February 1967.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 6 Apr 1927, 6 Nov 1947, 9 Feb 1967, 11 Mar 1970.

Citation details

Helen Bainton, 'Monk, Cyril Farnsworth (1882–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1882
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


7 March, 1970 (aged 87)
St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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