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William David Murdoch (1888–1942)

by J. A. Provan

This article was published:

William David Murdoch (1888-1942), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

William David Murdoch (1888-1942), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38782/814

William David Murdoch (1888-1942), musician and author, was born on 10 February 1888 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of Andrew Murdoch, engineer, and his wife Annie, née Esler. Although his parents were 'a little musical' he showed no interest until, aged 11, he began piano lessons. He was soon competing successfully in solo competitions at Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Melbourne and in 1903 was awarded the first Bendigo Austral scholarship. Murdoch also won an Ormond exhibition and began piano studies with W. A. Laver at the University of Melbourne's Conservatorium of Music. In 1906 he won the [W. J.] Clarke scholarship which, together with funds raised by public subscription, enabled him to study at the Royal College of Music, London.

Under the guidance of Frits Hartvigson, the eminent Danish pianist and teacher, Murdoch won two gold medals, a Bechstein grand piano and personal acclamation from Sir Hubert Parry, who described him as one of the most 'gifted' and 'charming' personalities to study at the R.C.M. Murdoch gave his first public recital in 1910 and next year, with (Dame) Clara Butt, played in South Africa, the first of many tours which included the Butt-Rumford visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1913. On 5 August 1915 he married, in London, Ellen Josephine Tuckfield. From 1916 he served in France as a bandsman in the Grenadier Guards and in 1918-19 was sent to Scandinavia as a cultural ambassador.

After meeting Albert Sammons, the leading violinist of his time, Murdoch's celebrated career in chamber music began. He was associated in 1919 with Sammons, W. H. Reed, Raymond Jeremy and Felix Salmond in the première performance of Elgar's Quintet in A minor, formed the highly successful Chamber Music Players with Sammons, Lionel Tertis and Lauri Kennedy, and made many recordings of piano trios with Arthur Catterall and W. H. Squire for Columbia.

Besides frequent solo recordings, recitals and concerto appearances with all the major orchestras in England, Murdoch performed in Europe and the United States of America during the 1920s and in 1929 undertook another concert tour of Australia in association with Harold Williams. During this tour he urged the formation of permanent professional orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne. On his return to England he was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and became a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society and a council-member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

In 1933 Murdoch published Brahms, a biography and analytical study of all the piano works and pianoforte chamber music. This was followed by Chopin: his Life (1934), which revealed considerable literary flair as well as detailed scholarship. Several of his own songs and piano compositions were also published. He made piano arrangements of several Bach choral preludes and wrote a concerto in D minor for piano and orchestra from the Bach-Vivaldi transcription.

After the death of his first wife Murdoch married a divorcee Dorothy Violet Lang, née Mascall, on 21 March 1921 in London: four years later she divorced him and he married the co-respondent, Antonia Dorothea Meek, née Simon, on 25 November 1925. He died on 9 September 1942 at Holmbury St Mary, Surrey. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

Audiences and critics around the world acclaimed the originality, musicality and technical security of Murdoch's performances. The exacting critic W. J. Turner wrote in 1916: 'Even when we get to the best pianists it is rarely, if ever, that we find a combination of exceptional technical mastery with tone-power, delicacy of touch, brilliance, command of colour, sensitiveness of phrasing, variety of feeling, imagination and vital passion. Mr. Murdoch possesses all these qualities to a high degree'.

Select Bibliography

  • Columbia Records Purple Label Series Catalogue (Lond, 1924)
  • R. Foster, Come Listen to My Song (Syd, 1949)
  • Musical Standard, 10 Apr 1909, 20 Mar 1926
  • Australian Musical News and Musical Digest, 1 June 1913, 1 Aug 1928
  • Musical Opinion, 15 Oct 1942
  • New Statesman (London), 15 Apr 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14, 16 May 1929
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 23 May 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12, 17 June 1929, 26 Sept 1942
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 12 Sept 1942, p 6
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 14 Sept 1942.

Citation details

J. A. Provan, 'Murdoch, William David (1888–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 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

William David Murdoch (1888-1942), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

William David Murdoch (1888-1942), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38782/814